Fe Fo


There are two kinds of feedback. Process feedback where the current process returns to a previous step and behavioral change feedback. Both kinds of feedback are important to football, although feedback as a way of changing behavior is the most well known within football.

Feedback has first been introduced in cybernetics in forties. Any system that can be described by the cybernetic cycle, can be considered a cybernetic system. This goes for both man and machine. The cybernetic cycle has six steps to it:

  1. Select a goal.
  2. Select an action to achieve this goal.
  3. Execute the selected action.
  4. Interpret the results of the executed action.
  5. Compare the interpreted result with the selected goal.
  6. If the selected goal is achieved or achieving this goal takes too much time, go back to step 1. Otherwise, go back to step 2.

First note that both an individual football player and a whole football team are cybernetic systems. For instance, player A wants to pass the ball to player B. This is his selected goal. He selects an action in the form of a combination of him running and dribbling with the ball at a certain speed in a certain direction towards a certain space because the passing line to player B is closed off by an opposing player. If player A succeeds to open a passing line he then passes the ball to player B. If the ball is received by player B the goal of player A has been reached and player A selects a new goal, for instance to run forward to give player B an opportunity to pass back to player B. If player A then sees that player B loses the ball, his goal becomes unachievable so he selects a new goal of defending against an attack.

To be clear, step 6 is alway process feedback.

Any cybernetic system can be combined with any other cybernetic system to create a new single cybernetic system. So two players of the same team can be considered two separate cybernetic systems or a single system. The same goes for all eleven players of the team. As a team you select as your goals to play in a certain formation so you can attack and defend as planned and hopefully score more goals than the opponent.

Every time you go back to either selecting a new goal or a new action that is called process feedback. As long as you keep selecting a (slightly) different action if you haven’t achieved your goal then you will become good at anything you do. Your brain is a cybernetic system as well and this is how your brain learns and becomes good at doing stuff, including football.

Feedback as a way to change behavior

The second kind of feedback is behavioral change feedback. Here someone tells you something in the hope that you will change your behavior. In principle behavioral change feedback is a special form of process feedback. The person giving you feedback, probably does so because he thinks that you did not achieve your goal. In fact, almost all processes are improved if process feedback is always combined with behavioral change feedback because it is one thing to know that you did not achieve your goal and you need to select a new action, it is much better if someone or something (a data analysis for instance) tells you how you can improve.

Behavioral change feedback is only feedback if the message actually includes information about how to change your behavior and the message is about how your behavior did not result in achieving your goal. Any information about who you are and why who you are prevents you from achieving your goals is not feedback because you can not change who you are, you can only change how you behave. At best such messages are irrelevant, at worst they are insulting.

In almost all cases there is no point in yelling, calling people names or come across as very aggressive. Applied behavioral analysis has shown that if people do undesired behaviors, the best thing to do is to ignore it. Most of the time the undesired behavior will decrease and even disappear. The only exception is that there is a rare personality type that prefers to be ignored. Instrumental learning tells us that if being ignored is a reward, ignoring undesired behaviors actually increase. But again, this is only the case in one in ten football players you work with.

Ignoring undesired behaviors is different from correcting mistakes. If people make mistakes, then behavioral change feedback is in order. It is best to tell the person as soon as possible after having made the mistake, how he could improve his behavior. Preferably in private. Make sure that you do not prioritize to correct small mistakes over celebrating what your player did right. If he did eight things right, first celebrate his accomplishments, praise him for the effort that enable him to achieve these accomplishments and compliment him in general. In general, you want to celebrate in public with the whole team. To prevent picking winners and losers in the team, it is often best to praise the success of the team and compliment the effort they have put into whatever it is that they did right. Then critique individual mistakes hours or even a day later in private.

Also, make sure that you don’t mix compliments and praise with behavioral change feedback. Instrumental learning teaches us that whatever your player has done just before you give behavioral change feed is going to decrease. That is exactly what you want if your player has made a mistake. That is how he is able to change his behavior. But if the player has just done something right, then you run the risk that your behavioral change feedback rather than decrease the mistakes, actually decreases desired behaviors. Just be sure at all times about what you’re doing: if you are giving a negative message because someone has made a mistake, make sure you don’t mix in compliments and praise. And if you are giving a positive message, make sure that you don’t do that just after a player has behaved in an undesired way.