We’ve all seen the movies and heard the stories, a team or athlete falters only to be reinvigorated or “rise from the ashes” as it were, following a rousing talk with their coach or manager after a competition. What we’re talking about here is a post competition debrief! What separates the good from the bad, is there a one size fits all, how are the athletes going to respond? All this and more will be the topic of this blog. (Cover Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe)
Firstly we need to keep something in mind – how the athlete interprets an outcome (win / loss) influences how they approach their next event or performance. So, if we do this right we know exactly what to work on in training to facilitate future performance yet, if we do this wrong, we can cause issues with motivation, commitment, self confidence etc.
When we look at performance objectively there is four basic situations which can occur: win and perform well, win and perform poorly, lose but perform well and finally, lose and perform poorly. Each situation requires a different reaction from you the coach and even you the athlete if you want to get object about things!
We’ll pause here to introduce a theoretical framework known as Weiner’s Attribution Theory1. This theory aims to interpret the cause of behaviour i.e. why people do what they do. To explain this, we can think of three things.
- Locus of control i.e. who controls your destiny is it internal (you) or external (someone/ something else)?
- Stability i.e. is it a stable factor or an unstable factor?
- Controllability i.e. is it down to ability, luck, difficulty or effort?
You can see the model in the image below.
We’ll now aim to explain this framework within the context of each of the four situations mentioned above.
Win and Perform Well
Here we want to attribute to ability, an internal and stable factor. We are in control of their destiny, we deserve this outcome and it is down to our ability in the performance. This should derive satisfaction from winning and therefore have a positive effect on future performance. However, it is key not to rest on your laurels here this will work for the immediate aftermath but it’s important to identify certain elements that you can action on. This can be chatted about at the next training session. We can always improve!
Win and Perform Poorly
You may want to attribute success to a weaker opposition here. This would be in line with an external and unstable factor, so, yes, we may have won but what happens if we perform like that against a different opposition? Here questioning is a great asset to have in your tool box. Why were we complacent, what could we have done better etc.? At the end of this we need to remember we have won so reward the team for effort and commitment in training and set goals to work on the identified reasons for poor performance in the future.
Lose and Perform Well
Here we could attribute our loss to superior opposition and a need to improve ourselves. Here the loss is external and stable so yes, we lost but if we perform like that against another opposition we may win. The aspect of the good performance is internal and unstable – we’re in control and we can change it! It would be beneficial to really draw focus in on the aspects of performance that went well here, for example tactics or pacing etc.
One caveat with this is we cannot attribute the loss to external factors each time, there is a need for objectivity here – use it sparingly.
Lose and Perform Poorly
We’ll look to attribute this to inferior effort on our part – an unstable and internal factor, like the aspect of good performance above we can change our effort. Here we’re not aiming to be dissatisfied with the loss rather we are not happy with the effort. Learn from this what went well, what can we do better and how are we going to do it?
Good coaching means reading the attitudes of your athletes, attribution theory ties in with this. For an athlete coaching themselves, this is a great exercise in self-reflection post-competition. It can be used to form the foundations of the next training block. How we explain the differing situations is fundamental to performance in the long term and knowledge surrounding attribution theory can really help in this debriefing process!
1.Weiner, B. (1972). Attribution theory, achievement motivation, and the educational process. Review of educational research, 42(2), 203-215.