Athletes working to improve their mental toughness and athletic abilities can accelerate the process by learning how to interpret and use the evaluations and feedback provided to them by coaches. In order to maximize the information given, it also helps to understand how coaches make their performance evaluations, particularly as this applies to both objective and subjective measurements and feedback.
Subjective & objective data
Understanding the difference between subjective (biased) and objective (empirical) evaluations is an important first step toward effectively using coach feedback to improve mental toughness and athletic performance. 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 needs to “work harder” (a subjective evaluation based on what the coach sees relating to the athlete’s effort), but also needs to improve his batting average (an objective statistic generated exclusively by how many hits the kid has, not the coach’s opinion). In a best-case scenario coach feedback includes both objective and subjective feedback, providing for the most comprehensive information to develop future goals.
Examples of subjective coach feedback include the following, but 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
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
- Jump length or height
Some sports, like wrestling, are very objective in that two kids wrestle on the mat and one emerges as a winner based on the total number of points scored in the match. Other sports, like basketball, have fewer objective measurements and more subjective “coaching calls” when it comes to what players display the best skills and should receive the most minutes.
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 advice can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Does the athlete need to lose weight? Increase strength? Improve stamina? Without asking the coach specifically what he or she means, the advice given could be very difficult to interpret and apply.
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.