The Science Behind Powerful Coaching Feedback

sports coaching

Every coach dreams of a secret weapon: a single sentence that ignites focus, commitment, and excellence in their athletes. But the truth is, building trust and connection takes time.

Connecting with their team and building trust takes time, and every coach worth their salt knows that there’s no moment more important than the one when feedback is delivered. Do it correctly, and the player takes a step forward. Do it poorly, and you could well see the athlete grinding into reverse.

But what if there were a simple yet effective way to deliver feedback that signals belief in their potential? What if there was just one single sentence we could use that would inspire our athletes to do more and show them that you do believe in them?

Good news! In the realm of coaching, the magic phrase does exist.

Let’s dive in 👇

The Science Behind the Magic

In 2013, a group of researchers from Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and other universities collaborated with school teachers. The teachers were assigned to give their students a writing assignment. Their goal: to explore how constructive feedback could build trust. The teachers marked and graded each of the assignments, and feedback was given to each student. And this is were the magic happened.

The “I Believe in You” Boost

Half of the students received the normal, critical feedback, but there was a twist for the other 50%. They also received the exact critical feedback…but An extra sentence was added:

“I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know you can reach them.”
And that was the only difference, nothing very earth-shattering, but the impact was profound and unexpected. Students who received this additional feedback, just that one extra sentence, showed a 40% increase in the desire to revise their papers compared to those who did not get the added feedback. Their scores on revised essays significantly improved, and these effects endured even a year later. A few simple words had an extraordinary effect.

Why This Matters for Coaches

This seemingly straightforward ‘magical’ sentence communicates unwavering support. It tells the athlete that their coach has their back. “I know you can do it!” It conveys belief, laying the groundwork for a growth mindset. It fosters a sense of belonging to a group with elevated standards and signals that reaching those standards is within their grasp. Their coach knows they can! It instils a sense of ownership over their progress, fostering self-efficacy—the belief that their actions matter.

When we talk about building strong bonds with athletes, coaching with love and respect doesn’t mean lowering standards. It doesn’t mean you need to become a spaghetti-spine coach. On the contrary, high standards are crucial. Positive demands and constructive critiques are essential. The key is to pair these with a message that underscores belief.

“I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know you can reach them.”

Try incorporating this magic phrase into your coaching toolkit this weekend, and witness the transformative impact on your athletes.

As coaches, we understand that every athlete is unique, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s our job to recognize and nurture those strengths while helping them overcome their weaknesses. By fostering an environment of trust and belief, we empower our athletes to push beyond their limits and achieve greatness.

In addition to verbal feedback, actions also speak volumes. Demonstrating belief in your athletes through your actions—whether it’s spending extra time with them on the field, providing additional resources for improvement, or simply being a supportive presence—can further reinforce the message of confidence and support.

Ultimately, coaching is about more than just Xs and Os—it’s about developing the whole athlete, both on and off the field. By incorporating positive reinforcement and belief into our coaching philosophy, we can help our athletes realize their full potential and become the best versions of themselves.

The Power of a Coach’s Words

Coaches, take this opportunity to reflect on the impact of your words and actions, and consider how you can integrate the power of belief into your coaching approach. Remember, a little belief can go a long way in unlocking the potential of your athletes and helping them achieve their dreams.