Here is a little experiment for all you trainers and wannabe trainers. Go out to your nearest academy on the first fitness evaluation day for the cadets. Watch as the participants finish each test and the feedback given (or not given) by the staff.
You’re likely to hear a mix of “good effort,” “run harder next time,” and probably even a “not acceptable” and you will wonder what information the instructor was using to give the feedback and what it meant to the cadet.
Did the fit military veteran get a sharp “100 percent next time!” while the pudgy youngster got a “great effort!” as feedback for a time you’d consider below his potential, baby fat and all?
Giving Appropriate Feedback
Each word spoken (or unspoken) is a manifestation of the trainer’s expectations for that student and often determines who achieves and who doesn’t. Expecting a lot from someone and holding them to that helps them believe in themselves and their potential.
Expecting a little (or nothing) from a student teaches them the opposite, and if they are prone to accepting expectations from others as almost all of us are, then the words have tremendous power.
Do you give feedback to your students based on “person cues” or “performance information?”
If you don’t expect your female students to shoot well, I guarantee you find women have a hard time learning to shoot well under your tutelage.
If you expect your veterans to outperform your civilian cadets, I bet they generally do although many students are “expectation proof” by the time they grow up if coached and trained properly in their developmental years.
Trainers have the responsibility to have high expectations for all our students, and to learn how to get the best out of each.
Doing Your Homework
Go to your local university library or public library and read the chapter on Self-fulfilling Prophesies in Jean Williams’ excellent book, Applied Sports Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance.
It is the most concise explanation of self-fulfilling prophecy I’ve ever found, and it gives you great examples of how we enhance or undermine the expectations of others through our words and actions.
The above example is a good one. If the pudgy cadet is just a few seconds behind the cadet just out of the Rangers, you may express approval of a relatively poor time to your civilian and chastise the vet for not achieving your expectations for his performance.
I bet he tries harder while the chunky civilian cadet will not be well served by being satisfied with low expectations. His odds of winning on the street are greatly enhanced by expecting to become a highly fit hard running, hard fighting crime fighter by the end of the academy!
There are a multitude of ways we can express our expectations but one of the first rules to remember is we are always dealing with the performance and not the person.
I am not saying you won’t naturally have expectations about each person you train and some will surprise with success and disappoint you with failure, but the good trainer salways strive to find the technique or mindset that makes a winner.
Take a student that has real problems learning a technique or skill as a challenge for you to prove you ability as a trainer. In his book Mastery, George Leonard describes how, as an Aikido instructor, he has always been guided by the Zen story of the four kinds of horses.
The first learns effortlessly, while the fourth is trainer’s nightmare, yet the great trainer turns the fourth into as great a horse as the first! This required great effort and demand from the instructor and the student will have to work hard as well, far harder than the ones who seem almost gifted.
This effort comes from expectation. The expectation to achieve, to improve, to succeed, and the instructor is a critical catalyst in the formation of that expectation, that belief in positive outcomes that is so essential to ultimate success. In our profession, we can’t afford to allow any trainee to leave our charge with low expectations and poor performance!
Expect great things from your students but the most important person for you to have high expectations for is you as a trainer!