4 Questions to Ask Before Giving Feedback

Feedback is key to coachability.

By The Coachability Consultants Team

Does this sound familiar? 

You are sitting at your desk and there’s a knock on the door. “Come in.”

In walks an athlete on your team. “Do you have a minute? I was hoping I could get some feedback.”

Pause right there. 

Are you dreading the conversation or looking forward to it? Well it depends, right? On who is asking and why. But, we actually do want our athletes to walk through that door in search of feedback. 

So what do you do?

Athletes might have different motivations for asking, right? 

Some want to signal to you, or give the impression, that they care by approaching you for feedback, but they rarely make any changes. Some might show up and engage in a feedback conversation with the intent of letting you know you should be playing them more. Some might have done well lately and need you to acknowledge that progress. 

Others will walk through that door in search of the feedback that will allow them to really make progress towards their goals or solve a problem they are experiencing with their performance.

This last group are demonstrating a core component of being highly coachableSomething that some athletes seem to have innately or were taught by another coach, parent, or teacher. 

Others have never really considered it that way, but might be very open to the idea if they were exposed to it. They might simply not be aware of the different motives for seeking feedback or the tremendous value in seeking constructive, nitpicky information.

Intentional Conversations:

We [Coachability Consultants] train individuals how to effectively ask for feedback, but even with this training, not every athlete will immediately be as skillful at the conversation as you might want. Other athletes will never have received training on how to effectively ask for feedback. 

Therefore, each time an athlete seeks feedback provides an opportunity for you as a coach to assist them in learning this important skill. This training may be invisible to the athlete, but it can be intentional by the coach.

Thoughtful, self-reflection questions are a useful tool employed by a coach to assist an athlete in uncovering the true purpose for seeking feedback and determining the quality and usefulness of the information.

A coach, who understands the purpose of an athlete asking for information, can be a great guide. 

Here are some key questions to ask an athlete to guide a feedback conversation:

But first, a question for you, the coach: 

Do you know the athlete’s goals? 

You may already know this about the athlete on your team or an athlete who is approaching you that you don’t consistently coach. But if you don’t, then it is really helpful to be able to place the feedback topic within the athlete’s larger goals. 

If a coach can reference the athlete’s goals while providing feedback, they can help the athlete recognize the gaps between where they are and where they want to be. This can motivate an athlete to want to work to close the gap. 

If you already know their goals, then you can begin here with these 4 guiding questions:

Question 1: What specifically would you like help with?

The more specific the topic, the better. We want to provide constructive feedback that moves an athlete forward on her developmental path. Broad comments or simple evaluation will not move the needle in the same way that specific, targeted and nitpicky information will.

In 2013, Ashford and DeStobellier found that specific information would lead to higher “performance striving” because it would increase the athlete’s awareness of areas for development, and it was future oriented.

Let’s say a basketball player comes in to discuss scoring. That is a very broad topic. Can you help her to break down her question to a narrower scope? Ok, wanting to score off the fast break. That’s pretty good, but can you get even more specific? What specific information and guidance will you provide that will help her create an action plan for her development?

Question 2: Great topic. What will you achieve by focusing on this?

Help an athlete articulate why he wants to work on this particular topic, but try to avoid using “Why” to start your question.  

In his book The Coaching Habit, the author Michael Bungay Stanier points out that “why” questions run the risk of making people defensive. “You put them on the defensive. Get the tone even slightly wrong and suddenly your “Why….?” comes across as “What the hell were you thinking?” It’s only downhill from there.” 

But we do want to know why he has chosen the topic in order to be of help with our feedback. So, reframe your inquiry into a question that allows the athlete to articulate the purpose. 

Determining a why will engage you both more deeply in the process.

Question 3: What work have you put in on this topic already?

This helps you to know the context. Has this athlete already been in the gym before training or practice? With you? With someone else? On her own? Watching film? Is she ruminating, but not working? All of this helps you to assist her in crafting her next steps and avoids either retracing steps or jumping ahead.

Question 4: What benchmark would you like to use?

In other words, what will we be using to measure success? Want to score a certain percentage of your shots? Lead the league in your category? Be able to finish at a critical moment in the game? Under pressure?

With a specific benchmark that defines the level of feedback the athlete is looking for, we can more effectively turn this specific topic and the constructive feedback into action. Generally, feedback that is positive and future oriented is more motivating and expansive. However, information that can close the gap between where you are and where you want to be can also be motivating and effective. 

Before they go out the door, one final question: What will you do next with this information?  Help them to realize information is just the starting point. Now, the athlete needs to turn this into action.

Key Coachability Reminders:

Encourage the athlete to listen closely, ask clarifying questions, and then analyze the information and turn it into a plan. 

You can ask these questions in any order you want.

We presume you will be employing active listening skills and asking follow up questions as you go, but by touching on these 4 guiding questions, you will help the athlete to hone this critical skill: How to seek the constructive feedback they need to grow their game. 

We train teams in how to effectively ask for feedback and include a 4-step process when we do. That, paired with a coach who uses thoughtful questions to uncover athletes’ needs and provide quality specific information, will have a tremendous impact on the coachability culture and the results of your team. Good luck coach. You got this.

Schedule a free consultation with our team.

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