It’s an interesting thing. Listen to coaches during games or in our case track meets. Most coaches confuse practice with competition in giving feedback. There is a basic premise in sports psychology regarding performance and feedback that goes something like this: practice is to learn, prefect, and get feedback to adjust what you do to get better; while race/meet day is for competition – race day is for racing.
This premise is often violated by well-meaning coaches by trying to “coach” athletes on competition day offering far too much input. Some recent research in indicate the following findings:
In technique events (hurdles, long jump, shot put, etc.) feedback focused on specific body parts can decrease performance due to tension/retraction of muscles etc.
[This has not been well evaluated yet for endurance events.]
Feedback as related to practice: more feedback is better; less feedback is not as helpful to improving performance.
Feedback as related to competition: more feedback yields poorer performance; limited feedback yields better performances.
For distance runners, we often focus on split times or running tall. This is excellent for learning pacing and good form while coping with progressively longer distances (or more reps) to get runners accustomed to race demands. And though we may advocate certain race pacing tactics depending on the competition or course (such as a hilly cross-country course); race day must be reserved for racing. That means to become overly preoccupied with “even splits” or trying to “run tall” you may lose a race you would otherwise win. Or, you may lose contact with a pack that would otherwise pull you to a new PR.
So, feedback in competition must be different than what is given in practice to be effective. Like driving a manual transmission; just do it. This is not the time to explain how to depress the clutch then slowly let it up until you feel it engage…
What kind of feedback is most helpful in competition?
Whether you are a coach, parent or fellow team member we can all become more effective giving feedback on race day. Keep comments short, powerful and meaningful. Here are the types of comments that will help versus hinder an athlete during competition.
“Hang with them”
“Go for it”
“Get with the pack”
* These last comments are examples of terms that are unique to a person or team (like a season motto or rallying cry). To make these especially powerful, create the cue word or phrase to help elicit the physical response desired. My son and his friends came up with this whole “beast” thing. So, for them it’s great when someone “beasted” on someone else; had a “beastly” workout; or they are out to “beast” on the competition. The point is, it does not have to be everyday proper English. It has to be meaningful to those using it.
Remember, the goal is to get an athlete out of the training or “evaluation” mindset and into the “just do it” mindset. You’ll have plenty of time after the race to evaluate what went right and what went wrong and then work on that in practice.
If you have rallying cries your teams have used or terms, phrases or other utterances that you have used – please share them. I love learning from everyone.