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Reviewing success and failure

Find out from Paddy Upton in this article how a review can build players’ and the team’s confidence or break it down.
Female coach at whiteboard coaching swimming team at practice
© Deakin University

A review can build players’ and the team’s confidence or break it down, enhance learning or shut it down, build the player-coach relationship or undermine it. A lot rides on how a review is conducted.

Keep in mind the purpose of your review. For me, it’s firstly to learn from the previous game so we can apply what we learned to improve in the next game, and secondly, to identify the players’ experience of the game, specifically of their thinking behind the actions they took and decisions they made, which is what I’m not able to see as the coach.

We’ll talk about review in terms of post-match here, but a review can happen at any time, such as in a conversation with a player who’s working on a new skill in training.

Internal and external perspectives

The review process can be done both from the coach’s and the players’ perspective, each of which offers different views. The coach can only review what they see, either live or on a video recording afterwards – such as player skill and tactics (focussing on the top-right quadrant) or team strategy (the bottom-right quadrant).

Coaches and video cameras are often able to see things that athletes can’t. Reviewing from a player perspective includes the thinking or feelings that preceded the event; something that nobody but the player can know – this happens in the invisible top-left quadrant. Coaches can guess, but the accuracy of this is random.

Together, coach and player can cover most angles, thus collaboration is always best.

Success and failure

Whether it’s coaches or players doing the review, both can have different orientations when it comes to success and failure with a greater number of coaches and players tending to notice and give more energy to mistakes or failures than to success.

When the coach highlights and authentically acknowledges success, it has the effect of building player confidence, enhancing their learning and building the relationship between coach and player. Focusing on and highlighting failure or mistakes tends to have the opposite effect. Nobody likes looking bad or being wrong, which generally is the case with mistakes.

When this happens, ego is pricked, and our ego’s natural reaction is to defend itself or attack others, by way of blame, justification or explanation, which can happen openly, behind the coach’s back or silently within the individual’s head.

During this ego-defensive process, learning is shut down, confidence is undermined and the relationship between coach and player is eroded – especially if the mistake is highlighted in front of peers.

Reprimanding someone for their mistake not only creates a fear of failure, but also fear of the repercussion of failure. Most players don’t like being responsible for upsetting their coach, their team mates or their parents.

Each time one of these people demonstrate their disappointment or unhappiness, the fear within that player grows. Remember that fear of failure is one of the single biggest mental obstacles to success, and your reprimand goes a long way to creating this.

The ideal way to address failure is for the coach to guide players to the point where they can acknowledge their error: ‘ accept I made a mistake’. This is ideal, but doesn’t always happen. It requires the player to trust that the coach is genuinely trying to help them, and that they won’t be judged, punished or reprimanded for making the mistake.

A player-centred approach has a significantly better chance of achieving this than a coach-centred approach.

Once the error is acknowledged, the next step is to focus the conversation on what the solution would be for next time. When focusing on designing solutions in the future, the creative part of the brain is engaged, as opposed to the ego-centre, and when this happens, engagement increases, learning opens up, confidence builds and relationships grow.

Process versus results

A review can focus on process, the things people do in the pursuit of results and/or results of those efforts. Generally in sport, and in life, we have more control over our inputs (the processes), than we have over the outcome (the result of our efforts).

Most coaches today say, ‘focus on the process, and the results will look after themselves’. If you believe this, then focus your review more on process than results.

So, what’s the ideal scenario when reviewing games? I provide some practical strategies in the next step.

Your task

Most coaches say, ‘focus on the process, and the results will look after themselves.’

Consider your current context and, in the comments, reflect on a time you focussed on process and how this impacted on performance from a team and individual perspective.

© Deakin University
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