Using 360-Degree Feedback to Enhance Your Coaching

Coaches can use 360-degree feedback to enhance their coaching. In this blog sport psychology researcher Matt Hoffmann highlights how 360-degree feedback can be a useful process to help coaches and their teams be more effective. Matt’s suggestions are based on his review of coaching and 360-degree feedback research from sport and business, as well as conversations he had with several head coaches of Canadian intercollegiate sport teams (Full research article is available at the end of the blog).

Most basketball coaches, like all coaches, are constantly trying to improve at their craft. One way to improve as a coach is to gather feedback about your coaching. You might already be doing this to some extent, either formally with end-of-season surveys or informally by talking with others. 360-degree feedback is a more comprehensive way of obtaining feedback and is something that most coaches do not take full advantage of.

With 360-degree feedback, a coach gathers anonymous feedback from multiple people. These people can include but are not limited to players, assistant coaches, athletic directors or sport administrators, other coaches, or mentors. Parents could even be included at the youth sport level. The goal is to collect feedback from people who can provide different perspectives on your strengths and weaknesses as a coach.

Another key aspect of this feedback system is that coaches can evaluate themselves and compare it to others’ anonymous assessments of them. This really has the potential to boost your self-awareness as a coach.

360-Degree Feedback

What are some potential benefits of using 360-degree feedback?

  1. The people providing feedback, especially players, might feel empowered because they will be given the opportunity to voice their opinions, which might make them feel more valued. When players feel like they are part of the process and that their thoughts matter to others, they tend to feel in control of their own behaviours and actions and are more committed to the team’s goals and values.
  2. Because 360-degree feedback is gathered anonymously, you should receive more honest feedback from the people rating you. Players and even assistant coaches are often reluctant to criticize a head coach out of fear for possible repercussion. This is especially true when feedback is provided face-to-face. Obtaining feedback anonymously removes the “threat” associated with giving potentially negative feedback, which should provide you with more useful information that you can use for self-improvement.
  3. Gathering information from multiple people might improve the accuracy of the feedback. Coaches sometimes receive feedback in a “top-down” manner, often from one superior only (e.g., athletic director or sport administrator), which calls into question the trustworthiness of that single evaluation. However, by gathering insights and opinions from multiple people, you should receive feedback that more accurately reflects your “true” behaviours and actions as a coach.

What are some potential challenges of using 360-degree feedback?

Challenge: Using 360-degree feedback can result in some logistical challenges. In particular, collecting and summarizing 360-degree feedback can be time-consuming and potentially costly. Many coaches have limited spare time and/or funds.
Suggestion: Using online survey platforms can be a huge help, and people (especially younger generations) usually like using technology. Players will probably feel more comfortable completing surveys on their tablets or cell phones. Of course, setting up an online survey will still require some planning and organizing on your part.

Challenge: There are no set guidelines on when and how often during the season to collect 360-degree feedback. There just isn’t enough research on this yet.
Suggestion: Aim to gather feedback at regular intervals—maybe 2 to 4 times during the season (depending on the length of the season). The goal is to collect feedback throughout the season—not only once it is over.

Challenge: There are no set guidelines in terms of which people should be included in the feedback process.
Suggestion: Of course, there are obvious people (players, assistant coaches) that you should include. However, you also need to determine who else can provide you with relevant feedback on your coaching. Maybe there are coaches from other teams who have watched you regularly and might be able to provide you with useful feedback? Maybe you have some mentors who could watch you at practice and provide feedback? Explore all your options.

Six Suggestions for Getting More Useful (And Less Negative) Feedback

Because 360-degree feedback is provided anonymously, you risk receiving large amounts of negative feedback. Similarly, because surveys with numerical rating scales (e.g., “On a scale from 1-5, rate how effective [name of head coach] is in organizing team practice”) are typically used to collect the feedback, you might be provided with information that lacks detail and depth.

  • As a coach, you should ensure that people understand the purpose of 360-degree feedback. Hold a meeting with the people you want feedback from near the beginning of the season to discuss why you are implementing this feedback system and how you believe it will help you and your team succeed.
  • Remind the people giving you feedback that they need to reflect carefully prior to answering each survey question. We have a general tendency to unconsciously rate people very similarly across different criteria. In other words, our general view of someone affects our ability to recognize their unique strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, to avoid having people unconsciously give you the same rating on every question, remind them regularly that they need to take their time when completing the survey and pay attention to what each question is asking.
  • To avoid getting valueless feedback, use surveys that ask people to rate you on specific coaching behaviours (e.g., “Coach communicates effectively with team members”). Questions that focus on specific behaviours provide much more practical information than questions that are too general (e.g., “Coach is effective this season”).
  • To ensure that the survey is relevant, ask a few senior people (e.g., veteran leaders) to comment on its appropriateness. Do they think the questions tap into relevant coaching behaviours? What would they add to the survey? This process might also help people “buy in” to the feedback system.
  • In addition to numerical ratings, get feedback from people in the form of written comments. However, instead of asking for general feedback at the end of the survey (common procedure), request written feedback after key questions. For instance, a key question for you might be, “Coach is motivating before games.” People might rate this on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always). Then, you could include a follow-up question like, “Explain why you gave this rating” or “How could coach be more motivating before games?”
  • Complete the survey yourself. The major benefit of using 360-degree feedback is that it allows you to compare your own self-assessment to that of others’ assessments of you. For example, you might give yourself a score of 4 out of 5 on the question, “Coach creates good rapport with team members.” The players’ scores on this question might average 3.6 out of 5. The assistant coaches’ scores might average 4.2 out of 5. The athletic director might give you a score of 3 out of 5. All of these scores provide you with valuable information from different perspectives. Although the goal is for people providing the feedback to remain anonymous, this will not be possible when there is only one person in a particular role (e.g., the athletic director). 

Final Thoughts

Obtaining 360-degree feedback throughout the season has its challenges and might not be feasible for all coaches (some organizations have their own coach feedback systems in place). Further, some 360-degree appraisals can lead to negative outcomes (e.g., feeling discouraged when receiving negative feedback). However, if you can incorporate some of the evidence-based ideas outlined here into your “coaching toolkit” and gather some additional feedback that you are not currently obtaining, then you might become more self-aware of your coaching behaviours and how you can improve as a coach.

Rather than viewing 360-degree feedback as a performance evaluation, I encourage you to think of it as a developmental opportunity to enhance your coaching. At the very least, I hope this post gives you some ideas to reflect on moving forward.

If you are looking for coach feedback questionnaires, consider the book, Coaching Better Every Season: A Year-Round System for Athlete Development and Program Success, by coaching expert Dr. Wade Gilbert. This book provides a nice overview of surveys that you might consider using for coach evaluation purposes (including 360-degree feedback). 

You can view or download the full article in the International Sport Coaching Journal 360-Degree Feedback for Sport Coaches: A Follow-Up to O’Boyle (2014)

Matt Hoffmann has a PhD in Sport Psychology from the University of Windsor. His research mainly explores the benefits of peer mentoring among athletes. He is also interested in coaching, athlete leadership, and other group dynamics topics. For updates on sport psychology research and other sport-related topics, follow Matt on twitter @Hoff_MD

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