The power of feedback in helping you improve

The following post is written by coach Suzie Richards. 

I am a big fan of the Podcast "Finding Mastery" hosted by Dr Michael Gervais. Each week Michael sits down with an expert from a whole range of backgrounds to discuss their ideas around mastery and how they became an expert in their field. 

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Last week's podcast was with Shaka Smart, the Men's Head Basketball coach at The University of Texas. Shaka talks about many leadership and coaching skills, the one I will focus on is feedback. 
"You need a healthy and close relationship with feedback to progress. Being open to feedback is imperative for growth." 

Shaka discusses the many forms of feedback and the different ways of responding to it. He mentioned that feedback is often right there in front of you, you just need to open your eyes to see it.

It reminded me of my first Job. I was teaching Geography in London, on the Teach First programme. 

At the end of each day, Comfort, the cleaner, would come into the classroom, scan the room and look at me. I was usually lying on a table, thankful I had survived the day. 

From the state of the room, Comfort knew how my day had unfolded. 32 paper aeroplanes,scattered on the floor, made out of the worksheets I had designed at 2am the previous morning, enough crisp packets and chocolate wrappers to show a huge picnic had occurred rather than any learning about waterfalls or glaciers. It gave pretty clear feedback. 

This was the general theme, every single day. 

I will remember the day, several weeks into my first term. Comfort came into the room and the floor was free of crisp packets, drinks cans, screwed up work sheets, chocolate wrappers, chewed stationary.  We whooped with joy, danced around the room together and celebrated with hi-fives. 

"Your classroom is a mirror of yourself" 

Was one of the most valuable pieces of feedback I have ever received. 

How does this relate to Triathlon, and Shaka's comments regarding sport and feedback for athletic development?

Shaka commented that often the feedback is right in front of you, sometimes it just requires pointing out.

This links in with another podcast interview I listened to recently. The Tri Specific, Fat Black podcast #223 with Brad Kearns. Brad discusses the ideas of preventing burn out, loss of motivation and keeping healthy through taking on feedback from your body. Unable to get up in the morning? lacking motivation to follow the training program? Tired every evening as you collapse onto the sofa? 

This is all feedback, saying "Give me a break, stop hammering me!"

The other week, I took my GoPro to the Club Triathlon club swim session and offered to film people's swim stroke.

Watching the footage in slow motion really highlighted how technique could be improved. 

I tested the GoPro out on myself first. Here are some stills from my swim.

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My arm is pretty wide, with the hand pushing outwards instead of backwards. A large 

amount of my swim cap is under the water, is this the most efficient head position? 

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The above side view shows my ineffective catch. I would ideally ee a bend at my elbow 

so my forearm and and act as an efficient paddle, pushing the water backwards with 

good propulsion. 

Seeing my swim stroke allows me to consider how I can make it more effective and efficient.

I sent the Video to my coach who reviewed it and gave me some feedback and 

suggestions of how I could improve.

Shaka, discusses how feedback is received and how athletes hear and implement feedback. 

He refers to an athlete he coaches who manages feedback as highly impersonal, he views feedback 

as data on his skills, rather than judgement on himself personally. This allows him to view

feedback rationally, therefore avoids becoming personally upset or feeling attacked. 

Feedback, can be hard data such as the time it takes you to swim 400 meters, run 5km or your 

average power for a 20 minute cycle time trial. It can be a coaches analysis on your swim stroke. It could be a physio's mobility assessment of what movements you can or can not do. The list is endless.

The key to progression, is to embrace feedback, hear it and to act on it.

Suzie Richards coaches triathletes for all distances, from sprint through to Iron distance races. She currently has some limited availability for 1 -1 coaching. If you're serious about improving your performance, you can contact her direct via email: 

Suzie (