My dad was an accomplished high school basketball coach for 20 years. He had a number of “coachisms” that I remember, but the one that really stuck with me went something like this: “Don’t worry when the coach is yelling at you. Worry when he stops, because that means he’s given up on you.”
Maybe because I was nine or ten at the time, it didn’t sink in. Through my years as a high school baseball player and into college, I had a very difficult time taking feedback on the field. In college, this was exacerbated by my coach, Al Fulk. He could chew you a new one at the drop of a hat.
Even during my junior year as the captain of the team and the MVP, he was in my face non-stop. My reaction was to get angry and set my sights on proving him wrong, hitting a thousand balls a night until my hands bled. I respected him, but I didn’t love him. I hated our feedback sessions.
Then something happened at the end of my junior year that changed everything about my relationship with Coach Fulk. More importantly, it changed my thinking on feedback in a way that’s helped me substantially in my career.
We were in the playoffs in our division and it was a tight game going into the top of the 8th. I was behind the plate catching and there was a man on 2nd base with two outs. The batter hit a sharp line drive over the shortstop and our left fielder charged hard on the ball. He scooped it up on two hops as the runner rounded third and he fired a one-hopper to the plate. I snagged the ball and in one motion tagged the batter across the thighs. Three outs and the inning was over. Until the ump blew the call.
We were all in disbelief. I turned to the ump and made my case. It got heated. Then the coach from the opposing team came out of his dugout and then Coach Fulk came running out of ours. During this heated exchange, the opposing coach directed a comment toward me. Then it happened.
All of the sudden the game didn’t matter. Coach Fulk looked the opposing coach in the eye and let him have it. “This is my player. I give him feedback. Not you,” he said.
In a single moment I saw all the passion and care and genuine interest in my success that Coach Fulk had. Behind all of his feedback was a commitment to making me better. Fifteen years after I heard it for the first time, my dad’s advice hit home. “Don’t worry when the coach is yelling at you. Worry when he stops, because that means he’s given up on you.”
Feedback can be tough to internalize. It’s very hard to be objective in the moment because it can feel like a personal attack. However, if you start with the fundamental belief that you’re getting feedback because someone else thinks you’re worth investing in and react accordingly, it can transform your career.
Beck Besecker is CEO and co-founder of Marxent Labs.
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