Feedback, Process, and Accomplishment

Jenn Pilotti

 

As a coach or movement specialist, when do you give people feedback regarding their performance? Do you do it in the middle of the movement? Do you do it after? And after you have sussed out when what do you give feedback on? Do you give feedback on how the movement is performed? Or do you give feedback based on whether the movement accomplished the specific goal you are hoping to attain?

 

Maybe you don’t even think about when you give feedback, you simply offer feedback when you feel it’s necessary. There is nothing wrong with approaching feedback through intuition; however, there are a few guidelines you can follow if you want to maximize the student’s learning experience.

 

More feedback isn’t better. This is particularly challenging for new trainers and coaches. For those of us in a teaching environment, there is a strong desire to help our students/athletes/clients maximize their experience by understanding all of the components of the skill. Unfortunately, directing a student’s attention to too many places only hinders performance (and learning). If you have a tendency to over coach, practice saying as little as possible with students you know well. Observe how the skill is being performed, and if you feel there is a common pattern that could be cleaned up, offer one place to direct the student’s attention. Give the person time to process the cue and see if things change before offering another one.

 

Focus on the process or the results. Not both at once, or you are going to confuse the client. There are two ways to approach teaching. You can teach the person how to do accomplish a specific, external goal, or you can teach the person to move his body in a specific way. For instance, you can teach the person to get into a handstand, or you can teach the person how to put weight in the hands and feel the connection with the shoulders,.The former is achieving the goal by whatever means possible, while the latter is focused on the process. In motor skill acquisition, particularly in a one on one client setting, which is better is debatable, and partially determined by a client’s goals and current abilities. Sometimes the person needs to understand where he is going before he can focus on the steps needed to make it more efficient or pretty; other times, skipping the process overloads tissues too quickly and doesn’t give the neuromuscular system a chance to adapt to the new demands.

 

For instance, if you have a client that wants to do a pull-up, you can focus on the result (achieving the pull-up) for the next 8 months to no avail if the client doesn’t understand how the pulling action translates to the shoulder girdle moving down as the body moves up. Instead, focusing on the process through connecting the client’s awareness to how the shoulders work when pulling the bar down will reap major benefits, while also building the strength needed to perform the skill.

 

Breaking the skill down into smaller chunks can still be result oriented, particularly when the emphasis is on strength and stamina. In the pull-up scenario, for instance, can the client hang for 45 seconds? If the answer is no, the knowledge of results becomes building up the stamina to hang for a set amount of time. The client either accomplishes it or doesn’t which makes the goal tangible. Can the person hold the top position by jumping up to it? This, of course, is dependent upon understanding the downward pull of the arms, so taking the time to teach the process first will help with the results oriented work, but it is also dependent on adequate bent arm strength.

 

Once the client has achieved the two results oriented goals, can he travel between the two points? If yes, can he travel between them at different speeds, going fast or slow? The goals change once the general goal of going a pull-up is met.

 

The benefit of results feedback is whether the objective is accomplished or not is clear. For many clients, the ability to accomplish previously unattainable goals is a measure of success and activates the reward center in the brain. This wonderful little feedback loop is what makes the (occasional) drudgery of exercise worth it and will keep the client exercising and moving.

 

Feedback that focuses on the process shifts the client’s perspective. There are no clearly stated goals, other than for the client to begin understanding how he performs a specific task. This type of understanding requires a different type of internal focus and puts the person in his body, focusing on what he is doing. The benefit to this is it increases proprioception, improves body schema, and improves overall awareness.

 

I have a client who tends to grip various body parts when she is stressed. She came in recently and told me she thought maybe she had gout. Further prodding uncovered that she noticed she was gripping her toes when she walked more frequently. She had a meeting coming up that was weighing on her. She feels has probably gripped her feet her entire life, but it wasn’t until we started doing a lot of work bringing awareness to her feet and how she used them that she realized she could use her feet differently. Using her feet differently made her feet feel less tender and more relaxed. As her perception of how she used her feet changed, so did her awareness of when she was using her feet unnecessarily.

 

This is an example of focusing on the process, There really is no specific goal, but the outcome is a better sense of self.

 

Below are a few ideas of goal oriented tasks with a specific goal in mind (achieve the forearm hang, get to the top of the rope). The focus isn’t on how; it’s on the accomplishment.

 

 

 

Contrast this with the ideas below, which are process oriented. There is no goal. Instead, the focus is on exploring the process.

 

 

 

For more ideas or information about the research on motor control and coaching, I highly recommend “Attention and Motor Skill Learning,” by Gabriele Wulf.

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