Helping Athletes Understand Sport Performance Evaluations

Athletes working to improve their athletic abilities can accelerate the process by learning how to interpret and use the evaluations provided to them by coaches.  In order to maximize the feedback given, it also helps to understand how coaches make their performance evaluations to that specific future goals can be set.

Subjective & objective data

Understanding the difference between subjective (biased) and objective (empirical) evaluations is an important first step toward effectively using coach feedback.  Most coaches use a combination of both when providing kids advice on how to improve their game — for example, a coach might tell one of his athletes that he is a “hard worker” (a subjective evaluation based on what the coach sees), but also needs to improve his batting average (a statistic generated solely on how many hits the kid has, not the coach’s opinion).

Subjective feedback

Examples of subjective coach feedback include the following — keep in mind what one coach’s opinion is may be very different from another coach, depending on what each coach looks for and values in an athlete:

  • Hard worker
  • Hustler
  • Disciplined
  • Self-starter
  • Tough

Objective feedback

When it comes to objective feedback there isn’t much room for human opinion as the numbers tend to speak for themselves.  The only question, therefore, is how coaches vary in their interpretation of objective data.  For example, a hitter in baseball might have a .275 average — one coach might be thrilled with the average, while another might suggest the kid do more to improve.  Additional objective measures include:

  • Batting average
  • Race time
  • Pitching velocity
  • Touchdowns scored
  • Length of jump

What to do with the feedback you receive

When it comes to objective data the old saying goes “the numbers are what the numbers are.”  You might think of these measures as simple facts that don’t carry any opinion (other than the opinions others have about the data).  Objective data is nice because you know exactly what behavior to target for future improvement, and you can specifically monitor your progress as you work to get better.  For example, a basketball player shooting 60% from the free throw line can precisely count his shots each day to see if he can average better than 6 makes out of every 10 shots.  Generally speaking, the more objective feedback you receive, the easier it is to set future goals to measure future improvement.

Coaches also provide a lot of subjective feedback, but interpreting this kind of advice can sometimes be tricky without asking for additional clarification.  For example, if the coach says you need to “get in better shape,” that can be construed in a number of different ways.  Does the athlete need to lose weight? Become quicker on the field? Develop a healthier diet?  Without asking the coach specifically what he means, the advice given could be very difficult to interpret and use.

Final thoughts

Any feedback received form the coach is worth examining, but some athletes get lost in the subjective feedback they receive (i.e. “work harder”?).  When you are unsure what the coach means, it is important to ask for additional clarity so that you actually target the behavior(s) the coach would like to see improved.  Objective feedback is generally easier to understand and implement, but sometimes coaches struggle to find specific metrics to offer athletes.

What advice do you have for coaches when they provide feedback?  Similarly, what tips do you have for athletes who don’t fully understand the performance evaluations they are provided?

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