Examining the mistake-contingent communication strategies of elite high school football coaches
Ricciuti, David P.
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There is little doubt that successful football coaches have tremendous amounts of tactical and technical expertise, but are the coaches also expert communicators? This study aimed at developing a greater understanding of mistake-contingent coach/player interactions and sought to identify and explore specific patterns and recurring themes in the subsequent reactive coaching behavior and communication that occurred within the dynamics of the natural setting as experienced by male high school football players and their elite coach. The participants for this systematic observational study included two "elite" high school football (n=2) with career records of 286-72-4 and 219-35-2 and respective career winning percentages of .790 and .827. The findings reveal that the coaches addressed a total of 5,053 mistakes over the course of a single week of practice and one game. There were three different types of errors that emerged from the data: tactical error (2191), technical error (1156), and effort error (1106). The findings also reveal that 13 different categories of feedback type emerged from the 7781 utterances of individual feedback identified in the data. The categories of feedback were: technical instruction (540), tactical instruction (804), general instruction (1240), criticism (722), modeling the right way (483), modeling the wrong way (317), hustles (450), rationale (510), scolds (618), praise (444), challenge (311), questions (860), and OK/Alright (482). The two main categories of voice power emerged from the data and were elevated, and neutral/even. The importance of this finding was twofold. First, it supported the hypothesis that these two great football coaches did in fact use concrete communication strategies with their players by revealing that even the power of the voice they used to deliver feedback may not have been the product of a spontaneous reaction to a specific event, but was actually rooted in a pre-determined feedback strategy that consistently emerged across all categories of error type. Second, this finding supports the idea that it voice power is a teaching tool in the hands of these great communicators. They do not just yell to be authoritative; but use the volume of their voice as a stimulus to strategically direct, reinforce, or extinguish a particular behavior.
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