If you can’t laugh at yourself, I can’t (read: won’t) coach you.
Back in grad-school, I was once told by my adviser that a test of mine was “fucking bullshit” and that he couldn’t believe how much of a “God-damned moron” I was being. That may sound harsh, but he was right, and we were laughing at the same time.
Out of context, harsh criticism (especially when accompanied by harsh words) can appear counterproductive — even mean! But in truth, he’s a mellow guy and so am I. You can be harsh and clear, but still have some fun with it.
The important point is that the teacher IS clear about what is wrong and that the student can take it emotionally. The last thing he wanted was for me to believe I understood more than I did — then fail in the future, when I could have succeeded.
A teacher has a responsibility to the FUTURE-self of their student. This means that teachers care more about your success tomorrow than your feelings today.
Being “Nice” Can Get in the Way
As you’ve likely noticed, I’m a relaxed, positive, laugh-prone, self-depreciating person. I expect the same out of my athletes.
I care how others feel in the moment. I’m polite. I go out of my way to be nice. But precisely because I DO care about the people I work with, I am willing to be the bad-cop to ensure that my athletes are safe and successful in the future.
If an athlete can’t take this direct criticism, then there is nothing I can do to help them. It is NOT a matter of “finding the right balance”! Teaching is not cheerleading. Constructive Criticism is MORE important than encouragement.
The sweetening of the bitter pill is a luxury that I will engage in as much as I can, because I really don’t like people to feel bad if I can help it. But I try to never let the urge to “say it nicely” get in the way of reality — that would be bad teaching.
I’m a coach. My job is to keep your future self safe and successful, even at — sometimes ESPECIALLY at — the expense of your current feelings.
Example of a Good Student
The picture at the top is of our lifter Emma. She is very new to the sport.
She also takes coaching VERY well — she can take criticism without getting emotional. Because of this, she’s making faster progress than she could without this emotional-skill. Here she is making a PR 68kg clean (over her bodyweight).
This was a good lift. But, after she made this clean, we went down to a lighter weight to work on technique she wasn’t doing right. This is a process that will never end! Every time you fix one thing there will be another that shows up. That’s a process you have find interesting and fun.
Don’t Worry, You Can Train Your Brain
Athletes: You can make amazing progress, but only if you can take criticism well. This is an emotional skill that you can develop with practice. I suggest you start by Watching a Pot Boil.
Coaches: you can also develop the skill of allowing yourself to make the critiques you know are necessary, but are afraid to say for fear of sounding mean. It’s more mean to allow your athletes to fail in the future — or worse, get hurt. You can learn more about the art of coaching in our Weekly Journal, Nemesis.
Now go lift something heavy,