Coaching with Constructive Criticism - dummies

Coaching with Constructive Criticism

By Rick Wolff

So what do you say when you feel it’s necessary to offer some “constructive criticism” to your athlete?

What do you say to the child who has become a bit of a “ball hog” in basketball and won’t pass the ball to teammates, or the kid who doesn’t play in position properly during the game, or the youngster who keeps making up excuses for a poor performance in gymnastics meets?

Feed your child a praise sandwich. A verbal sandwich that consists of two parts of praise surrounding a delicate slice of criticism. Here’s an example:

  • A slice of praise: “John, there’s no question that you’ve become quite a shooter on the basketball court. When you get an open shot, there’s a real good chance that you’re going to score . . . .”

    This opening bit of praise always gets the child’s attention because all kids like being praised and complimented for their skills. The child appreciates that you, as a grown-up, openly acknowledge that he’s a good player. That makes the youngster feel good about himself — and about you as well. After you have his attention, give him . . .

  • A slice of constructive criticism: “And you know, Chris, if you can become as good at passing the ball as well as shooting it, why, there would be no stopping you at all. You’d be a true scoring machine!”

    Note that even the criticism is still covered with praise. You want the youngster to really absorb what you have just said. Like taking a bit of sugar with some bad-tasting medicine, you’re merely trying to sweeten the taste a bit.

  • The final bit of praise: “Because if you master both the scoring and the passing aspects of basketball, you’d be on your way to having some terrific games. You’d be something really special.”

    And that’s the praise sandwich.

What happens to the youngster who takes a bite?

  • He realizes that you obviously think he’s a good player — that’s why you praised him.
  • He has heard you about becoming a better passer. Instead of rejecting that advice out of hand, he’s thinking, “Hmm . . . maybe that’s a good point. Maybe I ought to work on my passing more. Because then I would really be a star.”
  • Praising him again provides the inspiration and motivation for him to go out and work on those new passing skills. Which, of course, is what you wanted him to do in the first place.

What’s the alternative approach? Sadly, too many times a coach or a parent simply tells the young athlete in a blunt manner: “Hey, stop being such a ball hog — pass the ball to some of your teammates, will ya?” This kind of approach not only demotivates the kid, but it also ruins any rapport between the player and the coach.

Ask yourself: What approach would work better for your youngster? Give the praise sandwich a couple of tries and see how it works for you.