Giving feedback on failure

Carol Dweck’s work is just amazing and I keep finding pearls of wisdom and stuff useful to coaching all the time.

In particular is a scenario presented in Mindset about “Elizabeth”, a child who competes in a gymnastics meet and is disappointed  to not win a single prize at the event. The scenario gives the reader 5 possible things Elizabeth’s father can say to Elizabeth and asks them which they would pick:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win

Interestingly (and disturbingly), the options are all common things parents, peers, teammates and coaches say.

The best and worst responses aren’t immediately obvious:

  • Tell Elizabeth you thought she was the best – Insincere. She was not the best—you know it, and she does, too. This offers her no recipe for how to recover or improve
  • Tell her she was robbed of a ribbon that was rightfully hers – Places blame on others, when in fact the problem was mostly with her performance, not the judges. Do you want her to grow up blaming others for her deficiencies?
  • Reassure her that gymnastics is not that important – Teaches her to devalue something if she doesn’t do well in it right away.
  • Tell her that she has the ability and will surely win the next time – May be most dangerous message of all. Does ability automatically take you where you want to go? If Elizabeth didn’t win this meet, why should she win the next one?
  • Tell her she didn’t deserve to win – Sounds hardhearted but correct. This is what he actually said: “Elizabeth, I know how you feel. It’s so disappointing to have your hopes up and to perform your best but not to win. But you know, you haven’t really earned it yet. There were many girls there who’ve been in gymnastics longer than you and who’ve worked a lot harder than you. If this is something you really want, then it’s something you’ll really have to work for.” He Also let Elizabeth know that if she wanted to do gymnastics purely for fun, that was fine. But if she wanted to excel in the competitions, more was required.

So don’t tell a losing team that you thought they were the better team, don’t bitch about the referees, don’t tell them “it’s just a game”, or that “we’ll get the next one”. While these sentiments may not be entirely inaccurate, they do little to help the team succeed.

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One Response to “Giving feedback on failure”

  1. Providing meaningful feedback - Coaching Volleyball Says:

    […] Lebedew pointed out a couple interesting posts by blogger Hugh on the subject of feedback (here and here). Being good at providing meaningful feedback is definitely a key coaching skill. This is true both […]

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