Sunday, February 22, 2015

Resisting Feedback

I've seen this happen over and over again throughout my years in derby, and it always baffles me. Coaches give a player feedback, and he or she decides that the feedback isn't valid to her specifically, or that the coach doesn't know what she's talking about, or that she knows better than the coach. I realize that not every coach knows the answer to every issue on the track, but feedback is a necessary evil in any sport, and if you're resistant to feedback, you're not going to go very far.
Photo by A Boy Named Tsunami

All skaters, at some point, have received feedback that they don't agree with. I've been told by a couple of old school skaters that I would never make it in derby, and yet here I am starting my seventh season. Of course you're going to get feedback that isn't accurate, but most coaches will try to give you the best feedback to make you a better skater. How do you figure out what feedback to ignore, and what feedback to accept?

1. Consider the source.  Like I mentioned, the old school derby skaters didn't give me positive feedback. They didn't think I was tough enough and I didn't match their idea of a derby girl. Even though their feedback wasn't relevant, I did learn something from them. I learned that some people have preconceived notions of what roller derby athletes should look like, or act like. I also learned that when someone tells me I can't do something, I'm going to prove them wrong. When you're given feedback, you have to consider why the person has said what she's said. Is she coming from a helpful place? Does she have an agenda? If she does have an agenda, is it a positive one, or does she have an axe to grind? (And yes, all of those pronouns could have been "he" just as easily.)

2. Check your ego. Is someone telling you something you don't want to hear? Chances are, you're going to get some feedback that isn't going to be glowing. We don't improve if we only hear positive things about ourselves; it's not fun to be corrected when we're working so hard at our sport. Even though I'm not hyped about getting some correction to what I'm doing on the track, I'd rather hear it from my coaches, than hear it from the refs, calling me on a penalty.

3. Listen to the broken record. There are some universal truths in roller derby. You should be getting lower, you should be practicing how you'll play in a game, and you should be working on your basic skating skills. Some feedback is always right, and even if you're sick of hearing this kind of feedback, it's relevant! You can try to rationalize why your skating style runs contrary to known ideals, but you're really just wasting your own time and development as a skater. There's a reason you're hearing the same feedback over and over again.

4. Are you capable of evaluating yourself? Being able to self evaluate is an extremely important skill; you have to be able to practice it to be good at it. Can you really sit down with yourself and figure out what you're good at, and what you need to work on? It might be harder than you think. We don't get a lot of training in our world to learn how to self evaluate; teachers grade us, bosses promote us, and coaches give feedback. Some jobs ask for self evaluations once a year; we've all experienced how uncomfortable that can make us. Once a year isn't enough practice on something to make us good at it. Learn to self evaluate, and you will go far in life in general.

5. Learn from all feedback. You can always learn something from feedback; either you learn something about the person giving feedback, or about yourself. How do you take feedback? Are you instantly on the defensive? Are you capable of evaluating the feedback itself? Can you sift through the feedback and find the pure nuggets of gold that you can follow? If you can find the best parts from the feedback people give you, you will improve in derby.


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