Larry King recently stated on Tim Ferris’ Podcast that by the time an athlete’s career is over (approximately at age 30) they will have gone through as many failures and successes as you will have in your entire career. I have experienced this through my career as a professional extreme skier. So how do athletes mentally handle the intense emotional roller-coaster? Athletes not only have tremendous physical strength, they also have resilience and mental strength. One factor that makes them so mentally strong is how they handle criticism.

Taking Criticism

Athletes receive criticism day in and day out.  I don’t mean from the haters on Twitter, but rather from those who are closest to them, such as their coach. This could easily get anyone down, but it doesn’t seem to faze athletes.  A coach is there to analyse athlete performance and identify areas that can be improved upon. Yes, with every run I skied came a high five and “well done” but they also came with an endless list of things to work on such as: “your take off was too slow”, “you dropped your shoulder on your landing”, and “why the hell did you choose to ski that line?” Every chair ride back up the mountain was spent being told what I did wrong and how to improve.

Analysing our line choice after skiing Santa Terra, Chile.

After each Freeride competition there is an opportunity to ask the judges for feedback.  They will honestly and openly tell you where you went wrong.  They don’t do this to be malicious they do it because they want you to improve.  They want the sport to improve.  I remember one particular competition there was a new girl on the tour who didn’t place very well in the competition.  She was getting some tough truths from the judges after the award ceremony.  She was in tears.  But sure enough there she was at the next competition skiing harder and better than before.  It was obvious the criticism and disappointment had upset her in the moment but she was back displaying she had worked on what needed improving.  In every sport, every competition or match is analysed and criticised.

Judges at the Freeride World Tour watch and take notes on the athletes line choice and skiing technique

Think of a Premier football match.  The boys don’t get to go home and relax, they have a debriefing in the locker room on what went wrong and the next day they are back at training analysing the footage from the day before.

Athletes can filter the productive criticism from the useless criticism.  They know who to take advice from.  A coach, at trainer, a physiotherapist, a sports psychologist are all qualified and highly regarded.  It is easy to listen to the voice of a professional.   An athlete will take no notice of someone criticising them who does not know what they are talking about.  And you should do the same!  Lets face it there are some bullies out there who just like to put us down, but why take any notice of them!?  Listen to those people in your profession you look up to; a manager, co-worker or even a competitor.

When we are working on a project in our professional roles and we are provided with feedback and constructive criticism, it is natural to feel defeated and downhearted sometimes – but this does not have to be the case at all! Your boss, co-workers, and team are all trying to help you improve so that you can grow, learn and continue to succeed in your career. I am grateful to every coach, teammate, manager, trainer, and friend who has told me where I’m going wrong and as a result I am constantly striving for improvement. Don’t let the criticisms get you down, embrace it.  As an athlete, I am so grateful for constructive criticism; without it I would feel frustrated and wonder why I was still not winning medals. I now look forward to receiving feedback as I know that by the end of the day I will be a better skier because of it.  I have to admit being criticised my brother, Rick, telling me to “stop being such a pussy” is the best form of criticism to make me ski harder! 😉



Steps to Accepting Criticism:

  1. Listen closely to what is being said.
  2. Don’t react in the moment.  It is easy to get defensive.  Especially when we have worked hard on something.  Acknowledge the emotion but don’t engage with it.
  3. Go away and think about what has been said.  Are these criticisms true. We don’t always want to believe that we made a mistake but sometimes we need to put our hand up and say “Yes, you are correct”.
  4. Chose one thing you would like to improve on.  I could be told 5 areas that I need to work on by a coach.  It is impossible to correct 5 things at once, we can only work on so much.  I would chose one thing I wanted to focus on for the next few ski runs.
  5. Communicate the area you are going to work on to your team.  They need validation that you heard what had been said to you and that you are going to focus on improving a particular area.  If there are other areas that need attention, communicate you will focus on them once this area has been perfected.  Communication is key otherwise managers will think feedback has fallen on deaf ears.
  6. Make a plan on how to improve this task/skill.  This could be asking for advice, reading material on your subject or simply being more aware moving forward.
  7. As you begin to improve your skill level it will become second nature to you and before you know it this area is perfected 🙂