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Criticism is the Catalyst to Change

posted Jun 23, 2015, 12:03 PM by Debbie Sokol
Constructive criticism identifies areas of weakness and includes practical advice on ways to improve.  The person receiving the criticism should feel encouraged and motivated versus attacked and timid.  For example, if you lift with correct squatting form without bending excessively in your back, you will be less likely to become injured.  Constructive criticism should provide clarity in understanding the solutions to each individual weakness and allow growth by achieving specific, attainable goals. 

Effective criticism is useful for two reasons.  First, it allows the opportunity for new ideas and perspectives to be developed.  Second, it allows us to test the validity of our thoughts and ideas.  One statement that I base part of my coaching philosophy from is: "A genuine understanding and creativity will lead to a third alternative.  You must first seek to understand, then to be understood."

Effective criticism should be comprised of the following four components:

1.    Positivity and Motivational:  To grab the attention of a student-athlete, you must approach the individual in a positive manner to gain their trust and demonstrate their efforts will lead to a more successful outcome.  They must understand their efforts to change will be worthwhile for their personal successes and the success of their teammates. Stay brief with your suggestions and focus on the items of greatest importance first.  This perspective will allow athletes to stay motivated to not only understand their weaknesses, but drive them to make positive changes without becoming discouraged or overwhelmed.  Also, allow the athletes to provide you with their feedback or reasoning to reach a common ground for a solution to the situation. 

2.    Specific: Lay out the Xs and Os.  The more direct you can be with your explanations, the greater effect you will have on your athlete to achieve a specific skill. Eliminate any grey areas or ‘sugar coating’ within your descriptions to reduce the possibility of frustration occurring during this process.


3.    Objective: One statement many of us in the profession use is “What is measurable is manageable.”  It is important to leave your feelings aside and provide athletes with objective information to allow them to evaluate their own progress.  This will allow your athlete to gain trust in your systems and will improve your credibility for future points of discussion.

4.    Constructive: Goal-setting is an essential part of this process.  Goals and objectives need to be meaningful to student-athletes.  Thus, it is important to use language that they are able to understand and relate to.  Begin by focusing on one change at a time until the goal has been met.  Throughout this process, have patience and allow the athlete to learn and make adjustments on their own.  It is important not to overwhelm the athlete with too much instruction.  Get to know your athletes to recognize their limits and use stories or examples that will enhance their understanding.

After all of your hard work, it is imperative to follow up with your athletes following this engagement.  The conversation should focus on the progress the athlete has made.  It should consist of a step-by-step analysis of the process the athlete has gone through with generous praise throughout to highlight their improvements and motivate them to continue pushing forward.   Your athletes should be excited and you can be confident your feedback was well received and will be welcomed again!

Effective criticism can change what people think and do.  As a result, criticism is the birthplace of change (Boundless Communications, 2014).  Positive relationships with players, coaches, families, and administration are critical in our profession.  Use the necessary tools and put forth a great effort to build a lasting impact and enhance the growth of these relationships.

by Jeffrey Aucoin, Assistant Coach - Harvard University
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