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Handling Criticism

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 21 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Sport Press Media Criticism Fans

The first thing you need to remember about participating in any kind of sport is that you’re going to receive criticism at some point and the higher up you progress within your chosen sport, the greater the intensity of the criticism you’re going to be subject to. You cannot play any sport to 100% of your capabilities time after time – even the greatest champions have slumps now and again. When considering criticism, therefore, the important thing to remember is that it can be very useful as long as it’s constructive.

Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is most likely to come from your manager or team coach and a good coach should not only point out flaws in your performance, they should also devise ways for you to overcome these. Perhaps, it’s your level of physical fitness that needs improving or maybe you lack a bit of concentration. Whatever appears to be at odds with you being able to compete as you know you can, it is a coach’s responsibility to work towards putting that right – with your help and effort, of course. Therefore, don’t view constructive criticism as a coach ‘having a go’ at you. Rather, you should see it as a lesson to learn in order to become a better and more consistent athlete. Mistakes are also commonplace in sport. In fact, it’s often mistakes that make the difference between winning and losing just as often – if not more so – than any one piece of individual or collective team brilliance. Therefore, accept that any criticism where a mistake is concerned is simply designed to help you learn from it so that you don’t make the same mistake in future.

Criticism From The Media

As you progress further in your chosen sport, you may well start receiving more coverage from the press and TV and, if you turn professional and play at a really high level, you’re likely to find that your every professional movement will be scrutinised to such an extent that criticism becomes inevitable. In Britain in particular, the media tend to take great delight in unearthing new sporting heroes and building them up in the press to icon status. However, what you should be wary of is that, once you reach the very top, they also like to delight in knocking these ‘heroes’ off their pedestal. Therefore, you have to adopt a fairly cynical attitude when it comes to the press. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be courteous towards them. Journalists have a job to do as well and you’re less likely to irk the ‘wrath of their pen’ if you tend to co-operate with them whenever it’s possible and spare them some time for interviews. However, don’t simply assume that a journalist is always going to be on your side.

Journalists are employed to sell newspapers and most people know that nothing sells newspapers more than controversial or negative news stories. Once you accept that, then just as you shouldn’t bask in any overinflated news stories telling people how well you performed, so by the same token, you should try to rise above any criticism you may receive. However, if the criticism has come about as a result of a slip up in your behaviour or attitude, then you should apologise publicly for that as soon as you can. Most sportsmen and women will often tell you that they don’t bother even reading the sports section.

Criticism From The Spectators

Spectators can be brutally cruel when it comes to athletes and giving out criticism. Most avid sports fans will point to the fact that they are the ones paying often high sums of money to watch you perform and, therefore, if you play badly, they are entitled to be critical and that’s very true and something you should expect. After all, if you decide to pursue your chosen sport professionally, you are inevitably going to be putting yourself in the spotlight more. Therefore, when most athletes are often earning a living doing the sport they love and often getting astronomical sums of money for doing so, then those fans who pay to see them perform are entitled to criticise. You may not agree with all what’s said but you just need to rise above it. The same is true if you’re getting heckled and abused by a particular individual or section of fans.

Some abuse is, of course, totally inexcusable – racist chants, for example. However, as a professional you should learn how to block out most of the noise emanating from the terraces or the stands and there are sports psychologists who can help you to cope better with this. After all, when it comes to verbal abuse, those idiots who are responsible are simply trying to force you into some kind of reaction so it’s important that you don’t lower yourself to their level.

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