The influence of coaches on players’ learning. How to give feedback during a training session
20 Mar 2020

The profession of a coach is not easy at all. Besides an outstanding knowledge of the gameplay, it is necessary to fully master pedagogical skills to help players learn better and faster. A good coach not only delivers technical instructions, but they must also know how to provide learning for the people they work with. The information that does not reach players adequately is useless information.

We know there are 5 different teaching methods a coach can use in his or her intervention1: giving feedback (providing extra information to the player during and after the task), showing (making a demonstration of how an exercise is to be done), stepping back and reflecting (helping players to find out by themselves the action alternatives and to foresee their possible consequences), giving guidelines (pointing out to the athlete on how to perform a movement or action to be successful), and knowing how to design tasks for the players to work them out (adjusting space, time, number of players, the rules…). Not all of them are equally useful, it depends on the characteristics of the players you train.

A feedback can congratulate the athlete, inform them about what they are and are not doing correctly, pointing them out the achieved distance, time, speed, the percentage of times they achieve it, etc. What the coach wants is that the player associates the proposed behaviour to its consequence. It is about reinforcing the action chosen by a player to solve the situation in which they have been successful. If the coach has told me what I have done is right because I have achieved what he wanted, I will repeat it, the athlete seems to think. When highlighting how well they have done it, we help the athlete understand what they must do in the match. We are helping them to find out the solution.

A recent research2 has analysed how the players retain the feedback provided by the coaches. The study followed the behaviour of 12 coaches (8 men and 4 women, all of them with more than 5 years of experience) and 342 players (246 men and 96 women) aged between 10 and 18 during 18 training sessions. The footballers were classified into 4 groups considering the category in which they competed: local, regional, national, or international level. In total, 1728 feedbacks issued by the coaches during the training sessions were analysed. The results demonstrate several aspects of great practical relevance:

  • In 65.5% of the feedbacks, the players had difficulties to reproduce completely the coaches’ instructions. That is to say, only 34.5% of the feedbacks were completely retained;
  • The more the coach provided different instructions, the lower the feedback retention. The average of instructions provided by the coaches was 3.96, with a total of 28.91 words.
  • The higher the level of the players, the higher the feedback retention.

The practical applications of this work indicate that coaches should very much take into account some aspects at the time of providing information to the players:

1. It is very dangerous to provide too many messages (feedbacks) to the athletes during the tasks. Attention is limited and providing much information usually produces that a good part of the instructions received is forgotten.

2. The design of the sessions should include a few objectives to reach. The lower the age or level of the athletes, it is recommendable to include only 1 or 2 objectives in each session; when the level is higher, some more can be added.

3. Coaches should have previously prepared the feedbacks they are going to provide to reinforce the achievement of the objectives planned in the session.

4. Short, concise messages with an understandable language usually reach players more effectively.

5. It is recommendable to use an image or an example to reinforce what the coach wants to obtain in the execution.

Carlos Lago Peñas

[1] Riera, J. (2005). Skills in sports. Barcelona: INDE.

2 Januário, N., Rosado, A., Mesquita, I., Gallego, J. y Aguilar-Parra, J.M. (2016). Determinants of feedback retention in soccer players. Journal of Human Kinetics,51: 235-241.


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