“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” – Norman Vincent Peale
One of the hardest things to do as an athlete is be receptive to criticism. Criticism is often perceived as harsh, or embarrassing, especially in front of teammates. When your coach calls you out in front of your team….what do you do?....it’s hard to stay positive. How about when you make that GREAT play and you receive no praise or recognition from your coaching staff? That empty feeling takes a toll you and your psyche. These are the battles you fight as a college athlete and keeping criticism in perspective is imperative.
My close friend who also plays D1 field hockey messaged me that her coach told her, “This is your second strike, one more and you are kicked out of practice.” A comment like that has the potential to drain you of your confidence and energy. Did her coach deliver that message appropriately? Most would say probably not. What is important is the content of the message – you are not working hard enough, work harder or go home and come back ready to work tomorrow. It is actually designed, if you let it, to motivate and drive you. The key to handling criticism is taking it and turning it into something that will fuel you. Let it burn and push you to work harder….to be better. My dad used to say there were times when he knew he had to make me cry because I had a tendency to just cruise, relying on my athleticism and not really digging deep to be at my very best. He knew me and he knew he had to push that button to get me going. I didn’t like his criticism, but you can bet I was going to prove him wrong. As an athlete you can never let negativity win. Every athlete is different – but I believe players need to be pushed out of their comfort zone to test the true limits of their potential.
Staying confident in mentally difficult situations is tough, but it is possible. You have to remind yourself, it is not personal. Nobody enjoys feeling uncomfortable, but it is the only way to make progress and improve. The easiest thing to do in life is accept praise, but praise weakens you, makes you comfortable and ultimately will cause you to plateau. You will feel no need to improve or to critique your own performance if your coach or parent is praising you regardless of your true performance. I am thankful to this day that I had parents and coaches who told it to me straight, good or bad. It made me better and kept it real.
One of the most desired qualities in an athlete is coachability. Coaches don’t want excuses or explanations, they want and expect more from you every single day. It is human nature to get defensive when you feel attacked, but it makes us fight. Whether justly or unjustly, criticism can prove to be helpful more than hurtful. The key to learning in life is to be quick to listen yet slow to speak. Do not let negativity and unnecessary pressure debilitate you – dig deep and find that internal motivation and fire to be better. Never forget why you play: for the love of the game. It is the reason you started playing and let it be there when you finish.
This has been my greatest challenge as a college athlete. Do your best to show up on that first day of your collegiate sport armored with thick skin.