Shane Dreiling for sharing the following thoughts from Mike Dunlap, assistant coach at St. John's. It's one of our more lengthy posts but well worth the read. How we praise and how we criticise if far more important that what offense and defense we run because it is the essence of teaching and teaching is what it is all about.
• From day one the teacher-coach should explain the power that positive criticism will establish within a team. In brief, we must drink from the cup of criticism if we are going to improve.
• Criticism is much like weightlifting as there is a process that will make the team and the individual change.
• The criticism strategy is simple—Praise, Prompt, and Leave. For example, “I like the way you locked out your elbow on the shot. Please use more legs and then we will have something special.”
• We must use the word “criticism” in a literal sense. We do not want to be clever by using “feedback” sessions—call it what it is.
• There will be an adjustment period with any positive criticism technique. The instructor must show emotional maturity. For instance, you may get “the face” when you first correct the pupil. Keep a level head and get to your point quickly and move on…for example, “I like when you sprint from spot to spot. You can do this for longer than you think and when that loose ball comes up late in the game you’ll be ready.” If you see “the face” during this criticism, ignore it until you see a pattern.
• Criticism will ultimately involve consequences for actions—good and bad. In other words, use actions, not words. If you get “the face” in a repetitive manner then move quickly with your discipline. For example, I remove the player from the court to the locker room. Hence, he is not a distraction to the group and I am letting the team know that my energy will be spent on those that are doing what I want. I will do this early in the season as the bitter pill of discipline and should be taken early in the process. This player has done you a favor.
• Different students have varying degrees of handling criticism—positive or negative. They simply nod to everything you say. I move quickly on this situation as the player is deflecting what you are saying. For instance, the coach says, “Please stop reaching on the ball,” yet the player keeps doing this while always nodding at your corrections. “O.K., we are going to play a defensive game and everyone must hold their hands behind their back while on defense.”
• If done poorly, criticism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your observations and words must push towards the positive.
Wrong: “You are a dog and if you keep doing that you’ll never get better.”
Right: “Yesterday you moved around here like a champion getting 6 loose balls. Today, you are off two beats and just need to get 2 boards in a row to start the engine—now do it!” (Praise, Prompt, and Leave)
a) You have not only told the player something positive but also have given him a specific target.
• The consequences for actions should be used in a positive manner. Specifically, reward the behavior that you want and like. The example would be, “Rick, you really please me by jumping through the pass and that will get us at least one win this year in crunch time.” We let the group know what wins and also how to gain the praise of the instructor.
• Criticism must be realistic when you lay out your positive predictions. Such as, “I see you getting two more boards a game with those V back cuts on the weakside of the boards—good!” If I use the number 10 instead of 2 I have over done it and will lose credibility over time. The instructor must take a balanced approach. Hence, a statement of expectation can be good or bad.
• Positive Criticism should use the language of the audience. We use metaphors that are relevant to the times as word pictures create a visual imprint. For instance, “Lee, you must think of yourself as a yo-yo. You are trying to stop and go with the dribble, changing speeds and creating space.” Another way of using language is, “When we start out the season everyone must board the plane, get seated, follow instructions, as there is no getting off. We will pick up speed as we go along.”
• Use prediction with your positive criticism (e.g. “When you make the front pivot with your eyes to rim no one can defend you—period—no one!”)
• Do NOT use conjunctions when you praise:
Wrong: “I really think you are doing a superb job with your voice but you could really speak up.
Right: “I really think you are doing a superb job with your voice. Now try to speak louder because we are going to play in a packed house next week.”
• If the coach personalizes the criticism or uses sarcasm, you will be rejected by the player and ultimately by the team. You should criticize the act as much as possible.
Wrong: “You didn’t get that board in crunch time and we lost the game at that moment. Maybe if you drank a little less beer we would have won.”
Right: “I know you will get that board next game because you are using the V back technique on the weakside. What do you think?” Thus, your player has specific targets and this takes away from the subjective evaluation of the instructor. Our players talk about the deflection chart as the criticisms become most powerful when the players accept them as an objective form of evaluation.
• Positive criticism is on going. We develop a critical eye with experience. We must be careful as time can create a negative view.
a) How? Just like quality wine, we begin to understand bad wines. Does this mean we do not continue to try other wines? No! We simply understand the depth of our experience and use caution as we grow more aware.
b) The evolution comes from using fewer words to instruct. While our database grows with time, the economy of words becomes our reward.
• Use the Socratic method to engage the minds. For example, “I’m going to ask the team a question and I want to see if you have the answer.” This is effective because the entire audience is thinking as opposed to one person. They are probably thinking please don’t ask me but nonetheless the team is on their toes.
• A quality critic bases his criticism on a certain criteria. This helps you be more specific and objective. Your reference points for judgment are important. For example, “Our effort is measured by our deflection chart which calculates your positive impact on the outcome. Specifically, you get 1 point for getting a loose ball, taking a charge, or getting a deflection.”
• When criticizing, know the person you are addressing as we say, “Understand but do not accept negative behavior.” See through the eyes of the student when evaluating their background and role models.
• When you are forced to criticize someone for a personal matter, link it to a bigger outcome. “Frank, I am hesitant to tell you this because I don’t want to embarrass you. This bad habit will hold you back as a team leader, with women, and the business community. You need to shower everyday. Your odor affects others in a negative way. We can change this habit now. What do you think?”
• Criticism in groups is more dangerous than criticizing the individual alone. However, there may be a time and place to do both. Know your audience, the situation, and the person.
• Criticism must be linked to individual accountability.
a) The teacher must admit his mistakes when they happen, as it is a show of humanness and accountability.
b) We cannot accept excuses in our team culture.
c) The instructor must tackle the excuse maker quickly as this can only go one way—BAD.
• The teacher must be ready for criticism when it comes your way—it WILL!
a) Please do not take the approach that the customer is always right—as there are times when they are not. Hence, we still want to get resolution and move on and besides we want to show emotional intelligence and maturity.
b) The technique goes something like this when confronted by a player, “I think you are a jerk, because you keep coming at me in practice and it isn’t fair!”
Coach: “O.K. let’s assume you are right. I’m not sure that the jerk part will help us go anywhere. Why don’t we just stick to the part about me coming at you because ultimately you want to play here and so do I. Why don’t you be specific about what is bother you. We will then put together a strategy that works. Again, please respect my position and you will address me with manners.”
• Criticism is a fact of life. We must have a system in place so that we can be effective and grow as a team. Certainly there will be some “hot” moments. Yet, we can be proactive with our communications. When pressure is applied, chaos will thrive unless we build in a flexible system for communication and criticism.