Creating a Coachability Culture

Train your team to proactively ask for feedback

By The Coachability Consultants Team

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Everyone wants and needs feedback. Good information fuels our development. For many of us, however, we are unsure about how to get the feedback we need to reach our goals. For others, we struggle to deliver the necessary feedback to move individuals towards their goals.

Too often, athletes wait for feedback to be presented to them.  In reality, they can (and should) become adept at seeking the feedback they need to accelerate and drive their growth and improvement. On the other hand, we sometimes find that when feedback arrives, athletes are unprepared for it, resistant to it, or are unaware of how to effectively receive and make use of it. In the book Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen make note of this dynamic:

Even well-intentioned coaches and coachees can become frustrated. We’re trying to coach or to be coached, but because our efforts are resisted, unappreciated or ineffective, we end with a coaching shortfall. Coaching shortfalls mean that learning, productivity, morale, and relationships all suffer. And that’s particularly tragic when people on both sides of the relationship are well meaning and trying hard.” 

Does this sound familiar?

So, how do we solve this dilemma? 

What if we were to consider a new approach to feedback within our teams and organizations? Using the lens of coachability, we consider asking for or seeking feedback to be one in a series of skills that can be trained and elevated. By training athletes on the components of coachability we help boost performance, improve individual agility, accelerate promotability and as a result, help build strong team cultures that drive results. 

Further, coaches can teach athletes that it’s OK, in fact it’s essential, that they proactively ask for the feedback they need. We can build a culture which makes feedback an essential part of athlete and team development. By empowering athletes to proactively seek the information they need, coaches shift the responsibility for development to the athletes —a shared responsibility—and create a culture in which it is actually easier to coach the team.

Once an athlete accepts responsibility for finding this information, they recognize that they can actually drive —and own—their personal development and performance. A game changing realization.

What Type of Feedback Are We Seeking?

Feedback refers to any information about one’s behaviors, performance, and results.  Grant Wiggins, an expert educator, defines feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.”  

In the outstanding book NonLinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition, the authors also find that we can use the word feedback and information interchangeably. They prefer the term information. 

We want to hone our focus even further on constructive feedback (or information) as an essential component of development. We define constructive feedback as the detailed, specific information geared toward advancement.  This feedback is also delivered with positive or compassionate intent. 

In other words, this is the type of feedback critical for changing or modifying behavior and improving performance. Once we start to reframe the feedback this way, we reduce our tendency to evaluate performance when useful, specific information is what’s actually needed.

Asking for Feedback Is A Skill That Can Be Trained

Teaching athletes to take the initiative and ask for the specific and nitpicky information they need allows them to:  

  1. Decide when to ask
  2. Determine the specific information they are seeking
  3. Provide context about their current development
  4. Make the feedback informational and developmental rather than evaluative

It also ensures they are prepared to receive the feedback and make use of it appropriately. Players need to receive feedback in a timely manner while they have an opportunity to improve with future performances. If an athlete is always waiting to receive feedback from a coach, then the responsibility for development shifts to the coach.

But, we want the athlete to drive their own development.

Some athletes may feel they never get enough feedback – and others feel they receive too much. We might tell them at the wrong time, such as while they are competing, risking making them self-conscious during performance situations. Or, we may provide it at a time when they no longer can act on it. Well after the fact.

So, let’s shift some of that responsibility back to the athlete and add feedback seeking behaviors into our core expectations. Give them agency and empower them to own their development and performance. Of course, we – as coaches – will still proactively provide feedback to athletes. But, the athletes who develop this skill and seek feedback from us proactively will be those who most efficiently and effectively develop their game and strengthen the team’s performance. 

We know that coaches also need the skills to respond appropriately when athletes ask for feedback. However, this crucial first step will help set a culture in which it becomes easier for a coach to provide targeted feedback. Your team will want and welcome feedback and can receive it with an open disposition. This is a key focus in our coachability courses and training sessions. We train athletes in detail about the mindsets required to ask for and  hear feedback, and equip them with the necessary skills to do so effectively.

Peer Feedback is Welcome and Expected

Another way to create a feedback culture is to encourage peer feedback. You can do this both formally and informally. Establish partnerships where players give each other constructive feedback. Or one in which they share what has helped them to work on a similar area of growth. 

When I was in college, we did some shadow training each week. We were doing patterns of attack in order to imprint a style of play. In practice during my freshman year, I was often standing beside a specific defender on the other team who was older – and also happened to be our team captain. Nobody told her she needed to, but she would help me with feedback and information as I went through the patterns. Sometimes she would literally point me or guide me in the right direction. Often, she corrected my timing – and almost always with a smile. Her insights were the most valuable part of that exercise. She didn’t need to do it. We were on opposite teams in practice, but on the weekend, we would be on the same team and she knew I needed to get better. I have always appreciated that she helped me get so much better during the course of that year. A coach can’t notice everybody at every moment, but a teammate can play a key role and propel us forward.

Model Feedback Seeking for Athletes

There are additional ways in which we can establish a feedback seeking culture. One of the strongest of these is to model this behavior ourselves as coaches. 

We can do this by sharing our own growth with athletes. Often, coaches feel like they have to be the experts and know everything, but the game is constantly evolving, as is our knowledge of pedagogy.  So, to remain effective, we should be continuously evolving as well. 

Show your athletes the ways you are willing to work to grow and get better. Tell stories about your mentors. Make references to the books you are reading. Explain why you are changing things when you do, and give insights into how it will help the team. Ask your athletes to provide feedback to you about the training sessions, how they are doing, and also about your communication style or team tactics. 

Demonstrate you can genuinely listen. Don’t get defensive or discount their feedback, but try to understand what they’re saying and why. The simplest way to be a model is to be receptive to the questions your athletes ask about their game and their development, which encourages them to continue asking these questions. If the athlete asks questions, but does not put in the work to develop or change behavior, then that is a different matter. But first, make sure you signal your willingness to respond to their questions and provide feedback. In other words, model the behavior and culture you want.

Conclusion: Seeking Feedback is Key 

Setting the expectation that athletes will seek feedback from their coach and each other allows athletes to control:

  • When to ask:
    There are evidence-based strategies for this that we cover in our training.
  • What to ask:
    By being specific, they get the actual targeted information they need to improve.
  • Why they ask:
    Frame the conversation so it is informational and developmental, not simply an evaluation.

In addition, by giving all athletes permission in this manner, we begin to build a coachability culture from the ground up. Modeling the behavior, listening intently, and encouraging peer feedback will only serve to deepen the athlete’s willingness. Athletes will find it easier to help one another, coaches will enjoy interactions more, and the culture will shift in a way that drives sustained results and success. 

This article outlines  a few of the key factors that we cover in our training focused on effectively and proactively seeking feedback – one part of our Coachability development training program. 

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