Influences on Feedback

Written by Dr Craig Harrison

Navigating a rapid increase in sporting and life demands is a critical feature of a young athlete’s success. Receiving feedback from coaches, parents and supporters is a core way of doing this. The challenge is deciding who to listen to. As a young athlete progresses, the number of feedback sources increases. They’re subjected to a range of views and pressures all offering different guidance and advice. How can a young athlete make sense of it all? And what can we do to help?

Let’s start by understanding the elements of feedback a young athlete uses to assign value. There are many such elements but the 3 big ones are the perceived status of the person providing the feedback, how much the feedback provider is liked and trusted, and the athlete’s sensitivity to difference in the feedback.1

Let’s go a little deeper…

Perceived Status

How much control an athlete thinks you have over their sporting future determines how intently they’ll take notice. Do you have a strong history playing the game? Have you got a winning record? Do you coach the team an athlete is trying to get into? If you answered yes to any of these questions you’re more likely to be listened to! What’s also interesting is parents who fulfil a dual role as coach and parent at earlier stages of development are trusted more, especially if they play the game or did so previously.

A Close and Open Relationship

Athletes value feedback more when they like and trust you. While unsurprising, it’s worth thinking about this more deeply. Are you trustworthy? I’ve found a lot of success in my coaching and parenting by using these 4 principles of trust to guide my behaviours.

  1. Be compassionate – Do I listen? Do I show empathy? Do I recognise and celebrate others?
  2. Act with integrity – Am I honest? Do I keep my word? Do I have clear values that guide my decisions?
  3. Display consistency – Do I show up in a way that is predicable? Can I be counted on? Do I make fair and impartial decisions?
  4. Show competence – Do I know my job? Do I pursue mastery? Do I help others?

A Sensitivity to Difference

Rather than critically reflecting on what’s being said, young athletes typically base their decisions on how difference the feedback is from what they’ve previously heard. When your idea or suggestion doesn’t relate well to prior knowledge or understanding, it’s often rejected. This is important for two reasons; 1) an athlete’s past experiences heavily influences what feedback they value, and 2) when introducing new ideas, how you do it is critical!

So, a quick recap – young athletes typically judge the value of your feedback on the status they perceive you have, how much they like and trust you and how different your feedback is from what they already know and believe.

Be aware during coaching and parenting conversations, influences of feedback significantly impact whether or not your messages are valued and, therefore, how quickly your athletes learn and develop.

If you’d like to learn more about my public talks and workshops, including how to give great feedback, get in touch here.

I’ll see you next week,

Craig —


  1. Taylor, J., Collins, D., & Cruickshank, A. (2021). Too Many Cooks, Not Enough Gourmets: Examining Provision and Use of Feedback for the Developing Athlete, The Sport Psychologist (published online ahead of print 2021).
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