Negative feedback scores points

And it’s the entire sports community that wins!

Date published: 2012-09-07 12:00:00 PM

Isn't it true that we learn more from our failures than from our successes? And yet, it seems as difficult to accept a criticism as it does to formulate it—in the world of sports, at least.

“As an athlete, I noticed that it was not always pleasant to receive negative feedback, but that I still wanted to get some. As a coach, I also understand the importance of giving this feedback in an appropriate manner, in order to reach the desired training goal.”

A doctoral student in psychology at the Université de Montréal, Joëlle Carpentier has seen both sides of the coin. After eight years as a synchronized swimmer, she is now a coach in the sport, and provides training to other coaches. While doing her master’s and doctoral research, both financed by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, she developed tools to ensure that negative feedback provided by a coach would have a positive effect on the athlete’s motivation, well-being and performance.

Negative feedback is often seen by researchers as an attempt to try to control the athlete. For many coaches, providing negative feedback while helping the athlete stay focused on the task at hand is a nightmare, because they do not really know how to criticize an athlete without breaking him or her down.

In theory, sport psychologists and other training specialists agree that that it is enough to give the athlete the information so that he or she can improve.

“In the field, things happen differently,” says the young researcher. “The coach is in the heat of the action and under stress, especially since he/she is also being evaluated. What comes out is often quite destructive.”

Carpentier’s work is commanding a great deal of interest in the sports community, since her vision of negative feedback helps to reinforce athletes’ autonomy and progress, instead of eroding their motivation and self-esteem. It’s an impressive discovery for a researcher who dared to venture down a slippery slope.

View video (in French only)