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"How feedback is given to athletes influences both their immediate learning of a skill and their ongoing development as an athlete."

Feedback, Self-Efficacy, and the Development of Motor Skills

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Self-Efficacy Influences Motor Skills Development

Although we may prefer to believe that learning a motor skill is purely learning a set of physical techniques, we have to consider that most learning typically takes place in the context of an interpersonal relationship with a teacher. The critical question is how does this interaction affect the development of motor skills. It appears that the mediating factor between the presentation of the instructions by the teacher and the performance of the skill by the student may be the cognitive process of self-efficacy (Escarti & Guzman, 1999).

Some may argue that the development of effective skills may lead to the increased self-efficacy demonstrated by students of high ability. Although this process occurs, it is not sufficient for explaining the role of developing self-efficacy and its impact on learning motor skills. To fully explain the role of self-efficacy, we must evaluate the interpersonal context of how the teacher or coach provides feedback to the athlete, how that feedback affects self-efficacy, and how self-efficacy enhances performance. Unfortunately, studies directly examining this relationship are sparse, and therefore, the inferences need to be made based on research examining the relation of the different components of the equation such as the feedback/self-efficacy relationship and the self-efficacy/motor skills relationship.

How Does Instructor Feedback Affect Skill Development?

How feedback is given to athletes influences both their immediate learning of a skill and their ongoing development as an athlete. Research has primarily focused on two types of feedback provided by an instructor: knowledge of results (KR), or information regarding outcome, and knowledge of process (KP), or information regarding technique. Initially, most of the research was biased towards examining KR, and therefore, more evidence has supported the effectiveness of KR for teaching motor skills.

Zubiaur et.al. (1999) discusses problems in previous research investigating the effect of feedback on motor skills; particularly, it has been conducted with simple, specific behaviors under tightly controlled conditions and has primarily focused on KR because KP is more difficult to manipulate and measure. They examined eight college athletes using a within-subjects design in which feedback was alternated on a schedule of obtaining baseline, KP, baseline, KR on one day and baseline, KR, baseline, and KP on the next day. Although the group as a whole did not show differences between KR and KP, three of the subjects did show superior learning with KP indicating individual difference effects for feedback. Interestingly, this study found that when KP was presented first followed by KR it may interfere with retention of the skill.

Other recent research has shown KP to be effective and may have more value in helping an athlete internally assess his or her performance. KR may cause too much reliance upon external feedback which hinders the athlete’s ability to assess and correct performance independently (Swinnen, 1996). Swinnen discusses the guidance hypothesis which refers to the tendency of students to become dependent upon the feedback from an outside source. Most research had focused on extrinsic feedback, but it appears than intrinsic feedback can be more important especially when the student knows the basic skills but is focused on improving performance. This enhances the student’s ability to correct performance independently of the instructor which creates greater consistency because performance is not reliant upon the instructor’s presence.

How Does the Type of Instructor Feedback Affect Skill Development?

The question is, what is the process between the type of feedback used and the development of the skill? Does greater use of intrinsic feedback create a higher level of self-efficacy which in turn enhances the learning of motor skills? Self-efficacy as originally defined by Bandura (1977) is the level of self-confidence or the strength of an individual’s belief that he or she can successfully perform a specific activity given a particular situation. The greater the individual’s belief regarding performing the specific activity, the more likely he or she is able to successfully perform the activity even when self-efficacy is increased by means other than direct experience such as through observation of a model.

Unfortunately, the above question is difficult to answer with the current available research. Studies directly examining the relationship between the guidance hypothesis and self-efficacy were not found. In particular, research examining the idea that the higher level of learning related to less dependence on external feedback which increases reliance on intrinsic feedback is due to changes in self-efficacy versus just the reliance on intrinsic feedback is not available. However, inferences can be made based on research examining the relation between feedback and self-efficacy and the relation between self-efficacy and the development of motor skills.

1) Role of self-efficacy. One interesting experimental study that examined all these components was by Escarti and Guzman (1999). They manipulated the type of feedback given after an initial task. The subjects were asked to estimate their self-efficacy for a second task and then given a choice of tasks of varying difficulty. The results indicated that performance feedback was related to increased self-efficacy, a higher level of performance, and the tendency to choose more difficult tasks. They concluded that self-efficacy is a mediating cognitive variable between feedback and performance and that the type of feedback affects the level of self-efficacy. This research most closely examines the question asked in this paper. However, it does not specifically address the issue of using methods of intrinsic feedback and how that relates to self-efficacy.

2) Role of intrinsic motivation. However, there are other studies that have examined the relation between the type of feedback given and the development of self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation. Allen and Howe (1998) examined the effect of coach feedback with female adolescents taking player ability into account in order to more clearly determine if self-efficacy is related to the outcome of the athlete’s performance or due to the type of feedback given by the coach. Questionnaires were given to the athletes and the results indicated that athletes’ level of perceived competence was greater with more frequent praise and information from the coach after a good performance and with less encouragement and corrective feedback after a poor performance. This relationship remained significant even after the effects of ability had been statistically controlled indicating that the increase in self-efficacy could not be attributed to the ability level alone. The authors concluded that the unexpected finding of a negative reaction to encouragement and corrective information was due to the population of adolescent girls who may be especially sensitive to feedback. This indicates that coaches may need to vary their feedback approach based on gender and age. In addition, an athlete may interpret frequent corrective feedback as a sign of low ability.

3) Effect of negative feedback. Negative evaluative feedback has been shown to be perceived by others as indicating low ability. Amorose and Weiss (1998) examined the role of evaluative feedback, focusing on approval or criticism, and informational feedback, focusing on skill-relevant information, on athletic learning. Sixty children in a sports program watched videotapes of students receiving different types of feedback and evaluated the participants’ ability, effort, and expectation of future success. Praise was perceived as an indicator of high ability whereas criticism was perceived as an indicator of low ability. Athletes who received informational feedback were rated higher in ability than those receiving neutral and those receiving criticism were rated lowest.

How Does Intrinsic Motivation Develop?

1) Coach's behavior. Amorose and Horn (2000) examined the issue of coaches’ behavior on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the ability of the individual to self-motivate by setting goals and following through with behavior whereas extrinsic motivation relies on an outside source such as the instructor in order to perform. Intrinsic motivation is important because it leads to greater consistency in performance without the presence of the instructor being required. This study looked at how rewards are given through questionnaires given to athletes and found that the more controlling the reward or coaches’ behavior is, the less the athlete will be intrinsically motivated. Their primary result was that athletes respond with greater intrinsic motivation when coaches had higher levels of praise, encouragement, and informational feedback. In addition, a major gender difference occurred in that women’s level of intrinsic motivation decreased in an environment with high levels of punishment-oriented feedback whereas men’s level of intrinsic motivation was not affected. This finding is consistent with the research discussed earlier by Allen & Howe (1998) using adolescent females.

2) Coach's expectations. Another questionnaire study by Chase et.al. (1997) compared coaches’efficacy expectations and actual team performance outcomes. Generally, they found that coaches tend to focus on the athlete’s skills over which they perceive as a coach they have more control. However, the researchers conclude that this focus on controllable skills is contrary to the methods that have been shown to be effective for improving physical skills (Amorose & Horn, 2000).

2) Goal-setting. Examining the research looking at the link between goal-setting, self-efficacy and performance is an interesting way to explore the issue of intrinsic feedback and its effect upon self-efficacy and performance because goal-setting and the information derived from measuring goals can be an internal method of feedback. In particular, a study by Kitsantas and Zimmerman (1998) indicated that self-efficacy predicts performance when internal methods of feedback are used. They examined adolescent girls for the acquisition of a novel physical skill using different performance strategies, goal-setting, and self-evaluative recording. It was found that an analytical strategy combined with goal-setting and recording of the goals and strategy was most effective for acquiring a new skill. In addition, these methods tended to increase self-efficacy which was predictive of their subsequent performance.

Tzetzis et.al. (1997) indicates that goal setting and feedback are among the most important factors for learning physical skills. However, they suggest that when feedback is separated from goals, feedback does not improve performance. Intuitively, this makes sense as typically in any kind of coaching instruction, there is some sort of goal involved because the nature of feedback has to refer to a goal even if it is implicit. Tzetzis et.al. (1997) randomly assigned boys to three groups to examine knowledge of performance alone, knowledge of results with goal setting, and knowledge of performance and results with goal setting for the acquisition of basketball skills. They found that KP improved performance on complex skills whereas KR and goal setting improved performance on simple skills. The combined KP, KR, and goal setting group improved most but the outcome scores improved prior to form scores because outcome is more related to success.

How Should Feedback Be Provided to Athletes?

1) Feedback should be based on level of skill. Given the mixed results in the literature, most likely there are a number of factors involved with how feedback is given and why it impacts the athlete negatively or positively. The evidence appears to indicate that feedback to athletes should vary based on the level of skill (Swinnen, 1996), the degree of self-efficacy (Escarti & Guzman, 1999; Kitsantas & Zimmerman, 1998), the age of the athlete (Allen & Howe, 1998; Bram & Feltz, 1995;), and gender (Allen & Howe, 1998; Amorose & Horn, 2000).

Even so, the research does not appear to have fully explored all likely factors. For instance, not only do athletes vary according to their level of expertise and their degree of self-confidence in performing a task, but also personality factors are likely to impact how the athlete receives feedback and/or the development of self-efficacy. These factors appear to have been largely ignored in the sports literature. However, research in the area of health psychology has examined the relation between such factors as locus of control and perceived ability to affect one’s health. Generally, those with a more internal locus of control who are given appropriate information about health behaviors are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors (Wheeler and Frank, 1988). It would seem that such a factor could also operate with athlete’s behaviors. In fact, the concept of task goal orientation versus ego goal orientation (Williams, 1994) appears to be very similar to the concept of locus of control.

2) Feedback should differ based on athlete's orientation. Williams (1994) examined the differences between task goal oriented athletes who prefer goal attainment, learning, and improving on past performance and ego goal oriented athletes who prefer social comparison with peers or through win-loss record. This researcher found a gender difference in that task oriented males preferred social comparison whereas task oriented females did not and concluded that the male preference for social comparison is not due to previous findings that males are more likely to be ego oriented and females more task oriented. This research begs the question of how the different orientations are related to self-efficacy which may be answered through the locus of control literature. Those with internal locus of control and task goal orientation tend to believe that effort and persistence are the ingredients of success whereas those with external locus of control and ego task orientation believe that success is the result of luck, fate, or innate ability (Wheeler and Frank, 1988; William, 1994).

Summary of Link Between Feedback, Self-Efficacy, and Skill Development

Overall, however, inferring from the available literature, there clearly appears to be a link between feedback in general, self-efficacy, and performance. Although intrinsic feedback promotes self-efficacy and performance, it is less clear if does so more effectively or to a greater degree than any other forms of feedback. This question can’t be answered with the current state of the research although it certainly points in the direction of the importance of intrinsic feedback to the development of self-efficacy. It just doesn’t indicate whether it is more valuable than extrinsic feedback.

One major problem with the research is that a great deal of it is questionnaire research which has many problems in determining causality and makes it difficult to determine the role of ability in relation to self-efficacy and intrinsic feedback. The question of intrinsic feedback and the impact on self-efficacy is a more difficult question to study because Swinnen (1994) indicates that intrinsic feedback is more useful for enhancing performance of already learned material; therefore, an athlete would have to already have learned the basic skills through external feedback and then to learn methods of intrinsic feedback. The research becomes even more difficult considering that a comparison needs to be made between extrinsic feedback and intrinsic feedback with self-efficacy being assessed at different point in the process.

However, I do believe that it is possible to conduct such research is a reasonable way and be able to answer this question. For instance, two groups of athletes could be taught two different but comparable skills from their sport. Once they have learned the basic skills, the teaching method for one skill would involve extrinsic feedback only and for the other skill they would be taught goal setting and self-assessment of their performance. This within subjects design would be powerful in terms of controlling for a number of extraneous variables such as differences in ability, gender, and age. Two groups would be needed so that one group learns through extrinsic feedback first and the other group through intrinsic feedback first to control for order effects and one type of feedback influencing the other. Since self-efficacy is focused on a specific skill it could be measured independently for each skill prior to learning, after having learned the basic skill but before the manipulated feedback, and then after each of the feedback conditions. Finally, the skills used need to be either very concrete in terms of outcome or judges need to determine the performance ability pre- and post-manipulation. In this way, the influence of intrinsic vs. extrinsic feedback on self-efficacy could be assessed and how that affects performance.


Allen, J.B. & Howe, B.L. (1998). Player ability, coach feedback, and female adolescent athletes’ perceived competence and satisfaction. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 280-299.

Amorose, A.J. & Horn, T.S. (2000). Intrinsic motivation: Relationships with collegiate athletes’ gender, scholarship status, and perceptions of their coaches’ behavior. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 22, 63-84.

Amorose, A.J. & Weiss, M.R. (1998). Coaching feedback as a source of information about perceptions of ability: A developmental examination. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 395-420.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bram, A.D. & Feltz, D.L. (1995). Effects of batting performance feedback on motivational factors and batting performance in youth baseball. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 81, 1367-1378.

Chase, M.A., Lirgg, C.D., & Feltz, D.L. (1997). Coaches behaviors conflict with those that evoke the best responses from athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 11, 8-22.

Escarti, A. & Guzman, J.F. (1999). Effects of feedback on self-efficacy, performance, and choice in an athletic task. Jounal of Applied Sport Psychology, 11, 83-96.

Kitsantas, A. & Zimmerman, B.J. (1998). Self-regulation of motoric learning: A strategic cycle view. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 10, 220-239.

Shoenfelt, E. (1996). Goal setting and feedback as a posttraining strategy to increase the transfer of training. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 83, 176-178.

Swinnen, S.P. (1996). Information feedback for motor skill learning: A review. In Advances in Motor Learning and Control, edited by H.N. Zelaznik. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Tzetzis, G., Kioumourtzoglou, E., & Mavromatis, G. (1997). Goal setting and feedback for the development of instructional strategies. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 1411-1427.

Wheeler, R.J. and Frank, M.A. (1988). Identification of stress buffers. Behavioral Medicine, 14, 78-89.

Williams, L. (1994). Goal orientations and athletes’ preferences for competence information sources. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 16, 416-430.

Zubiaur, M., Ona, A., & Delgado, J. (1999). Learning volleyball serves: A preliminary study of the effects of knowledge of performance and of results. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 89, 223-232.

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