Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.24.13Annals of Coaching: Aligned Feedback Means Effective Practice (video)

YSOCCER-articleLargeThink for a minute about a task like driving.  Most likely you do it almost every day.  Usually multiple times per day.  Often for hours at a time.  So, really, you ought to be very, very good at it by now.  World class.   But if you’re like most people you’re not a very good driver and (less subjectively) you’re not getting any better, even with all that practice.   Most people stop getting better at driving after they turn 24 or so.

While the costs of our national (international!) failure to improve our driving are hugely significant in terms of injuries, deaths and lost time, my point here is a more abstract one—merely doing something over and over does not make you better at it.

This is a fact that’s important to reflect on. WHY don’t we get better at certain things despite all that repetition?  With driving, lack of attention is probably a big part of it.  When we’re driving we’re often distracted and that keeps us from improving while we practice (We don’t in fact perceive ourselves to be practicing at all; add aphone and we’re hopeless).  Intentionality is another.  We rarely say, “Today I’m going to work on my signaling.  I’m going to make sure I signal early and clearly, all the way to work!”  (This is especially true of drivers in Boston)  Bu the biggest single reason might be the lack of useful feedback.  We don’t get much feedback and if we do get it, we dismiss it. Most of us are under the strong impression that 1) it’s the other guy whose making mistakes and 2) any feedback we do get from other drivers is evidence that they are crazy.   We not only operate without feedback; we scorn it and are socialized to dismiss it. Occasionally with a gesture.

In fact my wife has been running a small study on the subject and she confidently reports that there is a strong correlation between the fact that 1) my driving has not improved at all since she met me and 2) I ignore her feedback on the subject 96.5 percent of the time.

I mention all of this because one of the keys to an effective practice is the culture it builds around feedback.  Every iteration of feedback is not only about the content within it but about the expectations of the participants for what feedback means.  When I tell you to try something in practice do I signal that I expect you to try it? Do I hold you accountable for trying it? Do I show that it remains important to me after I stop talking so that you know it should be important to you?

In the best practices—I think—observation is predictable.  That is, when the coach is watching the player knows what the coach is looking for.  This incentivizes him to hold himself accountable for executing even before the coach says anything.  For example if I tell my soccer players to that I want them to strike the ball with their ankle locked, I send a stronger message if I then add, “I’ll be coming around to watch you now.  As I walk around I’ll be looking to see whose ankle is locked.”

Then, I can send an even stronger message about how important my feedback was—and how seriously I expect you to take it—by narrating back to you what I am observing and ensuring aligned feedback—that is I continue to talk overwhelmingly about my most recent teaching point as I give feedback. If 90% of my comments for the next few minutes are about locked ankles I will help my players attend to it and improve and send them a strong message generally about the fact that my guidance is an important thing. I don’t forget about it once I give it.   If I tell them I am looking for locked ankles and then start commenting on whether they are receiving with the correct foot etc, I send a message that they can pretty much ignore what I tell them.  And this potentially erodes all of my feedback.  Everytime I give feedback, I build or undercut a culture that signals its value.

That’s why I like this clip of Chris Hayden’s FC Dallas U13 practice so much. (You may recall that I  wrote about Chris before here.)  Just before the clip begins, Chris tells his players to work on two things.  The first is communicating. He wants passers to tell their teammate whether to turn and play forward or pass back to them. He wants that information to be given loud and early. The second is speed of play, especially when playing backward. “If we play back, we want to get back and then forward again quickly,” Chris told them.

Listne to his feedback and score how much is aligned to the specific teaching points.   Here’s my score chart

Aligned Feedback Un-Aligned Feedback
Early information. We need early information boys.
Receive the ball inside. Inside. Inside. From in there. There you go. (Drill Feedback)
Give him information.  Tell him early what you want. You’re his eyes.
You think it was a bit late hunh, Gunna?  He’s not a mind reader. He needs information early, yeah?
Put it on the ground
Quick combination. If you’re gonna play forward do it quick!
We’re still having a lot of information that’s coming late. I want you to tell him early.  Tell him early read the game.
Pass the ball accurate, boys. (Drill Feedback)
Good David. Excellent. Do this quick.


Six of Chris’ nine comments are about the teaching point he just made.  This will help players self-monitor (are they getting it right?) and underscore how important his words are. This makes him a more effective teacher every time he talks.  Another note: Two of the three un-aligned comments are what we call “drill feedback.”  In opposition to “skill feedback” which is how to execute the task technically correctly, “drill feedback” tells players how to complete the drill correctly—in this case where to stand when receiving.  That’s pretty much always ok to include since doing the drill wrong prevents almost all learning.   Anyway, I think one of the reasons Chris is such an effective coach is the discipline and of his feedback.  It’s totally aligned to his teaching.

What do you see?




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