When performing a skill such as in batting in softball or baseball, providing feedback (information) can help a person to make corrections and improve performance. But too much feedback or information can lead to “paralysis by analysis.” Paralysis by analysis refers to the inability to focus on the general performance of the skill because of excessive information.
Youth in sports are particularly susceptible to paralysis by analysis. This is partly because young people are often not confident of their abilities and try to listen to coaches, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and parents of other youth who are watching games. Often several of these people are providing feedback (making comments) all at the same time. This makes it difficult for the athlete to stay focused on the task at hand.
Parents, coaches, and others who attend sporting events may want to consider the following guidelines if their goal is to help their young athlete perform at his or her best, and avoid paralysis by analysis.
• Feedback (information designed to correct or improve a skill) is best provided in practice where the skill can be practiced many times based on the feedback.
• Our brains function best when we process a few key bits of information at one time. When providing feedback, focus on one or two key bits of information at a time.
• Athletes, including young athletes, focus best when not distracted by many people making suggestions at the same time.
• Calling an athlete’s name during competition gets their attention but may also detract from the athlete’s ability to perform the task at hand.
• The more a single person yells at an athlete, the less likely the athlete is likely to listen in the future. Reserving a few key comments for specific important situations is most effective.
• Feedback about strategy is often more effective during competition than feedback about skills. Feedback about both (skills and strategy) is most effective when coaches and others have the full attention of the athlete (e.g., before games and during time outs).
• What would you want? If you play golf or play another sport, do you like to be corrected constantly during the game? If not, consider the same courtesy to others including youth athletes.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Charles B. “Chuck” Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University, author of more than 90 books on fitness and activity, and was the first chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board. For more information on the National Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, go to www.health.gov/paguidelines.