How To Handle Criticism Constructively


The definition of criticism is to pass judgment or find fault with something.


Right away, we’re swimming upstream when we ask our athletes to want to hear our constructive criticism.  Did you wake up this morning hoping someone would pass judgment on how you do your job?  I didn’t and most likely you didn’t either.

Yet, it’s the job of a coach to find and fix faults.  Hopefully we can do it without reducing our teams to walking puddles of tears, but that’s not always up to the coach.  The athlete plays a part in this as well.  We owe it to our athletes to equip them with tools to handle the criticism…even though they may not like it.

A 5-step process for handling constructive criticism

  1. Swallow pride.  The hackles that are raised from criticism are usually from pride.  If you’ve got a player who says “I know” before you can finish your sentence, she’s got a pride problem.  Every person, even players on the national team, needs to improve and can benefit from correction.
  2. Listen to those with experience.  If you’re like me, you empower your captains and upperclassmen to correct as well.  Skill in a vacuum is useless…your team leaders have been around the block a few times and can help the underclassmen avoid pitfalls along the way.  We’ve got to prep them to listen to their captains and put the corrections into action.
  3. Ask questions.  Sometimes my underclassmen don’t understand this concept, but when the senior captain (who’s also all conference or all-American) wants to spend time making them better…they’d better listen!  This is their time to mine that person’s brain for any tips to their success.
  4. Be respectful of those who’ve gone before.   Maybe you have your alums come back and play in an alumni game or even practice against your current players.  Make sure they’re respectful of those who’ve already been there and done that.  I believe there is value in experience…especially successful experience.  I try to make sure our current players understand the alums are the foundation our team is built upon.  If an alum has a correction, the current player’s only job is to smile and nod.
  5. Make your own path.  Coaches, teammates, alums…we all have the best interests of the program at heart.  As a coach, I don’t want my players to replicate one another, but to become better than the one before them.  Success will look different for each player, but their path to success will be shorter and smoother if they’re able to accept and apply correction.

In an article called, Giving and Getting Constructive Criticism, on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, the author talks about her struggles in getting her graduate students to listen to her feedback.  They either don’t believe her or think they know better than she does and the result is typically failure.

Let’s set our players up for success  by equipping them with the tools they need in order to receive criticism in the best possible way.

If you liked this post, check out 8 Ways To Critique Without Crushing Your Team’s Spirit.