In Practice Perfect, Katie and Erica and I wrote about the difference between critique and correction. Critique is telling someone what they did wrong and how they could have done it better. Correction is revision. It’s causing someone to practice doing it better, ideally right away, usually accompanied by explanation but also with action. Critique has value- it’s useful to have someone explain what to do differently- but correction is more valuable. It allows you to put new knowledge into action right away, to experience what it’s supposed to feel and look like, and to encode the muscle memory of doing it better.
This is important: during practice we often think we’re making corrections but in fact what we’re doing is critiquing. So, for example, consider a defender who wins the ball near his own net and then tries to dribble out instead of playing a simple ball to a teammate and breaking into space to receive the return pass. He loses the ball. His coach might yell, “Hey, use your teammates there! Play the simple ball!” But will he remember that the next time he makes such a play? Who knows? it could weeks before a similar situation occurs… by that time the coach’s thoughts would be a fleeting memory and they are unlikely to cause him to play the sequence in a different way. Still, “Hey, play the simple ball!” is what happens most of the time in practice and the result is players who make the same mistakes over and over.
But watch Albany Alleycats soccer coach Khris Clemens in this video. His U15 boys are scrimmaging at the end of practice. When he sees something he wants to correct, he stops them, re-sets players to the positions they were in when an error occurred, explains the proper actions and then has players execute correctly, even if only at half speed. Each cycle ends with players rehearsing the right sequence. Notice how in several of the corrections he’s attentive to getting the players back into just the right positions so he can re-create the original situation. Notice that he’s doing lots of teaching–explaining how and why it should have been done differently–but the explanation happens while they are rehearsing the correct actions. They understand what’s right about the right way to do it rather than understanding what’s wrong about the wrong way. Notice also how players in three of the four corrections “re-do the re-do”–that is they don’t always execute correctly the second time around, so he has them do it again to get it right. And notice how once it’s right, the lesson is over and the boys are right back to playing. Immediately. Ironically, this form of feedback allows Khris to talk a lot less.
Again, this clip contains four corrections that occurred throughout a longer scrimmage of about 20 minutes… on average they were several minutes apart so there was lots of sustained play between corrections- more than you can tell from the video.