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Navigating Criticism and Building Resilience- A Guide for Athletes:

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Athletes who respond poorly to constructive criticism will never make it.

Athletes face the challenge of self-reflection and handling criticism. This blog explores strategies to maintain stable confidence while embracing accountability and taking responsibility. Truly exceptional athletes exhibit qualities such as emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Let's delve into the traits that set them apart and discuss the impact of criticism on athletes.

Lets begin my looking at the Traits of Mentally Strong Athletes:

  1. Assumption of full responsibility for results.

  2. Absence of excuses.

  3. Lack of complaint.

  4. Non-shift of blame to coaches.

  5. Non-shift of blame to teammates.

  6. Exemplary integrity.

  7. Possession of elite character.

  8. Willingness to let go of ego and pride.

  9. Removal of entitlement during training and competition.

  10. Coachability.

Assessing Your Traits: Consider how many of these traits you embody as an athlete. Recognizing these qualities within yourself is an essential step towards personal growth and development.

The Impact of Criticism on Athletes:

  1. Falling victim to negativity from others.

  2. Diminished confidence due to external critiques.

  3. Constant comparison to others.

  4. Uncomfortable feelings provoked by feedback.

  5. Taking criticism personally, affecting performance.

How many of these traits do you possess first and foremost? After a defeat, average athletes look and place blame at the umpires, conditions, coaches or teammates - they are full of excuses. On the contrary, champion minded athletes look at themselves and assess what they could have done better or differently.

Moreover -Athletes from all walks of life will over their career reflect on some poignant questions about who they are. None more so than assessing these three questions. Athletes who typically don’t take to critisiscm or feedback well often are affected by the following questions also? 1. Do you buy into the negativity from other people? 2. Do you lose confidence when others or the media critique your game? 3. Do you compare yourself to others constantly? 4. What is it about this feedback that has made you feel uncomfortable? 5. Do you take it personally? We see this a lot with teenagers or young adults who have low self worth or self esteem - who are not fully physically or emotionally mature and hold a lack ‘life experience’ or have to had to face any real adversity. Why? Coaches can tell who the great athletes are through their attitude; Average athletes from the champion minded ones with elite attitude and character always possess this one trait – when excellence is demanded from them, the average athletes hate it, and the champion characters love it. Tough coaching – the benefits. Coaches are not out to ‘get you’ they are there to help you ‘get you’ to where you wany and need to go – great athletes know the difference Athletes need to surround yourself with those who tell you what you NEED to hear, not only what you WANT to hear. Coaches who demand standards and have high requirements and principles face these challenges every day. Feedback is important for the acquisition of personal growth, character development and skills by the athlete. It provides clarity, direction, goals and assists the athlete to adjust or adapt their performance, thinking, behaviour and skill execution as they progress through the stages of the complexity of skill acquisition. The harmful pattern of athletes not wanting to take on feedback or criticism usually lies within how the athlete’s parents respond to feedback and criticism. If the athletes’ parents are humble and open enough to feedback – then more than likely, this skill have been passed on to their child. (Through mirror neurons) Moreover, have you as an athlete or parent taken the time to reflect how your tone or language affects a player’s confidence. Do you take criticism well when stoked up on? Ask yourself…. Do what others say affect my performance? When others say: you can’t win this – what do you feel? When coaches, friends or teammates, even opposition talk down your game, or when others say you can’t beat a certain opponent, achieve a personal best, achieve a good result final in an event or make a national cut….do you question your ability? Do you take it on board? What is your reaction? Why do you have this reaction? You see – great athletes are in simple terms great warriors and a warrior does not react. They act. It does not matter what people say to them. A warrior mentality will always give you a perspective of doing not thinking nor reacting. Why is this so? Great athletes understand the importance of accountability. To be truly accountable means that you mind is open, not closed. Once athletes learn to open their mind, they are free – they are at peace. They have learnt to listen, understand, filter what is relevant to them and then let go. Parents and coaches need however to understand that for athletes, a lack of confidence, even a sprinkle of self-doubt is the single biggest mental block to performing consistently well in competitions. The athlete without help in this space is going to struggle to find out the triggers. A lack of confidence or self-doubt is the key ingredient that prevents an athlete from reaching their potential. A coach or parent specifically must be extremely diligent with their language as every athlete is different. Remember - a lack of confidence is the single biggest opponent an athlete will ever face in their athletic career. What is the answer to this confidence dilemma? Who better to learn from than some of the world’s most successful athletes in their sport and see what they have to say about maintaining confidence in the midst of critique? Firstly, let’s look at Steph Curry, guard for the Garden State Warriors. Curry is considered one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Curry is not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the offensive end of the court, even 10-feet away from the 3-point line. As a matter of fact, the NBA 3-point line is 23 feet 9 inches from the centre of the basket. This doesn’t faze him. From a raw numbers point of view, from a distance between 30 and 35 feet, Curry shoots approximately 54 percent while the rest of the league shoots around 22 percent from that same distance. With that said, in an interview given by Curry, he talked about the confidence that the Warriors and he, in particular, have even when faced with losing the 2019 NBA Championship. CURRY: “I don’t listen much to any of what anybody says about what we [the Golden State Warriors] can or cannot do or what I can do personally. I don’t know if that’s stubbornness or ultimate self-confidence but it’s just the fact that I know who I’m rolling with in that locker room, we just got believe.” Here is Roger Federer talking about confidence and criticism and why it can be healthy. “I always questioned myself in the best of times. Even when I was world #1 for many months in a row. What can I improve, what do I need to change? If you don’t do anything or you just do the same thing over and over again, you stay the same. Staying the same means going backwards. It’s important for me to actually hear criticism sometimes. That’s what makes me a better player.” Therefore, get to know yourself, maybe, it’s a little bit of both. Stubbornness together with learning can mean you do not get distracted by outside noise, whilst your confidence levels can stay at a point where you fundamentally believe in your ability to perform to the best of your abilities across a wide range of competitive circumstances. For optimal performance to alloy yourself to compete at their best, an athlete needs ultimate confidence which is a combination of: 1. Stubbornness or focus – Focusing on the things you can control and not the opinions of others or the myriad of other uncontrollable distractions that can inundate your mind. 2. Belief in your ability to perform – Having an unshakeable belief in your ability to produce in competition, even if those things have not been accomplished before. It is not arrogance. If you are open to feedback, then you have power and a strong enough to be vulnerable.

To become a champion, it involves learning from winning and losing. It involves being open to criticism and having a willingness to keep working hard especially when you are feeling uncomfortable emotionally and or physically. Ultimate confidence is the inner belief that the mental skill that has being developed with pressure, circumstances and a continuous feedback loop. It obviously helped produce unmatched results for Curry and Federer as examples. If you asked both Curry and Federer, they would probably share a common theme regarding how hard they practiced. It’s well documented that one of the ways Curry developed confidence in his ability to make 3-point shots from well beyond the 3-point arc is that he practiced shooting thousands of shots from that distance, under all sorts of match style scenarios. Like Federer, hours up hours of repetition of certain skills, and set plays provide a strong foundation of belief. A bird sitting on a tree branch is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not in the branch, but its own ability to fly’

Understanding the Importance of Accountability: Great athletes exhibit a warrior mentality, focusing on action rather than reaction. They remain unaffected by external opinions, embracing accountability as a pathway to growth. Coaches play a vital role by demanding excellence and providing valuable feedback.

The Role of Feedback and Criticism: Feedback is crucial for personal growth, character development, and skill acquisition. Athletes who struggle with criticism may have learned this behavior from their parents' response to feedback. Parents and coaches must reflect on their language and tone, ensuring their words positively impact an athlete's confidence.

Confidence and Its Challenges: A lack of confidence or self-doubt poses significant hurdles for athletes striving to reach their potential. Language plays a crucial role in either supporting or hindering an athlete's confidence.

Developing Bullet-Proof Confidence:

  1. Avoid detrimental comparisons to others.

  2. Cultivate self-confidence independent of external validation.

  3. Surround yourself with positive influences.

  4. Reject negativity from your life.

  5. Remain open to feedback, setting aside ego and pride.

  6. Recognize that coaches providing honest feedback genuinely care for your development.

  7. Master your skills through dedicated practice and repetition.

  8. Protect your confidence by avoiding negative environments.

  9. Communicate with your support team, focusing on self-improvement rather than self-criticism.

  10. Balance the improvement of weaknesses with the nurturing of strengths.

  11. Understand that coaches who provide honesty and truth – truly care about you

Conclusion: As an athlete, embracing self-reflection and effectively handling criticism is crucial for personal and athletic growth. By embodying the traits of mentally strong athletes and adopting strategies to develop unshakable confidence, you can navigate criticism while maintaining focus on continuous improvement. Remember, the journey towards greatness lies within your commitment to accountability and belief in your own abilities. Mastery of mental skills is key. Practice, Practice, Practice and repeat. Repetition and drilling builds confidence and character, this is vital, but you must believe in yourself that you have what it takes to perform well in competition by doing the work. Accept that confidence and form can be fragile, and you must protect it. if you allow others’, media or social media comments to affect your belief in your skills and experience, then it will. Remove yourself from those environments. Only allow those that you trust (your inner circle) to provide coaching advice and care. Lastly, great athletes should always look within to make changes. Always look inside and communicate with your support team any internal messages that you think you can improve. Lastly, try not to look at it as what’s wrong with your game or yourself, look at it from what can be improved and re-frame language and the questioning. It will help focus your talents to improve what needs to be developed by training and focusing on your chosen priorities and remember to always work on your strengths as much as you strive to work on your weaknesses.


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