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Learning to Deliver Kid-Friendly Criticism

SCRANTON, Pa. – Tomm Evans from the Bochicchio Sports Character Initiative at the University of Scranton provided tips for keeping criticism kid-friendly during a presentation at the second annual Scranton Prep Basketball Coaches Clinic.

Evans, speaking at the October, 2016 event, shared what he described as tools for effective, receivable feedback. He elaborated on some of the concepts developed in “The Power of Double-Goal Coaching,” by Jim Thompson.               

Thompson breaks kid-friendly criticism, applicable across all sports, down into five practical tips:

  • Avoid Non-Teachable Moments
  • Criticize in Private
  • Ask Permission
  • If/Then Statements
  • Criticism Sandwich

Evans explained that players will tell you when they are ready for criticism with their actions. If it is unclear to the coach, he can ask a player if they are ready for some suggestions.

A particularly tense moment in a game is usually not going to be an effective teaching moment.

“Avoid non-teachable moments,” said Evans, a former college swimming coach. “When your kid comes off the floor furious — mad at himself, mad at you, mad at the world — that may not be the time to get that kid right away and list all the things he just did wrong.

“There’s a time. You have to let an athlete sort of decompress.”               

Doing so also makes it easier to find a time for a coach to talk to his player in private, reducing the tension.

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“It’s not always possible, not always practical,” Evans said. “But if we’re really going to unload on an athlete, if it’s an effort thing, if it’s something that’s been building for a long time, that might be a moment where we need to walk away and not do it in front of the whole gym.             

“There’s a time and a place for that as well.”              

Asking if the athlete is ready to talk can help make them ready to receive criticism.  

“You want to make an athlete feel valuable, ask them if they’re ready for you to talk to them about the tip,” Evans said. “I don’t want you to think you have to go out there and ask a player if you can help them.”               

Evans made the example of seeing a player in your golf foursome struggling with something obvious. It’s not automatic to offer input. You might ask them if they want a tip.

“It’s about being polite,” Evans said. “Treat an athlete the same way, ’You’re really struggling. Can I give you a tip on this one thing?’          

“Give them that opportunity. Ninety percent of the time an athlete says, ‘Yeah, sure, what can I do?’ The other 10 percent of the time, he’ll come around.”            

If/then statements give athletes simple explanations of why they need to do something in a results-oriented way.          

“If your butt’s lower, you can move faster,” is an example Evans gave.               

Evans also reminded of the criticism sandwich, beginning and ending with positive thoughts, before and after giving criticism.            

Coaches can find additional resources at the Bochicchio Initiative’s website at sportscharacter.org or through the Positive Coaching Alliance at PCADevZone.org or PositiveCoach.org.

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson. 

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