Wednesday, July 9, 2014

To Criticize or Not to Criticize

Unless we start out perfect on our path to greatness, whether it be in derby or anything else, we will need to assess and improve. We will need to assess which aspects we are doing well, and try to make them consistent and faster and stronger in whatever way is applicable. We will also need to evaluate what is not working, what requires change to lead to improvement and ultimately to our goal of greatness. This means that the path to greatness requires criticism, but, it does not mean that all criticism is good. Herein lies the complexity.

Criticism Can be Good
First we need to understand that all criticism isn't bad. No, really. Criticism on its face isn't bad. It's good. It is the only thing that leads to betterment. When we know what is wrong, we can fix it. Every time we are looking at a problem and trying to solve it we are doing a critical analysis of the situation. What isn't working? Where specifically is the problem? What can I do to fix that specific issue to solve the greater problem. Without criticism how do we know how to be better? Criticism is helping you reach your ultimate goal of greatness, each time you learn how you are doing something wrong it means you can change, learn how to do it right, and voila, improvement. You have gone up a level.

In derby we can easily see the way that criticism works in a positive way. You are given instruction from a trainer, say, on how to do a t-stop, then you try it out. The trainer will watch you and give you a critical analysis, "You've got your front foot in the right position but you really need to turn your back foot more to make a T-shape". They will likely give you some pointers on how better to get the shape, demonstrate it for you and then you will take that criticism (followed by direction and positivity) and try and change the part that you were doing wrong so that you can improve your t-stops.

That is a positive usage of criticism, and the way you want your coaches and trainers to be. They should be pointing out where improvements can be made, so you know what to work on, but they should always have direction as to how to do that improvement and positivity about your ability to achieve that goal. In other words, if someone is criticizing you it is positive when they are pushing you up (giving you ways to improve it, being positive about your ability to achieve that goal) not pushing you down. That's when we get in to the negative criticisms.

Criticism Can be Bad
Negative criticism is criticism that comes from the wrong place and, not shockingly, leads to the wrong place for the receiver. There are many wrong places negative criticism can come from; anger, jealousy, shame, competitiveness, revenge, guilt. Or sometimes, simply thoughtlessness. Sadly we have probably all come across this sort of criticism before when taking part in our sport and in life. This is human stuff so it's the same in all sports, or really, gatherings of humans anywhere. Negative criticism like when someone tosses off a remark about how you seemed to be in the way in the game more then anything, or being told that your penalty lost them the game. These are not positive criticisms. There is no advice on a way to improve (nor is it clear what specifically requires improvement) nor is there any positivity about your ability to achieve it. They are just cuts. Meant to sting as they plant their sour seeds, pushing you down, not up.

This kind of criticism is fairly evil really, because it is insidious, slowly seeding itself in your brain because you know it has some truth to it (perhaps there was a moment in the game you were in the way of your jammer, it happens) but it carries with it the growing plant of evil that is generalization. It has no basis but we will now extrapolate from that one comment, that heavily laden comment, that they were right in concluding that actually it was the WHOLE game that you spent being in the way. And, furthermore, you will continue to conclude (because once the ball is rolling it is SO easy to follow it down the hill) that it clearly means you are a completely horrible player who adds nothing to your team, you suck, you should probably just quit.

One of the most unfortunate things about negative criticism is that we are all really good at doing it to ourselves. Really, really good. In this world of unachievable role models and so much pressure for woman to be everything, fill every role, and (sadly) the female culture of cattiness and gossip that is proliferated in our media telling us how to act; as women, we have a lot of platforms to judge ourselves on and we are told we should be judging. There is no end to the ways in which I can list that I suck if I am to compare myself to the super moms. There are SO many things that I have not achieved yet when I compare myself to other academics. I still can't do laterals right. Sigh.

There is no end to things which I still have on my list of goals, as we all do. None of us are perfect, and none of us are good at everything. We all have our ups, and we all have our downs. That's the rub. But, negative criticism feeds your critical judgements of yourself. It does not seek positive outcome, there is no goal of improvement, there is only a spiral down into a pit of negativity wherein it is very difficult to see any light of positivity about yourself. That's a bad place. (I have lots to say about how to see this and stop it but, another time.)

What are YOU Saying
So, now you've read about two different ways to criticize, this is the time to stop and think about which one of those ways you use. Are you quick to throw out harsh comments while on the bench at a game? Do you criticize with the intent of improvement or simply out of anger? I want everyone to really think about this, because I'm sure that some of you reading this will have made comments that have affected someone deeply before. This may be surprising, a lot of people are surprised to hear that their words could hurt someone in a deep way. But they can.

Things we say are meaningful, words hold a lot of power, which is why we need to think about pushing people up. We need to be positive. We need to be the example for everyone else how to push up our peers, help them achieve their goals. We need to use positive criticism so that skaters can improve, and know that we are behind them, hoping they become amazing, pushing them to achieve whatever goals they are trying to achieve. We can not be bitter at others achievements, instead let it push you harder to achieve what you want to achieve. Look to your betters not in anger but in learning; look to your less skilled not with frustration but with support.

When someone says something critical to you that you feel has no goal, ask them "What are you trying to teach me?" If they look at you blank faced you can know that whatever the hell they said you can simply throw it out of your memory banks. There is no real information. Any time I have a criticism I can easily tell you what I am trying to teach you, there is always a reason, a goal, and a way that we can get you there. This should be the case for every criticism you give or receive. Let us all make each other more awesome.

*twinkle. *twinkle.