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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Criticism

If you are afraid of criticism, you will die doing nothing.

Coach taught his players how to deal with criticism by breaking it down into two types: criticism they would receive from him and the coaching staff, and criticism they would receive from sources outside of the team (media,  fans, alumni, etc.).

I think this is an excellent model, because in our professional and personal lives, we receive direct criticism from coaches and supervisors and criticism from outside sources.

Let’s discuss dealing with direct criticism from a coach or supervisor first.

Coach gave his players miscellaneous materials throughout the season. He distributed a small amount every week or two or whenever something seemed particularly applicable and needed.

The following is a handout coach distributed to the team regarding criticism:

Re: Criticism

  1. 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.
  2. Take your criticism in a constructive way without alibis or sulking. If the coach was wrong, he will find out in due time.
  3. Do not nag or razz or criticize a teammate at any time. It may lead to a bad feeling, which can only hurt the team. We must avoid cliques and all work toward the best interest of the team.

There are three parts to criticism we receive: how it is said (tone of voice, language used), why it is said (intention of the person criticizing us) and the information communicated.

It is helpful to ignore how it is said, be aware of why it is said and concentrate without emotion on the information being communicated.

I tell basketball players that if you go through a practice and don’t get corrected, it probably means you’re not going to play much. You should go to the coach and ask, How can I improve?

In a corporate environment, I remind employees it is not a good situation if your supervisor is not giving you input on your performance. The silent treatment from a supervisor is sometimes used prior to suspension or termination or as a means of expressing dissatisfaction. If you are getting the silent treatment, you should ask your supervisor, How can I improve?

Take it as a compliment to be criticized. Respond verbally in a positive manner and make your best effort not to repeat the same mistake.

Whether it is in the workplace or on the basketball court, coaches love having players on their team that are coachable.

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.