Athlete Survey Tool

At some point I blinked, and now the fall sports post-season is upon us.  Our boys’ tennis teams are in their final full week of regular season competition with their regional tournament next weekend, and our girls’ golf teams are only two weeks away from their own regional meet.  Every season, every year, I marvel at how quickly the time passes.

With the end of each season, I distribute a survey to the participants of each activity.  I’ve briefly discussed these in prior posts (most notably here), but I haven’t gone in-depth as to what it is I actually survey.  My hope is that this post will shed some light on the hows/whys/whats of our student surveys.  These surveys are distributed before any post-season tournaments as I’ve found that tournament results tend to badly skew the students’ opinions in the short term.

First and foremost, we strive to make the kids comfortable with the survey process.  Although I have them fill out their names and grades, that information is strictly for my knowledge only.  The students are informed that all of their survey answers will be compiled then passed along anonymously to their coaches.  Coaches will not see any individual survey nor will they ever see a name tied to any specific answer.  As long as the kids don’t identify themselves in an answer, our coaches receive a simple mass of anonymous information from their players.  It’s important to me that the kids feel like they can speak freely, openly, and honestly in providing feedback about the coaches.

In my past schools, I administered the survey to the kids directly.  It typically takes about a year or slightly more for the students to trust both me and the process, but eventually I was able to solicit a good base of answers.  Because of the size of my current district, I now have our building level activities directors administer the surveys.  As we start year 3 of surveys in Grand Forks, I’ve found the students’ answers to be more pointed and direct, an indicator that they are becoming comfortable with the process and result of our surveys.

The main goal of the surveys is to assess four categories: our three department goals and the list of pre-season goals that coaches turn in to me at the beginning of their seasons.  I use these results as one piece of evaluation at the end of the season, but these survey certainly aren’t the end all/be all of coaches’ evals.  I solicit information from the students in three basic sections throughout the survey.

Section One
The first part of the survey consists of 10 questions that students rate on a basic 5 point scale from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.”   These 10 questions range from how the athlete feels playing for the coach to how the athlete feels the coach displays various coaching attributes (like organization, consistency, etc.).  All of the students’ answers are totaled then averaged to generate a 1-5 score on each question that is passed along to the coach.  Generally, anything from 3.5 or higher means that our coach is meeting targets for these ten items.  To specifically address anything rated lower than a 3, I have a comment box for students to use to explain their lower rankings.  (From time to time, students will also use this comments box to explain high ratings, too.)
The second part of section one is an area for students to describe their coach using any three adjectives.  I give them a selection box of 20 adjectives from which to choose, but I also provide the students an area to list their own choices.  This has been an interesting question to navigate from time to time as students’ perceptions about a particular adjective vary.  For instance, I had one coach in the past who was routinely described as being “physical” although I knew he was a fairly mild mannered coach.  Once I started discussing this ranking with various students, I learned that athletes were describing him as “physical” because he often jumped into drills with his team.  Because his other descriptors were often items like “friendly” or “caring,” I wasn’t as concerned about the “physical” description as I would be if the other choices had been predominately “harsh” or “degrading.”

Section Two
The second section of the survey is two short answer questions where students can make direct suggestions to their coaches to improve the future overall experience.  Students are asked what, if anything, was missing from their experience that season and how they were affected by the coach’s coaching style.  Because these answers are optional, I often see blank results; however, the students that choose to fill out this section provide the best feedback of the survey in these answers.

Section Three
The last three questions are where I address whether or not the kids are having fun – department goal #1!  These three questions are as follows:
– What will you remember most about this season?
– What are the three most important reasons that you play this sport?
– Will you participate in this sport next year?
This section has been particularly good for our coaches, too, because they are able to see that our kids participate for a wide variety of reasons – usually not winning – and tend to remember things unrelated to competition, like bus rides or team meals.

It takes our coaches a little while to become comfortable with this survey, too, and, to be honest, some coaches never do.  There are always coaches that don’t understand why the kids’ opinions matter, but it’s important for our coaches to know that our department has to meet the expectations of our patrons.  Gone are the days where a coach can simply tell a kid what to do and expect full obedience.

When I debrief the coaches about survey answers, it often takes a little bit of interpretation.  Coaches tend to focus on the one or two very negative answers within a survey without looking at the whole.  Throughout multiple years of distributing and reading survey results, one truth holds: there will always be a kid who uses the survey to grind an ax.  If a kid is unhappy with playing time, he/she will take it out on the coach in this survey.  I try to get the coaches to look at the whole, though; if 50 kids take the survey and each question has only one poor answer, we’re probably still meeting our goals.

That’s wordy enough for today – at least for what I thought would be a brief explanation.  Thoughts?  Opinions?  Suggestions?  Let me know!

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