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Stop the Empty Feedback

“Praise is easy to give, but in most cases lacks the connection to learning and as a result the athlete misses out on information relevant to learning and effort and how the two are related.” Kristoffer Berg


“Great shot,” said Bob.

“Awesome effort Emma,” he went on.

And perhaps worst of all, “Bad Luck Johnny.”

For 10 minutes he barely stopped giving his players praise.  Unfortunately, all his effort and best intentions were not resulting in any learning.

It was all empty feedback.


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The combination of feedback and activities is what allows coaches to accelerate the learning of their players.  It is impossible to discuss all the various methods of delivering feedback and activities in one article, so we will focus on “calling out” empty feedback, and exploring a model for more effective communication with our tennis kids.

Quite correctly good coaching practice emphasises giving positive feedback.  Giving negative feedback is the best way to turn a learner’s brain off.  So we need to frame our instruction in a positive way.   Coach Bob was certainly giving positive feedback.

Introduce the more advanced concept of Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset.  Dweck’s research found that feedback to be most effective needs to reward the effort of the learner.  Students who are praised for their effort are most likely to persevere when things invariably get difficult.  Coach Bob may have felt he was embracing this in saying, “Awesome effort Emma.”

But if the message is that we must praise just the effort, then that is the wrong message according to Dweck.  It’s really about learning.  We have to stop the empty feedback, fill our messages with simple information and offer sincere and honest praise.  Even kids will get tired of getting false flattery.


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The Guided Discovery method is being reinforced as an approach to giving feedback, that if done effectively rewards effort and results in learning.  Guided Discovery involves questioning and exploring with your students.  Never giving them the answers but giving them hints along the way.

Some examples where I have used Guided Discovery this week during lessons include:

  • Q: “If you had that shot again what would you do differently?”
  • A: “Hit with more height over the net.” (Green Ball player)
  • Q: “How could you have reached that ball?”
  • A: “By recovering.” (Orange Ball players)
  • Q: “How high do you want the ball to be when you hit / catch it?”
  • A: “Bellybutton.” (Red ball player)

And to help another red ball player whose head and eyes were moving all over the place I put a marker cone on her head and asked her to keep it still and stable while she hit the ball.

Feedback is, after all, meant to be a two way communication.  In this way you can check for understanding.  Check that learning is happening and the key messages you are trying to reinforce are being retained.


The Best teachers show you where to look, not what to see.” Alexandra Trentor


To find out more about giving effective feedback click these links to read these two great articles:-





conferenceRufus Keown is a member of the e9 Professional Development Team

He is Director of the Victorian Tennis Academy, in Melbourne Australia and a Course Facilitator for Tennis Australia.



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