I sat down for an interview with good friend and Director of Scholastic Training at Athletic Lab, Nick Newman. Nick has a Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology and has worked with athletes from ranging from complete beginners to Olympic athletes. Along with sport psychology, Nick has extensive knowledge in training theory and periodization. This interview was specifically based around his use of feedback within sessions as well as with different types of athletes.
John: Describe your background, training, and experience in using feedback.
Nick: The focus of my Graduate Degree was Sport Psychology. During that time I spent three years working alongside several US Team Sport Psychology Consultants. The majority of my study was focused around attentional focus and the relationship with the accuracy of movement.
From a coaching perspective there is no getting around the importance of feedback. My real world coaching experience has required me to spend much time learning and experimenting with feedback strategies.
I have worked with athletes ranging from beginners to Olympic level athletes – from eight year old athletes that can’t pay attention for more than 30 seconds to elite athletes over-analyze the clothes they wear. Because of the specific demands of each individual athlete, the role of feedback in coaching has been crucial to my success and the success of my athletes.
J: How prominently is feedback (positive or negative) involved in your work with athletes?
N: I give feedback to my athletes every day. Mature, higher level athletes generally perform better with minimal feedback as they are able to experience a greater level of intrinsic feedback. Ninety percent of the feedback given to elite level athletes can often be spent on five percent of their training / competition routines. Often times, this feedback is given on highly complex skills or fine tuning technical inconsistencies.
Younger, less experienced athletes naturally require more feedback as they are unable to experience intrinsic feedback and are still learning in the cognitive stage. Although a greater frequency and quantity of feedback is required for these athletes, it is important to understand the relationship between feedback and learning. At the cognitive stage of learning, too much feedback based around a skill / movement / technical issues can slow down development and prevent a greater understanding of what is required of them. Positive feedback is also far more important at the early stages than with elite level athletes.
J: What psychological objectives do you have for those with whom you work?
N: For beginner athletes, sport and training is based around fun and self-achievement. Young athletes generally develop an incredible self-worth through sport. As a coach it is my job to harvest that through positive learning experiences. Critical aspects of personality shaping can be directly linked to early learning experiences and it is always my goal with young athletes to positively impact their self-esteem, confidence, resiliency, and self-actualization.
J: How do you address issues related to motivation with those with whom you work? How do you create an environment where motivation can thrive? Explain.
N: Motivation can be a very tricky issue. The majority of elite athletes wouldn’t have made it to that level without a considerable amount of intrinsic motivation behind them. That burning desire to succeed or emulate someone they look up to is like an internal fire. It is hard to explain to a young athlete what it is, but I tell them they will know if they have it. High levels of intrinsic motivation come from two key areas – success and enjoyment. Success tends to occur when a person is taught well and is practicing a skill in which they are well suited to perform well in. Enjoyments is usually a natural response to success and all that comes with it. As a coach I try to educate athletes and parents and direct them down a path that they have the highest likelihood of success.
J: What are the major psychological problems you encounter in working athletes? How do you address these issues?
N: Focus is the most prevalent issue among youth athletes. Staying focused on a task long enough to achieve a proficient level seems more and more difficult these days. I blame the iPhone culture for that.
Using a variety of learning methods and setting small and often obtained goals can assist in keeping young athletes focused for a longer period of time.
J: How do you use feedback to regulate your own coaching behavior?
N: Generally speaking, my use of feedback progresses from external to internal, frequent to less frequent, and simple to complex to simple again. Over time, I expect the athlete to give me more feedback than I give them. As an athlete masters a skill, they are able to experience it in a four-dimensional way whereas in the early stages of learning that is highly unlikely. Therefore less feedback is required once the athlete can feel it both internally and externally.
Thanks for your time, Nick.