I’ve spent a lot of time watching coaches this year. One of the common ideas I find myself noticing is the difference between critique and correction. I took the section on this idea from Practice Perfect and adapted and simplified it slightly. Here it is.
Critique involves telling a participant how to do it better. Correction means going back and doing it over, and doing it better. Critique—merely telling someone that she did it wrong—can be helpful but if you really want to help people change their behaviors it’s not nearly as useful as correction. Only correction, doing it over again right, trains people to succeed. So ideally rather than telling a player to cut more sharply, you’d give them an opportunity to practice cutting more sharply- ideally as soon as possible and in a similar setting. Only when she has done correctly what was at ﬁrst erroneous has correction been accomplished.
It may be worth reﬂecting that the body’s neural circuits have very little sense of time. If you do it right once and wrong once, it’s encoded each way equally in your neural circuitry. It may matter little which one happened ﬁrst. The ratio is one to one. If you are correcting, then, you might look for opportunities to correct in multiples. If one of your tennis players hits backhand incorrectly, doing it right once will help erase the error, but doing it right three or four times right away will begin to overwhelm the wrong memory with the right one. Think about saying, after an error in corrected, “Yes. Good. Now do it ﬁve more times!”
Correct Instead of Critique
- Strive to ask participants to redo an action differently or better rather than just telling them whether or how it could have been different.
- Try to shorten the feedback loop and achieve correction as quickly as possible after an action that requires intervention.
- Maintain a teaching mentality and focus on the solution (“cut more sharply to the basket”) rather than the problem (“your cut wasn’t sharp”).
- Seek opportunities to correct privately. When you correct publicly, make it clear that it’s a common error, then make sure to correct, not critique, by asking all participants to repeat the action.