How to Serve Up a Feedback Sandwich to Young Athletes

Put This Sandwich On The Menu When Coaching Kids

Picture your favourite type of sandwich. See two pieces of bread surrounding a delicious filling.

Remember this image the next time you give corrective feedback to a young athlete. It will provide you with a structure within which the feedback can be effectively delivered.

Feedback should be provided delicately to young athletes. Just as kids can be fussy with their food, they can also be picky with how they react to feedback. You see, some feedback can be difficult to swallow. Overly direct or harsh feedback can cause kids to recoil. Lots of corrective feedback, without much positive stuff, can leave kids feeling discouraged.

For kids to digest feedback, you need their focused attention and engagement.

A feedback sandwich can help to create an environment that facilitates the delivering and accepting of feedback.

The Feedback Sandwich

A feedback sandwich is served up in three tiers. Think of the filling in the middle of the sandwich as being the corrective feedback. The two pieces of bread surrounding the filling are positive, encouraging comments. The bread on either side holds the filling together, making it easier to handle and consume, leading to a better overall experience.

The feedback sandwich is constructed as follows:

  1. Bread = A positive comment
  2. Filling = Corrective Feedback
  3. Bread = Encouraging comment.

Feedback Sandwich - Blog

Tier 1 (Bread)

Build a base with a positive comment that highlights something that the athlete is doing well. This comment is designed to gain the athlete’s attention and open communication between you and the athlete.

E.g. “I love the way that you are using your arms as you sprint. You’re keeping them bent and pumping them fast.”

Tier 2 (Filling)

Deliver clear corrective feedback that targets the fault.

E.g. “Next time I want you to keep your head up and look into the distance.”

Tier 3 (Bread)

Hold everything together with an encouraging comment to leave the athlete feeling happy and optimistic.

E.g. “Keep up the good work. You are working really hard.”

So, altogether, the instruction will look like this:

“I love the way that you are using your arms when you sprint. You’re keeping them bent and pumping them fast. Next time I want you to keep your head up and look into the distance. Keep up the good work. You are working really hard.”

Weaknesses

Recently, the feedback sandwich has been criticised in some circles as being too predictable and formulaic. Most criticism relates, however, to this feedback structure being used for adults in a business setting. Adults are generally more cynical than kids and many might see straight through the strategy.

With kids, however, it really works.

But even with kids you need to be mindful not to get too repetitive and predictable. As a young coach I knew my feedback was becoming too predictable when I sensed athletes waiting for the corrective feedback after I delivered the initial positive comment. One athlete even told me that this is what she was doing. My menu had become bland and uninspired. I learnt that the type of “bread” and “fillings” needed to be constantly varied to keep everyone happy, interested and engaged.

Summary

I highly recommend the feedback sandwich as an effective strategy to use when delivering corrective feedback to young athletes. Just be aware that to avoid the sandwich becoming stale. you will need to be constantly working with fresh ingredients.

Start using the feedback sandwich when you are working with young athletes!

The next time you need to deliver corrective feedback to a young athlete, try the feedback sandwich. You can let me know how it goes by leaving a reply/comment or by using the contact details below.

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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, Instagram, Anchor or via email.

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