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Nothing is more inspiring to players than signs of improvement. Evidence of increased competence is a fundamental driver of motivation and the first of the player development 4 C’s (competence, confidence, connection, character) I highlighted in Coaching Better Every Season.
Yet, how often do we actually show our players that they are better at something than they were before? Typically, we rely solely on competition statistics (goals, assists, finish time, hits, shooting percentage, etc.) to determine and then convey performance gains. Although convenient and relatively easy, reliance on stats alone omits important opportunities to capture and share meaningful information with athletes about their progress.
Recently, while discussing this dilemma with fellow coaches in preparation for the upcoming season, we experimented with creating a comprehensive player skills checklist. Our original intent was to conduct a formal player skills evaluation session at the beginning and end of the season, and use that as evidence of player development.
Although well intentioned, this type of strategy is time consuming and probably not very practical for many coaches. Furthermore, the result is a written report, not a visual display of actual skill improvement. An alternative and more effective strategy is to capture early season and late season brief video footage that reflects players’ progress.
For example, in their recent book The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath highlight the value of showing people visual evidence of improvement as a way to build pride. They then pinpoint sport coaches in particular as a group that seldom takes advantage of the power of skill improvement moments.
“Improvements are slow and incremental. Almost invisible. You can’t rewind your memory to six months prior and observe how clearly your dribbling has improved. But you can rewind a video. What if every boy on a basketball team received a simple before-and-after video comparing his performance at the beginning and end of the season? The improvements would be so obvious, so visible: Check it out – I could barely dribble with my left hand! Haha – I couldn’t make a free throw to save my life. What a stunning moment of pride that would be. Look how far I’ve come! And yet we have not encountered a single coach who has had the instinct to mint this moment of pride for his [or her] players.” (p. 166)
I offer the following strategy for harnessing the power of player progress moments.
Step 1: Early in the preseason, perhaps even at the first team meeting or practice, distribute a player profile card. On the card, ask each player to print their name and list three things they most want to improve as a player this season. It is important that the players be as specific as possible. For example, instead of listing ‘shooting’ or ‘improve my 200 meter swim time’, they should identify the specific type of shot or component of the swim technique. It should take only a few minutes to complete this step.
Step 2: Players then return their cards to the coach. Over the next few days, the coach (or coaches if working together with a coaching staff) can review the cards and ask players for clarification, if needed.
Step 3: Periodically, throughout the first two weeks of practice, pull aside each player and videotape them performing one or more of the skills from their self-improvement list. Keep it simple and practical. Use a smartphone (or GoPro camera with a chest harness or helmet attachment) to record the video and keep each video short, ideally no more than 20-30 seconds. If an assistant or team manager can handle this task there should be little or no disruption of the practice.
Step 4: Later in the season, either when you notice that a player has improved on their skill or simply in the last two weeks of practice, pull players aside and again videotape them performing the skill or skills. Try to videotape them in the same way you videotaped them originally to provide a meaningful comparison.
Step 5: Combine the two videos for each player and prepare to share them. Don’t bother with special video editing. Simply show each player their before and after videos back-to-back. Seeing the difference--their significant improvement—should boost athletes’ pride. You may elect to present each player their videos right away or hold them until the end of the season and present them as part of exit meetings with each player.
Of course, this strategy only works if players improve their skills by the end of the season. Allowing the athletes to identify the skills they want to improve (Step 1) will increase the odds of each player showing improvement by the end of the season. Research consistently shows that motivation to learn is enhanced when the learners themselves have some control over features of the learning environment.
Further increase the likelihood of all your team members earning a positive progress video moment by revisiting the player profile cards periodically during the season. While reviewing the cards, determine whether the practice activities you are designing give each player the training, feedback and support needed to directly improve their desired skills.
This video-based strategy can show each player powerful evidence of their skill development from the beginning to the end of a season. Actually seeing on video the improvement in their performance is motivating and builds pride, increasing the likelihood your athletes will return the following season excited to improve more skills.
Gilbert, W. (2017). Coaching better every season: A year-round system for athlete development and program success. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The power of moments. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Ste-Marie, D. M., Vertes, K. A., Law, B., & Rymal, A. M. (2013). Learner-controlled self-observation is advantageous for motor skill acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology, 3: 556. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00556
United States Olympic Committee. (2018). USOC Quality coaching framework. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. Retrieved from: https://www.teamusa.org/About-the-USOC/Athlete-Development/Coaching-Education/Quality-Coaching-Framework