Dealing With Feedback, Criticism, and Complaints

written by Erica Quam

At the end of the season, you’re going to get feedback from your athletes, staff, and administration.

A lot of coaches - consciously or unconsciously - have a lot of stress during this time.

Couple that with the fact you’ve had a long season…and probably not much of a break.

How do you respond to criticism - from your athletes, parents, administrators, or other coaches?

Sorry to be the downer...and I'm letting you know there will always be people who judge and criticize you for actions you take and decisions you make. 

You can't escape cricitism!

It doesn't matter how hard you work, how perfect you are, or what level of success you reach...there will always be someone there to judge you.

How do you respond?

A) THE BOXER: I get pissed...and fight back.

When someone criticizes me, I jump in to defend myself. I fight back!


When you get pissed and fight back (usually with an intent to make the other person feel bad) you often end up feeling worse. This approach is usually misaligned with your values.

B) THE VICTIM: I take it in, then complain about it.

I take criticism personally. Then...I collude with other people who will feel sorry for me and make me feel better.


When you play the role of the victim, you enter the infamous drama triangle. Instead of becoming empowered…you rely on someone else to come and rescue you. Usually, you end up moving into the role of the bully - as you make your case against the person who criticized you. The dance continues in the drama triangle…until someone decides to step out.

C) THE OSTRICH: I totally ignore it…whatever!

When I hear criticism, I let it go. I duck my head in the sand and pretend it didn't happen.


The ostrich usually doesn’t just ignore the criticism…the ostrich gets cynical. When you get to the point when criticism no longer hurts you lose the ability to feel positive emotions - like joy and happiness.

D) THE TURTLE: I take it in and KEEP it in.

I take criticism personally. Then…I keep it to myself. I don’t want to let anyone know how hurt I am.


When you take in the criticism and withdraw (believing the criticism as your reality) you get caught up in shame. You look at yourself through someone else's eyes - instead of your own. This usually turns on your own INNER critic - which is even worse than the original criticism!

None of these 'strategies' are actually effective. These are the ways we try to self protect. One of these is usually your go-to or default mode…the pattern you rely on most frequently.

Is there a better way to deal with criticism - than self protecting?


When someone criticizes you, it's about them. It's about their personal experience - from their unique lens. 

You don't have to take it ON. Can you do a better job of taking it IN?

1. Take a breath

This is the most important step...and maybe the hardest. If you can pause -for a few seconds or one deep breath - before responding, this will take you out of your default mode.

2. Recognize emotions

Recognize the emotions that come up for you as you experience criticism. If you get hooked or charged up about something…take a look at it. If someone’s comments send you through the roof…there's probably something under the surface to explore further.

3. Stay out of judgement

Don't become the critic yourself! Separate the person from their criticism.

4. Consider the source

Take the other person's perspective. Get curious about what they see? Ask yourself, 'Is there's something I don't know about myself that's being revealed?'

5. Unravel intent

What’s the intent behind their criticism? Do they care about you? Are they trying to be helpful? Or...are they just being mean?

6. Decide

Decide what to take away and what you can learn. Decide how much energy you'll spend on the criticism. Then move on.


1. You need to be selective of the feedback you let in. The mean stuff can really hurt! Set boundaries and limits up for yourself from the mean stuff! Definitely don’t read online comments, tweets, or replies from anonymous trolls that are just out there to hurt.

2. You need empathy…which is different from a rescue. Brené Brown makes a great differentiation when she explains how you don’t need someone to fix it for you, you need someone to let you know that you're not alone. Not everyone can be that empathetic person for you. It’s a skill. Identify one or two dependable people you can trust instead of expecting everyone to have this skill.

Now, it's your turn. Identify your default mode and add something you've learned about criticism in the comments below.