When you were little, you were probably taught to use the “sandwich approach” to give some sort of negative feedback. I know I used it at least a few times on the playground in elementary school when trying to inadvertently say something mean to my friends – which is probably why I didn’t have many friends. It seems fine in theory, but it has become so commonplace that most people now see it as a bit derisive. If you want to say something constructive, avoid “fluffing up” the negative with some crappy positive remarks.
This got me thinking about the feedback I have both given and received as an athlete. I have always been ok with coaches being very direct with me. I love being goal-oriented, realistic, and held to a high level of expectation. However, this direct approach includes dealing with the negatives: “You didn’t have a good time in that race.” or “I will have to sit you this half because this defense is shutting you down.” I like this type of feedback – but not everyone does.
In addition to playing soccer, running, and playing roller derby, I have coached a variety of sports (for a variety of ages) over the last 10 years. Although I always received feedback from my coaches growing up, it wasn’t until I became a coach myself that I realized how difficult it is to ride the line between helping an athlete improve and saying something that will hurt their feelings (and ultimately, their performance). Each athlete has a very different way of needing feedback. There is even a Coaching Feedback Questionnaire to help you assess both how your athletes perceive coaches and what type of feedback they’d prefer.
If athletes, captains, and coaches don’t communicate with each other about what they like and don’t like, someone will end up unhappy. If you have played sports before, you probably know what kind of feedback you do (and don’t) like.
However, many roller derby skaters did not play organized sports growing up. Roller derby might be the first time they have had coach-captain-teammate relationships. Therefore, not only is there a lack of communication about what type of feedback they prefer, many fellow derby skaters don’t know how to give each other effective and non-hurtful feedback.
So since we should try to avoid the sandwich feedback method, here are some tips:
1) Explain WHY the specific feedback is important. Avoid saying generic things like “You need to get lower.” Instead say “If you get lower, you will have a more grounded blocking stance and be more stable on your skates.”
2) Give feedback when someone is doing something well, not just when they need to correct something. “Your crossovers are looking great!”
3) If you are unsure whether a skater wants feedback, you can ask them. Some athletes shut down when they feel they are getting criticized. Sometimes they just need time to learn from watching others. For example: “It looks like you are picking up that skill well. If you find you need help or want feedback, let me know!”
4) If you give feedback, make sure the skater understands what you mean. Sometimes a phrase like “Dig more with your outside skate” is unhelpful if the skater doesn’t know how to dig – or what their outside skate is.
Roller derby is such an inclusive sport – it is a source of community, shelter, and friendship. We should do all we can to avoid estranging anyone for something as silly as harsh feedback. No matter your level of play or role on the track, we’re in this together, so let’s be nice to each other!