Tuesday Tips: Finding The Feedback Focus Balance, Presented By Spin

Once your team has identified what to improve, how do you get better at it?

How does your team focus on feedback? Photo: Paul Rutherford–Ultiphotos.com

Almost all team areas have a pendulum that is constantly swinging and seeking to find balance.

A team culture is made up of a wide variety of personalities. Meshing all of them together can be a messy prospect and requires patience and compromise. The pendulum swings and the team adjusts. Is the team competitive or goofy? Time-consuming or relaxed? Cold and calm or hot and energetic?

Every team has a sweet spot, a balance point on each of these spectrums. One of the most delicate and important is finding the perfect balance in how your team focuses the feedback it receives.

Especially during the offseason or preseason, the focus of a team is (rightfully) on improving and to do so, they must gather feedback and make a plan to implement it. This means taking a good hard look at the squad and the players on it, critically examining flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes in hopes of improving them. Then comes an even harder task of communicating that feedback and directional change to players and the squad. How best to do this becomes one of the trickier snares in ultimate team culture, no matter what your role in the group is.

From leadership to rookie, it is hard to communicate to someone that they need to change their behavior, especially if they are set in their ways and even more so if they disagree with your opinion.

Finding the feedback focus is essential, however. Without the right skills to explain and convey what needs to change, the team remains stagnant, doesn’t learn, and never improves.

It is about balance. Become too negative in focus and the team culture can suffer greatly from it. If you’re too broadly hopeful and positive, on the other hand, serious change is hard to come by. The fight between realistic and idealistic determines how much focus you spend focusing on the weakness of your team at the expense of getting even better at what you’re already good at. Finding that middle-ground, communicating it, and making sure you’re constantly adjusting to it is the difficult task that we seek to achieve.

Here’s how to find the feedback focus balance for your squad.

Build Confidence

No matter how bad your team is, you cannot start without positivity and confidence. This is the baseline from which all teams will advance.

To put it frankly, people aren’t interested in doing something that they don’t believe is fun or that they lack talent for. Even the most inexperienced players (those who may not know what to ask for) will want positive feedback and encouragement.

This can be something as simple as laying out potential. Tell a player who particularly needs improvement that if they work hard they might succeed if they follow their path of progress. More likely, this will need to be specific and targeted praise.

It shouldn’t be too hard to find what your squad’s strengths. If you’re struggling, go back to the basics: fitness, athleticism, throws, and catches. There are players who will be good at these things, and they need to be told. Lavish a little positivity on them.

This is where some elite teams can miss a critical step. Even the best players will benefit from taking the time for positivity. Jumping straight to, “Here’s where you need to work on” and avoiding the strengths of a player or group can be fatal to team culture.

A team will move forward on its confidence and praise.

Deliver Individual Feedback

After a nice shot of confidence-boosting praise, it comes time for the individual feedback. And of course, that individual feedback will target areas for improvement: focusing on mistakes made in the past, weaknesses in games, and flawed fundamentals.

But again, watch out for too much negativity. Start with another old feedback favorite: use a compliment sandwich.

When giving feedback, either in person or over text, start with a compliment (preferably two) about on-the-field and/or off-the field strengths. Then, move into critical feedback, but always position your language in a growth mindset, or a way that allows a player to visual or internalize the ability to improve.

This is an important point, and one that might seem trivial on the outside, but growth-mindset language has been proven to have a much more effective success rate than fixed-mindset language.

Here’s some examples of fixed mindset feedback (bad) versus growth mindset feedback (good).

Fixed-Mindset Feedback Growth Mindset Feedback
You aren’t good at cutting.Your cutting can improve if you work on your footwork.
Your throws aren’t great so don’t rely on them.Your throws should be used in certain spots, more available with practice.
Your handler defense is a weak area.Your handler defense is your top area to improved.

Seems simple, right? And it is! But that doesn’t mean teams are doing it often enough. Stay consistent with your players; there is always potential to change positively, if they take the feedback and improve.

But don’t stop there! It is essential that you follow this up with coaching, teaching, and help. They can’t get a bad grade and then be told “tough luck.” Your job, and the job of the entire team, is to give pointed recommendations, tips, advice, coaching, and most of all lots of time, energy, and help to making improvements. Include all of this in the feedback; the more advice coupled with the criticism, the better!

And then, finish the compliment sandwich off, by mentioning or reiterating a strength. You always want them walking away feeling good.

This is how compromise and balance works; it might be frustrating, especially for leaders on the team or to those who see obvious mistakes being made, but it is necessary.

Avoid The Low Point: Critical Feedback And Attempts At Correction.

The low point comes in the grind of the post-feedback time, when people are on the verge of burning out or feeling discouraged.

If the team has done its job right, feedback has now been successfully communicated to individuals. In other words, they know their weaknesses and what they need to work on. They know their feedback focus.

However, even if a positive spin has been brought to the first two steps of communication, a team can still find itself in a negative funk in this stage. No matter how you slice it, this is a tough time because there isn’t a lot of reward for the hard work that is being put forth. Especially if your team is either not playing games in the preseason or is still struggling to win games, it can appear hopeless. This is where many people check out for the season, giving up or losing effort or focus on training and goals.

However, there are a few important things you can do to find the feedback focus and keep a good balance:

  • Keep putting a positive spin on things
  • Continue to use growth-mindset language
  • Find ways to break the burnout by having fun with your team
  • Try to give small victories wherever they can be found
  • Praise incremental change… this is essential and critical

The most important part of this low point is noting and tracking incremental change. Even if your team isn’t running the offense correctly or still hasn’t been able to generate blocks on D, note the little steps that might have improved. Perhaps the flow is better or the proximity of defenders. Maybe you’re so close to breaking through!

Ignoring incremental improvement is subliminally telling the team that small steps towards improvement aren’t good enough. While these high standards are admirable in an abstract sense, in reality they are only going to make people give up.

Remember, you have to walk before you can crawl. Even the best players need time to develop skills. And also remember, what is easy for one person may be difficult for another. We are all different; even if this skill is easily grasped by many, some may require extra help.

Be vocal and up-front about the small changes and use them to promote positivity and confidence in the team.

Seek Out Success And Promote Positive Examples

Hopefully, incremental change is occurring. The next step is keeping it up to full improvement and in finding consistency.

Most often, people will be able to start stepping into their new roles or achieving their goals, but will have trouble doing it every single point.

The best way to remedy this is to seek out signs of success and examples for emulation. Preferably, these examples are from the players themselves. Use anecdotal observation (or better yet film) to show times when a player or the team is achieving what needs to happen.

Most often in film review, leadership again goes negative and points out failures. Here is where it is important to find the examples, even if they are rare, where things are going right. Point out tweaks, feel free to do minor corrections and ways to be even better, but keep it focused on the good, encouraging players to be actively thinking and finding ways to do it again.

Achieve Goals And Reevaluate Them 

The process reaches an end of a cycle where goals are consistently and reliably achieved.

Celebrate this success!

If the article you’ve read has taught you anything, it is that negative and critical feedback often swing the pendulum to an unbalanced place.

Work to correct his proactively, and then begin the process again by reevaluating the team needs and goals and seeking out new areas to improve and give feedback.

For a good team, feedback is a constant process that happens on a monthly basis (if not more frequently). All of that feedback can be overwhelming, especially to younger players, especially if it is extremely critical. Use these steps and tips to improve and keep your team mentally balanced and ready to work.

With those steps in mind, and a positive process in place, growth will be much more efficient and team culture will find that perfect, focused balance.

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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