No matter how skilled or talented you are as an athlete, you’ll never reach your true potential without good teachers.
No successful athlete can really go it alone. You have to be open to constructive criticism and then use it to improve.
If you think you have all the answers and don’t need someone else telling you what to do, then you’re flat out wrong and you’re deluding yourself. Don’t be hardheaded here. Don’t limit your development as a champion. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Be open to and look for good coaching. It’s always the fastest and smartest way to get wherever you want to go.
It is especially in the times when you get frustrated, have a slump or block, or get to a place where you’re good but know that you have the potential to perform at a higher level that seeking out and incorporating great feedback can help you overcome a problem or reach a new level of excellence.
There is a concept in Zen Buddhism called “beginners mind,” which refers to having an attitude of openness, enthusiasm, and a lack of preconceptions or judgment. It means approaching a subject with full attention and readiness to learn, even if it’s something you already know quite a bit about. Keep that in mind when a new teacher comes along, another athlete surpasses you with an unusual style, or when you come across something challenging everything you thought you knew about your sport. Staying open will also help you understand things better, and that will only increase your chances for becoming a true champion.
Here are some more ways to accept and use feedback:
- Have a coachable attitude.
This means don’t let your ego get so big that you ignore the wisdom and advice from those who are more experienced and have the benefit of an outsider’s perspective to your technique. Assuming you have a good and fair coach, listen to what they say, work on the areas they pinpoint for improvement, and accept their advice with gratitude for helping you grow rather than dwelling on your perceived inadequacy. Even the most seasoned athletes are always open to learning, and that’s what makes them great.
It’s simple, ask your coach, a fellow athlete, or someone you admire who has an understanding about your sport whether they have any recommendations for how you can modify what you are doing. Make sure you understand what they’re really saying and have them clarify or demonstrate if you’re not sure, then WORK ON IT, and after some time ask if you’ve made progress in this area and what else you can do better. This requires being humble, something some athletes have a problem with unfortunately, but asking lets you be in control of the situation and it might just produce some pleasantly surprising results.
- Go beyond what is recommended.
Let’s say you’re a soccer player and your coach tells you to work on your dribbling skills. Obviously you should make the time to really practice your footwork, coordination, and control of the ball, but then take it a step further. Find some YouTube videos of top level MLS or Premier League soccer players teaching or demonstrating dribbling, engage in activities that can help support the skill of dribbling such as dancing or running backwards, and see what other resources you can find online to experiment with. If you really want to grow as an athlete you have to be willing to go beyond just scratching the surface to really dig into developing those skills to the absolute highest degree. Adding multiple perspectives will go a long way in reaching mastery, not just competence.
- Commit yourself to your sport.
If your heart isn’t in what you’re doing then you’re not likely to care about feedback, and even less likely to actually use it to get better. The more you commit to your sport, and to continually improving and reaching new heights, the more likely you are to really get the most out of your athletic experience, on and off the field. So commit yourself, show up early, work hard, practice even when you’re not at practice, and immerse yourself in learning.
Is it possible that you might get feedback that is NOT really helpful, which is not coming from someone who really knows what they’re talking about in this area? Yes, BUT listen anyway, and always ask yourself if there is SOME validity to the comments and if there’s something you could still use as a learning opportunity.
Remember that feedback is your friend, not your enemy. Never assume you have perfectly mastered a skill until you win a Gold medal, and even then you’d better keep practicing to win it again next year!