Being Real with Specific Positive Feedback

Today we’re having a staff meeting at my The Little Gym franchise location. In preparation, I asked all my staff to read a blog post on our gym website I wrote in back in 2011. I wanted to remind them of my core philosophy about teaching children before our new season starts in a week. Because I think it’s a good one. So I decided to share it with you all too…

Picture this scene- Child attempts forward roll: child climbs onto cheese mat, stands up straight with hands held high in the air, then drops to his knees, throws his shoulder down and sort of falls over himself and off the side of the mat. Resembles more of a wrestling move in a slapstick comedy than a gymnastics stunt. Cut to the instructor who says, “Good Job!”
Really?!? Good job? To that instructor I want to say, what was good about that?!?

There is an increasing amount of criticism these days for non-competitive sports leagues and the like where they don’t keep score and everyone receives a participation trophy. People worried that these practices don’t prepare kids for real life. Here’s what I think. Kids don’t need competition at a young age to prepare them for anything. But they do need, and deserve, meaningful, honest feedback. Specific feedback that is meant to highlight the behaviors that should be repeated.

At The Little Gym we call this SPF, specific positive feedback, and it is what we train our instructors to use when teaching. So if we go back to our scene above, the instructor could have said, “The way you stood up straight and held your hands high in the air was a perfect start. Let’s try it again now and this time…”

That is much more meaningful and instructive than just saying good job. And there is always something that can be said. Even if the whole skill looked a mess. Sometimes the SPF is simply, “I LOVED the enthusiasm you brought to that attempt!” If a child leaves feeling good about being enthusiastic and keeps that up, great! Better than leaving with a false sense of confidence for being told they did a great forward roll if they didn’t.

And the practice can certainly be used outside of the gym as well. I’m not saying using SPF is easy. You actually have to PAY ATTENTION closely enough to behaviors to be specific. Much easier to multi-task while watching our kids and look up occasionally and offer a “good job” as encouragement. But I challenge you to see the results if you begin to be more specific in your praise.

And as for the soccer league that doesn’t keep score and yet gives all players a trophy, I think that does kind of send the wrong message. At least as far as a child who is an incredible soccer player and yet gets the same reward and recognition as a child who barely knows a game is going on most of the time. But I do believe every child on the team deserves a reward and recognition. But a reward specific to an actual skill each child possesses and exhibited during the season. How much more powerful and meaningful would that trophy be then? And honestly, the trophies could all look exactly the same. Just be presented for different reasons. Maybe a child gets a trophy for being super fast. No one has to point out he ran so fast he overtook the ball and never stopped. Might not have kicked a ball once, but he ran like the wind! So maybe when he is old enough for competitive sports, he remembers his trophy for being fast and chooses track. And maybe he wins State. And then the Olympics. Instead of thinking he had a soccer trophy, so he must be good at soccer, and therefore joins a soccer team and is just mediocre…

So let’s make kids feel like winners by pointing out actual winning skills in them regardless of the score. And oh, by the way, I love the way you read all the way to the end of my blog…

My somewhat awkward, creative, life loving child. She may not grow up to be a professional dancer, but she will grow up to be remarkable.

My somewhat awkward, creative, life loving child. She may not grow up to be a professional dancer, but she will grow up to be remarkable.