I was going through some old clinic notes and came across some thoughts on criticism from Mike Dunlap who was at the time the head coach at Metro State:
• From day one the teacher-coach should explain the power that positive criticism will establish within a team. In brief, we must drink from the cup of criticism if we are going to improve.
• Criticism is much like weightlifting as there is a process that will make the team and the individual change.
• The criticism strategy is simple—Praise, Prompt, and Leave. For example, “I like the way you locked out your elbow on the shot. Please use more legs and then we will have something special.”
• We must use the word “criticism” in a literal sense. We do not want to be clever by using “feedback” sessions—call it what it is.
• There will be an adjustment period with any positive criticism technique. The instructor must show emotional maturity. For instance, you may get “the face” when you first correct the pupil. Keep a level head and get to your point quickly and move on…for example, “I like when you sprint from spot to spot. You can do this for longer than you think and when that loose ball comes up late in the game you’ll be ready.” If you see “the face” during this criticism, ignore it until you see a pattern.
• Criticism will ultimately involve consequences for actions—good and bad. In other words, use actions, not words. If you get “the face” in a repetitive manner then move quickly with your discipline. For example, I remove the player from the court to the locker room. Hence, he is not a distraction to the group and I am letting the team know that my energy will be spent on those that are doing what I want. I will do this early in the season as the bitter pill of discipline and should be taken early in the process. This player has done you a favor.
• Different students have varying degrees of handling criticism—positive or negative. They simply nod to everything you say. I move quickly on this situation as the player is deflecting what you are saying. For instance, the coach says, “Please stop reaching on the ball,” yet the player keeps doing this while always nodding at your corrections. “O.K., we are going to play a defensive game and everyone must hold their hands behind their back while on defense.”
• Criticism in groups is more dangerous than criticizing the individual alone. However, there may be a time and place to do both. Know your audience, the situation, and the person.
• Criticism must be linked to individual accountability.
a) The teacher must admit his mistakes when they happen, as it is a show of humanness and accountability.
b) We cannot accept excuses in our team culture.
c) The instructor must tackle the excuse maker quickly as this can only go one way—BAD.
• The teacher must be ready for criticism when it comes your way—it WILL!
a) Please do not take the approach that the customer is always right—as there are times when they are not. Hence, we still want to get resolution and move on and besides we want to show emotional intelligence and maturity.
b) The technique goes something like this when confronted by a player, “I think you are a jerk, because you keep coming at me in practice and it isn’t fair!”
Coach: “O.K. let’s assume you are right. I’m not sure that the jerk part will help us go anywhere. Why don’t we just stick to the part about me coming at you because ultimately you want to play here and so do I. Why don’t you be specific about what is bother you. We will then put together a strategy that works. Again, please respect my position and you will address me with manners.”
• Criticism is a fact of life. We must have a system in place so that we can be effective and grow as a team. Certainly there will be some “hot” moments. Yet, we can be proactive with our communications. When pressure is applied, chaos will thrive unless we build in a flexible system for communication and criticism.