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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
What Does Constructive Criticism Mean?

In the workplace, a supervisor sometimes criticizes an employee and walks away thinking they have just helped that employee improve. The reality is they have left an employee upset, feels picked on and is less productive.

The ability to create an environment in which a coach can be critical, without reducing the productivity or the player feeling criticized, is essential to maximize performance improvement

Coach Wooden could be critical of a player and maintain the same, if not an improved level of productivity. This environment resulted from preparation and attention to detail.

Before the season started, Coach Wooden gave each player a handout titled, RE: Criticism, with the following three points on it:

  • If the coach “bawls you out,” consider it as a compliment. He is trying to teach you and impress a point upon you. If he were not interested in you, he would not bother. A player is criticized only to improve him and not for any personal reasons.
  • Take your criticism in a constructive way, without alibis or sulking. If the coach was wrong, he will find it out in due time.
  • Do not nag or razz or criticize a teammate. It may lead to a bad feeling, which can only hurt the team. We must avoid cliques and all work in the best interest of the team.

Coach also gave his players a handout titled, RE: Expected Criticism For Early In The Season. This document listed nine specific items for offense and five specific items for defense on which the players could expect to be corrected early in the season.

Once in practice, the players expected to receive criticism, and in fact, would be concerned if they went through practice and were not corrected. That would indicate a lack of interest from the coaching staff.

When delivering corrections, Coach had control of his tone of voice and used it in a manner that would be most effective with each individual player. 

As Coach liked to say: “Be completely impartial and show no favoritism, but remember that no two players are alike and that each must be treated according to his own individual personality.”

Coach Wooden’s criticism was never personal and almost always delivered with a constructive, workable suggestion on how to improve.

What a great blueprint for being critical while being productive. 

Photo by @chanelpluscat/Twenty20

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.