Coaching Association of Canada

4 Myths about Giving Feedback

Frequent and precise feedback is best for motor development, right? Not quite. In recent years, researchers have re-examined some of these recommendations on the grounds that they were based on studies of short-term improvement in performance, not longer term learning.

Click on the myth to learn more about providing quality feedback to your athletes.

  • MYTH: Feedback should be delivered as frequently as possible. 

    FACT: Very frequent feedback does not promote learning. A comparison between intermittent feedback (after every two or three repetitions or even less frequently) and frequent feedback (after every repetition or attempt) shows that very frequent feedback does not promote learning. In other words, more is not necessarily better. 

  • MYTH: Feedback can be given during execution.

    FACT: The least effective approach is frequent feedback during execution. The negative effect of the phenomenon described in the preceding paragraph is even more evident when feedback is given while the learner is practicing. This may lead to short-term improvement, but it also tends to create dependency on this kind of feedback, which can impair longer term learning. 

  • MYTH: Feedback should be as precise as possible.

    FACT: In the short term, summary feedback is not as effective as instantaneous feedback, but it does lead to superior learning and retention of skills. Summary feedback involves giving feedback after several attempts or repetitions of a task in a way that gives (1) an objective view of tendencies observed during execution of a movement, or (2) information about the average performance achieved after several repetitions. Compared with instantaneous feedback (that is, feedback given after every repetition), summary feedback does not lead to rapid, short-term acquisition of new motor skills; however, it leads to superior long-term learning and better retention of skills. 

  • MYTH: Providing feedback to elicit even the most marginal improvements is effective.

    FACT: To promote learning, feedback should be given only when the difference between the athlete’s performance and the desired result requires it. Bandwidth feedback refers to the practice of providing feedback only when performance is outside an acceptable range of correctness, i.e., if performance is less than 75% of the acceptable target result. The target result can be either the form of the movement or the precision of the execution. Motor learning research indicates that using a relatively large bandwidth, or range of correctness, is beneficial for learning. This tends to (1) reduce the frequency with which feedback is provided; (2) promote summary feedback, which may encourage the athlete to compare less successful attempts with those that fell within the acceptable range of performance; and (3) develop a degree of autonomy in the athlete, as well as the ability to analyze his or her own performance. In this last case, the coach may ask the athlete to compare his or her self-analysis with the coach’s information about correct or incorrect execution of the task. 

Want more information on how to deliver great feedback? The Teaching and Learning module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Multi-sport module series for coaches, will provide you with additional knowledge! Contact your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative for more details!