Newton’s first law tells us, “an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
In the world of performance, we can expect a similar phenomenon. That is, unless provided a reason to change course, we should expect athletes to maintain consistent patterns.
Artfully delivered Immediate Feedback is the necessary force that guides the desired trajectory of athletic performance.
An athlete who squats wrong will continue to squat wrong unless their coach provides the Feedback force necessary to put them on a course of success. An athlete who acts a fool will continue to act a fool unless their coach provides the Feedback they need to shape up and develop the social skills for needed for success.
If Structured Training is the map that lays out the path towards success, Immediate Feedback is the timely voice of Siri telling us when to turn, reroute, and merge our progress so we can stay on track to the Goal.
Immediate Feedback provides the real time corrections and adjustments athletes need to continue to find success and maintain the motivation that fuels their training journey.
Immediate Feedback Principle #1: Speed Is King
As a puppy, my dog was prone to mistake our wood floors for the toilet, leaving us chocolatey quarter pounders as housewarming gifts.
And, though it felt productive to shake ol’ Gibson’s nose in his waste while stringing together curse words in my best Batman voice, all I really did was confuse the well intentioned pup into believing I was a drunken Christian Bale.
In the canine training world, it’s widely understood that unless you catch and correct a dog as their misbehaving, your flurry of frustrations and cues are for nought. Fido doesn’t understand the past tense. Feedback needs to be immediate.
Human performance isn’t much different.
On the topic, Doug Lemov smartly remarks, “Speed is the most important element in feedback.”
In your coaching, if you want your message to stick, minimize the time between task performance and feedback received.
On the field, speed kills.
In your coaching, speed counts.
Immediate Feedback Principle #2: Ensure Immediate Compliance
Here’s a popular scene from the S&C world: Across the room, a coach sees an athlete knocking out some haphazard push presses. The athlete’s lumbar craters into extension as they shove the bar up on a 45° angle like JR Smith jacking up prayer from half-court.
The coach winces and sprints over to the rescue (see: best practice 1). The athlete racks the bar. The responsible coach narrates the corrections to the athlete. The athlete nods in agreement and promises to implement them on the next set.
All is well in the world. Right? Not quite.
John Wooden said, “No error should go uncorrected.” But correction is only different from critique if we insist the performer applies the feedback immediately after it’s received.
To improve the situation detailed above, the coach should require the athlete to repeat the push press right there on the spot (preferably with an unloaded bar). If the coach demands 5-10 perfect reps applying the feedback under supervision, we’re closer to guaranteeing proper execution on each set going forward.
Neural patterns are built through effective repetition. Again, practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.
Perfect the permanent by correcting, not just critiquing.
Immediate Feedback Principle #3: The Power of Positivity
When prompted to give feedback, many of us dive right into corrections and critiques. As we look for ways to make something better, we often start by focusing on what’s wrong and where we see obvious room for improvement.
But the most potent feedback often comes on positively building on a foundation of success. The flaw in most coaches positive feedback is that it is general and nonspecific.
IE) You’re doing a great job. Nice work. Keep it up.
The issue here is that the performer doesn’t know what “it” is or what part of the job they’re doing is great.
To superpower your positive feedback, Doug Lemov recommends using these three statements:
A Statement of Identification - A statement which lets the performer know the specific thing they did correctly and should build on.
Example: “Great job Lauren! You snapped your elbows thru very fast on that hang clean. Keep it up.”
A Statement of Replication - A statement which provides the performer a cue to replicate the effort again while the feedback is still fresh in their mind.
Example: “Great job Lauren! You snapped your elbows thru very fast on that hang clean. Since you did it so fast, let’s try and do the same thing for three more reps. This way, you’ll totally nail it.”
A Statement of Application - A statement which lets the performer see new contexts in which to apply their skill.
Example: “Great job Lauren! You’re hitting rep after rep now with fast elbows. You did a great job snapping them thru on that clean. Now let’s see how this same skill applies when we pull from the floor.”
Immediate Feedback Principle #4: Say More By Saying Less
As coaches, it’s in our DNA to give.
Give, give, give, and give some more. It’s who we are. It’s what we do. And, as altruistic as that may be, it has an inverse effect when it comes to providing impactful feedback.
With feedback, more is not better. Feedback is inherently dilutive.
Give one piece, expect close to 100% retention. Give two pieces, cut retention in half.
Eight pieces at once? Your athletes memory will perform like a national league pitcher at the plate. Chances are they’ll go 0-for-ocho and leave you wondering what went wrong.
Keep it simple.
As painful as it may be, restrain yourself.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to let your athletes know how smart you are. One cue at a time. Work them to mastery. Then, and only then, move on to the next one.
Immediate Feedback Principle #5: Support With Systems
You can’t be everywhere at once. Regardless of whether you’re running a Box gym or coaching at high school or college, chances are you have an athlete:coach ratio > 20:1.
With numbers like that, you’re going to miss things. The best coaches leverage systems to mitigate against this challenge.
To be clear, systems are not coaching substitutes, they are coaching subsidies.
Systems are additional levels of support to bolster the reliability of your coaching operating system. Generally speaking, feedback systems should cover two areas:
Quantitative Feedback SystemsTrainHeroic - To efficiently house training data and assess performance
- Leaderboards for immediate contextual awareness and engagement
- Training history + log to provide immediate and long term data for reflection
- Reports to assess benchmark progress across meaningful targets
Tendo Unit, Bar Sensei, Form Lift - To measure and target bar velocity and force production
Withings Scale - Measure body composition to track digitally over time
BioForce HRV - Assess heart-rate variability to know when to train and when to rest
Qualitative Feedback Systems
Coach’s Eye / Hudl Technique - For video analysis and movement quality feedback • For use immediately after a rep to correct athlete form
For use to assess long term growth and change in side-by-side comparison
TrainHeroic - Athlete notes and coach messaging to create a narrative around progress
System subsidize, never substitute. Remember, nothing replaces great coaching. The human element comes first, systems follow.
Immediate Feedback Principle #6: Bring In The Clones
Just as leveraging apps and software can extend your coaching reach, one of the most surefire ways to expand beyond a single point of failure is to turn your athletes into mini coaches.
Assuming you’ve invested in the best practices of Expert Instruction outlined in section two, your athletes should be primed to parrot your teachings and pass on your cues to other athletes as they train.
The tribal language you pass down through repetitive messaging and modeling is the means by which you scale past yourself.