Unfortunately with competitive sport comes feedback and no matter how good they are, there will be times when the feedback will be critical and difficult for a child to cope with. This section is meant to give an insight into how children can feel when they are given negative feedback and to try to help people understand how damaging it can be if it is given incorrectly.
Children are naturally quite self analytical and tend to know when they have made a mistake. It’s not always necessary for a coach or a parent to dissect performance errors in great detail straight after a game or performance as the child will know what they did well and where they made mistakes. They will probably feel quite disappointed in themselves if they have had a bad game or performance, so to then have those feelings compounded by criticism from a coach or parent will undoubtedly lead to feelings of low self esteem leading to low self confidence and probably lack of self belief. As a coach or parent it would be more beneficial to remain focused on what the child did well and only address the areas that could have been improved a few days later.
All children are different, therefore every child should be treated in a way that brings out the best in them. What works for one child could well have a negative effect on another. Nowadays, coaches tend to use the same approach for everyone, which may well explain why children who have the same physical ability as their peer group don’t always flourish and reach their perceived potential due to the universal approach used in certain settings. Some children need some form of positive feedback during each training session as this helps build their feelings of self belief and reinforces their overall perception of themselves. These types of children thrive from positive feedback and it brings out the best in them and consequently brings out their best performance. Other children need less feedback from external sources and require only the knowledge that they are satisfied with their performance. Neither child is better then the other, they just require a different approach to bring out the best in them and coaches dealing with children should be able to adapt their approach to best suit the individual child.
A common feedback approach used today is the numerical grading system which is used to evaluate a child’s progress in their sport. I personally have seen it used in football academies, however I’m sure it’s used in other sports too. The child is given a performance score relating to how the coach feels they performed in their match. These scores are then fed back to the player in the form of a report with their average score for that period included too. Although the children are told not to compare scores with their team mates the inevitable always happens and, as this is how they are evaluated in all areas of school, they deduce that the child with the highest score is the best in the group and the child with the lowest is the worst. This form of feedback and it’s interpretation can be detrimental to a child’s level of confidence, as if they are consistently receiving lower scores than the rest of their peer group they will begin to feel they are the worst in the group. Over a long period of time these scores act as a form of reinforced failure and will result in a drop in self confidence and self belief which is then reflected in their performance on the pitch. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy so to speak. The child’s performance will merely reflect what they are being told.
This type of grading system only really benefits those children who are being consistently told that they are successful and top of their group. This is not unique to football, it is the same in any sport. Those players will have extremely high self confidence and a belief in their ability to perform at their best.
Tailoring feedback so that it is child specific would be the best approach to use with children, and keeping this feedback confidential would enable the child to process it and respond to it in the best way they could. Limiting the amount of negative comments and focusing the child on their successes would, in the long term, produce highly confident sports people who have high levels of self belief and who are motivated to take risks as they are not fearful of being negatively evaluated if they make mistakes.