Unlucky!

During a recent Year 10 softball lesson, I focused the learning intentions on giving feedback to students/peers/team mates to help improve performance. The bigger picture / outcome being that individuals perform better, thus increasing the chances of team success.

Softball provided a really good vehicle to do this. The rules, strategies and tactics are relatively new to the students. This allowed more opportunities to give peers feedback on performance and decision making.
There is also a nice rhythm to the game, as you work through the innings. There is enough time between plays to consider and deliver quality feedback, without it becoming too slow. The rotation of batting and fielding allowed time for students to reflect on their last innings, then gives them another chance to implement changes to improve performance.

The lesson was differentiated by the quality of the feedback expected to be given, which was based on content, timing and purpose. My students became  very good at judging what feedback was appropriate to certain players in certain contexts e.g. Knowing if a team mate needed feedback on technique (correction of), decision making or just needed some emotional support as they knew full well what they had done wrong. At other times it was a case of supporting and praising good play.

There were a few challenges that the students faced.  One such challenge was the tone they used during their feedback following a mistake made by a team mate. The initial reaction to a team mate making a mistake was one of frustration, which often results in blame, which in turn can result in a conflict between team mates – clearly not going to help team performance. I asked students to re-programme their brain by thinking if they had made the mistake, what comments would help them and the team. Offering reassurance and advice on improvement slowly became the norm.

Another challenge presented itself during this process. By default, every student without exception used the term “unlucky” whilst trying to be sympathetic to other students. I soon banned the term unlucky, as it added no value to the recipient. It attributes poor play on a factor outside of the performers control. This could  lead the recipient to think that the mistake was not their fault and/or that they can’t do anything to improve (other than hope for better luck next time).

Every time a student fell into the “unlucky” trap, I asked them what the reason was for the poor performance / outcome, what needed to change and how they could best inform their team mate to bring about change.
The following lesson, students were stopping themselves saying unlu… and in the cases that they forgot the ban and said “unlucky”, peers picked up on it by saying “not really luck thought is it? You have to give more specific feedback than that!”.

I am now really working hard to avoid the term, as the Year 10’s would have a field day if they heard me say it!

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5 thoughts on “Unlucky!

  1. This is a great post, I have asked that my students not use the terms 'unlucky' or 'bad luck' or other such useless phrases as well. It all goes along with the theme of embracing Peer coaching/Feedback and the purpose of it – and it has totally honed my feedback to students too. Good luck with the rest of your unit, I hope you don't get caught out by your students!

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  2. Nice one can't wait to get back out there, you know me though always playing devils advocate, Jack Nicklaus claims that he never once missed a putt in all his career. It was always attributed to an unlucky bounce or outside agency affecting the putt. Obviously the focus in the above lesson is not on success or failure but on the quality of the feedback given by the pupils (so for that reason i completely agree with everything above). I do feel though that “unlucky” has a place in sport as its a great mechanism for dealing with failure. Most of you guys will have heard of Bob Rotella i recommend any of his books they are brilliant and the ways humans attribute success and failure and the impact this has on their self image. We all know the pupils who “unlucky” works for because of the attribution of failure to an outside agency their next attempt is succesful, in certain circumstances i'm not sure honesty is the best policy when it comes to feedback. Cheers the secret geek.

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  3. Hi Mel. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. Sometimes I find it is the unplanned / spontaneous decisions I make during lessons that can lead to the most learning. Have you seen a significant impact on student progress, now that they are receiving a higher volume of quality feedback? Finally, are you on twitter? @mjhamada perhaps?

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  4. Good challenge SG.

    The notion of attribution of success and failure is fascinating. Nicklaus was that good, that he was probably right. I wonder if he played a sport such as tennis or football, where your skills and performance can be directly influenced by your opponents (open skills) rather than living his sporting career in a mainly closed environment, whether he would have continued to attribute failure to luck (if for example his opponent pushed him wide on his forehand following a slice serve, making it impossible to get over to his back hand from the volley return).

    Also, for 'gifted and talented' young athletes, if a coach encouraged them to attribute all failures to being unlucky, is there a risk of making the students think that because they are G&T, and are often told as much, and that they only fail due to luck (or lack of) that they will not have the same drive to improve? If failure is due to external factors, there is nothing they can do to improve?

    Make sense?

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  5. Ah good comeback.

    I would suggest the notion of “Unlucky” when used with pupils in school is a dangerous one and should be avoided where possible. And when used should be used carefully with the correct type of student.

    I would argue though that with truly gifted and talented performers where the outcome is very important, if assigning failure to luck allows the performer to work at the highest possible level keeping their confidence and focus intact then great as this avoids any feelings of doubt that could effect their self image. Not being a gifted performer myself i would love to know what goes on inside the heads of elite athletes. To truly be the best, especially during competition having any kind of acceptance that failure could be down to lack of ability would be disasterous.

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