Tips on Receiving and Giving Judge’s Feedback

I can remember being a new coach and going for judge’s feedback. Wow. I sure wish someone would have prepped me a bit better for that experience. I was pretty stunned by what was said and almost in tears. As I learned over the years that experience was not reflective of most of my experiences. I would like to share my own tips on receiving judges feedback as well as advice I received from a top Canadian judge, Heather Archer and a coaching colleague of mine.

Key Points from an Interview with Heather Archer:

Heather’s very first comment was “come to us”. Make sure it is at “an appropriate time and place” and definitely not after preliminaries. The judges want to talk to you. To get better comments she said, tell the judges what you are working towards and what can they give you. This point is really important, “recognize we(the judges) didn’t have lots of time”. There is not much time in-between routines to make lots of notes. Heather encourages you to “bring in local judges”. This way you can get more feedback. Always “go to a variety of judges”. Go to some artistic, technical and even  judges you don’t know.

Things to Consider with Figure Feedback

A coaching colleague of mine recently attended a figure meet and she offered this advice for judges giving feedback on figures. I thought it was valuable for all of us to consider.

-keep feedback consistent with the language/terminology that is in the FINA manual and rule book -use diagrams/drawings as another way to explain the feedback

-prioritize the top 2-3 things that would greatly improve the figure

-organize comments under Design and Control so that coaches and athletes understand which area needs focus

In summary, I think everyone needs to take getting and receiving feedback more seriously.

Coaches show up prepared and actually listen to what the judges are saying. If you already know everything they are saying then why go and waste the judges precious time between events. Coaches always ask the judge if now is a good time. If the say no ask when would be a good time. Then always end with a thank you. They are all volunteers after all. Coaches if you want better feedback ask better questions. For example, what do I need to do to get my choreography score over 6.0? What was most distracting for you? Help create a productive judge and coach interaction.

Judges remember that these coaches might be really attached to their routines, so some comments may be perceived as an attack on their coaching ability. Make sure comments are constructive and not destructive. Think about how you can help them and their swimmers reach their full potential. And sometimes you may need to be a bit less blunt with the newbies.
I would love to hear your tips and stories. Share below or over on my Facebook page.
Yours in Synchro,
Vanessa Keenan
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.


  1. Alissa on September 17, 2015 at 5:53 PM

    Thanks for posting this!
    All too often, I’ve been on both ends of the dialogue.

    I feel that when coaches ask constructive questions, it forces the judges to be more articulate about what they see and to really reflect on the performance– rather than their general feeling about the routine.

    Question: I have a co-coach that is notorious for asking for feedback on routines, but we sometimes forget to look at figure feedback from judges. What are some great questions you would ask?


    • Vanessa Keenan on September 18, 2015 at 7:04 AM

      Great question. I like to ask about what was the best thing they saw and the thing that needs the most improvement. Sometimes asking what does a swimmer need to get a “6.0”. Or whatever score you are trying to break into. I also take the time to clarify any design questions I have. I have recently clarified with judges after a competition and seeing many different techniques what they thought about the layout to submerged pike position for the barracuda figure.
      1. What was good
      2. What needs to be better
      3. What does my swimmer need to do to get “X” mark
      4. Any design questions.
      I hope this helps.

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