The following article is part of a series of articles that focus on the practical application of
sport psychology skills to martial arts training. For a more in-depth look at the research upon
which this article is based, please read:
Feedback, Self-Efficacy, and the Development of Motor Skills.
The manner in which instructors provide feedback to athletes can have significant impact upon an
athlete's self-efficacy which in turn affects the ability to learn a skill and the overall
performance. Self-efficacy is the athlete's personal belief that he or she has the capability
to learn and perform a specific skill or activity. The results of an interesting study by
Amparo Escarti and Jose Guzman in 1999 indicated that performance feedback which focuses on
providing feedback regarding technique rather than evaluating outcome was related to increased
self-efficacy, a higher level of performance, and the tendency to choose more difficult tasks.
Other research has shown that a higher level of self-efficacy improves performance. Thus,
research shows us that how a coach provides feedback to athletes is critical in the development
of the athlete.
To make this issue all the more complicated, there is research evidence that women respond
differently than men to feedback from coaches. This is most likely a crucial point in the
martial arts today because the majority of instructors in the martial arts are men and there
are more and more women choosing to participate and compete in the martial arts. Therefore,
a martial arts instructor needs to be more attuned to the methods of providing feedback to
women in order to elicit their best performance as well as to keep them interested in
continuing their training.
Frequently in the martial arts, it appears that the focus is about teaching women how to
think like men. Some women may be able to make this switch in thinking especially if they
learn how to translate the feedback from men's language to women's language; those women are
the ones who are likely to achieve the higher ranks. However, many more women who could be
physically competent in the martial arts are unable to discover their potential because
their self-efficacy is either reduced or at least not enhanced due to the way feedback is
provided. The more that instructors learn how to provide feedback more effectively to women,
the more their female students will be able to reach their potential.
Generally, the research indicates that women are more sensitive than men to criticism, don't
respond to social comparison as men do, and respond negatively to high levels of
punishment-oriented feedback. Thus, the research tells us what doesn't work for women,
but how can a martial arts instructor teach women so they can learn most effectively?
The research gives us the clues to answering this question.
First, it needs to be clear that the reason women respond differently is because they
think differently than men. Men tend to think in more ego-oriented competitive terms
whereas women think in more cooperative relational terms. Neither of these ways is
necessarily better or worse than the other, they are just different and each has their
strengths and weaknesses.
The male response to criticism is likely to be the competitive thinking of "I'll show
him" whereas women are more likely to have relational thinking of "He's displeased with
me and doesn't think I'm capable." The male response to criticism leads to increased
effort whereas the female response leads to self-doubt or a decrease in self-efficacy.
Even encouragement can lead to this type of response because encouragement such as "You
can do this" is typically viewed as being given to someone of low ability. Think about
it. Athletes of high ability don't need encouragement because they know they can perform
well. However, women do respond well to frequent praise and informational feedback.
Since women don't usually think in competitive terms, social comparison has little
meaning for them. In fact, social comparison may even be detrimental because she is
concerned with the other person's feelings if the comparison is in her favor, and if
it is not in her favor, it is perceived as criticism. Women tend to be more task-oriented,
focused on effort and self-improvement, than men who tend to be more ego-oriented, focused
on outcome and winning. Even men who have the task orientation tend to respond to social
comparison. Therefore, women respond better to praise that that is focused on their
individual improvement and their performance rather than the outcome and how they
compare to others.
The task orientation also explains why women respond to informational feedback because
it tells them what to work on and how to improve. They feel more in control of their
performance whereas as punishment-oriented feedback creates feelings of inadequacy.
Many martial arts instructors may ask, "Why should I have to change my approach? Why
can't the women change how they think?" Ideally, I would advocate both. In my
PsychSkills class at our martial arts school, I teach the students how to change their
thinking so that it allows them to achieve their goals. However, as an instructor I
also try to adjust my feedback so that it fosters the best learning environment for
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