I recently volunteered to do some coaching at my daughter’s cricket club. Mark, the coach, has the considerable task of coaching 20 girls between the ages of 7 and 15, on his own. I just thought he might appreciate a hand! Now, I’m not a stranger to sports coaching. In my teens and early twenties I coached a lot, mainly in soccer and rugby. Although I have never coached cricket before, I’ve taught basic movement skills, throwing and catching. I remember being a pretty good coach when I was younger and, to be honest, I thought I would probably just pick up where I left off. I spent a couple of hours thinking of drills and practices, planned my session and turned up confident; ready for action. My marker cones were nicely arranged and colour coordinated. I divided the squad into groups, demonstrated the drill and set them off.
I realised very quickly that it wasn’t really working. I hadn’t given the players enough space. Consequently it was too easy for some (no challenge) and too difficult for others (no challenge either). I ran the practice through so that everyone got a go, but it was a bit of a waste of time to be honest. I found myself trying to rescue the whole thing by pouring in more enthusiasm and vocal encouragement. After everyone had had a go, we moved onto the second drill. I split the squad into two teams and set up a competitive game – a sure fire winner, I thought. It probably was better than the first practice, but still not great. Unfortunately with such a diverse age range, the older players started to dominate and the younger ones got side-lined. So I tried to improvise in the moment and took a punt, which didn’t work out too well either.
It was at that point that one girl, who was 12, looked me dead in the eye and said, “You suck”. I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that.
My initial reaction was really interesting. My ego was first to respond. Not wanting to lose my cool I simply said, “Thanks, that’s really nice of you” (in a sarcastic tone). I noticed a few fleeting thoughts racing through my mind.
You little ****…. Who do you think you are?… You’re 12 years old, you should have some respect… I’ll show her who’s boss… and a lot of other nonsense.
In reality, I did nothing about it at the time but I came away stewing on it. My brain wouldn’t let it go. My ego wanted to feel respected and to establish some sort of dominance in the relationship. Put simply – I didn’t want this 12 year old girl to win.
This particular girl is a bit of a handful for everyone. She’s got a bit of an attitude. She loves to rebel and she can sulk for Britain. Therefore, my ego found it really easy to conclude that she must have been wrong.
Then, I had my light bulb moment.
SHE WAS RIGHT!
I DID SUCK.
My session was pretty poor. If i were to score it on a zero-to-ten scale, it would probably have scored a 2.
Once I realised that, I began to see the whole thing differently. Rather than getting upset at this girl and trying to ‘win’, I actually began to feel grateful. I had been trying to figure out how I would play the next encounter with her. Now, it was obvious. All I needed to do was to say, “Thank you. You were right, I did suck. I’ve not coached for about 20 years and I’m pretty rusty but I’m going to work at getting better”.
I often talk to people about the power of critical feedback. From working with world class people, I know that they view critical feedback like oxygen. I often find myself seeking critique from others. However, this was different. This was imposed. Rather than embracing it, initially, I became defensive and started to fight it. In my own mind, I began to justify my position and tried to convince myself that I was right. I found myself formulating a plan to try and ‘win’. Inevitably, if that’s the way I choose to respond, it will only end badly for everyone.
This has been a really useful experience for me. It has reminded me how valuable critical feedback is. Sometimes it does comes in a slightly less palatable form. However, that doesn’t change the simple truth. If I’m going to get better, I need to start by accepting that I SUCK.