Weekly ‘crit’ might help sensitive souls
AGED 18, I enrolled at art college. This proved a singularly useless endeavour, so dispiriting that I emerged an avowed philistine.
I could paint. I could draw. What I couldn’t do was tolerate the pretentious gobbledygook emanating from all and sundry, let alone spout it myself. The brushes were packed away and have been gathering dust since.
One aspect, though, would prove beneficial. In an attempt to toughen you up for a lifetime of rejection and criticism, art lecturers meted out unmitigated verbal savagery.
There’s no such thing as a good try. No ‘better luck next time’. Failures were met with the type of ‘encouragement’ that John Sitton used on those shellshocked Leyton Orient players in 1995.
Work was flung to the ground. Photographs crumpled. All while 25 others looked on, praying they weren’t next.
Chief tormentor was a perennially hungover Nick Cave-lookalike who’d adopt a pained stare before dolorously denouncing his failures as ‘f***ing useless’. Tears were not uncommon.
To kids out of school, such forthrightness was a slap around the chops. We’d come from a world of being vacantly told to follow our dreams to a dystopian universe where they were crushed on a weekly basis. The ‘Crit’ swiftly became the most dreaded hour of the week.
But it worked. You sat there. You took it. It was humiliating and demeaning, but you learned to cope.
You learned to argue your corner. You learned that making a better fist of things next time was preferable to another hammering. You also developed a thick skin. After a while, the barbs bounced off, even as the message got through.
Are the same methods applied now? I don’t know. But if today’s art students are anyaged thing like today’s footballers, I’d be very surprised.
Twenty years ago, Jose Mourinho’s mild public criticism of Luke Shaw would have prompted nary a headline. Now, the Man United manager has been hauled over the coals for potentially upsetting one of his squad.
Shaw, it must be said, has kept quiet on the matter. Yet the debate is real. Ask any manager or player over 35 and they all say the same thing. Millennial players cannot take the criticism of generations past. Most believe it is a symptom of a wider issue. “It’s society, not just football,” said one player-turnedcoach, whose views echo those of several managers.
“Digital technology does have a lot to answer for. Anyone with kids will understand. They won’t talk unless you take their phones away.
“You go into a changing room now and it’s the same. Everybody is on their phone. Nobody is building relationships, building that little bit of personality and character. I put on sessions specifically to develop a voice and draw out leadership skills. Nobody did that in my day.”
It is a strange paradox of the digital era that we communicate more but talk less. In a 2013 survey, 24 per cent of those 21-30 admitted they would end a long-term relationship via text. More than 60 said they would rather send an e-mail than pick up a phone. In short, that means fewer people are sharing tough words face-to-face. To suddenly receive a barrage of verbals is more shocking than it might have been a decade ago. Of course, nobody is advocating a return to the days of apprentices cleaning toilets. Nor does anyone want to see a culture of bullying. For all its faults, football’s academy system at least prevents drudgery. That said, my experiences at the hands of droopy Nick forged a resilience that has seen me through several jobs, not to mention the slings and arrows attendant to professional journalism.
Likewise, a mouthful from say, Bruce Rioch, had positive long-term effects: an ability to take criticism, the confidence to bawl out a slacking team-mate, the mental fortitude to ride out the stick from fans. At a time when England’s national players stand accused of lacking all these qualities, it is tempting to wonder whether perceived personality flaws are, in fact, generational differences. The young will always overtake the old. Most coaches recognise this and have adapted their behaviour to suit more sensitive souls. Yet resilience is a great quality, not just in professional sport but in any other workplace. Which, let’s face it, is where most young players end up. Wouldn’t it be preferable, therefore, to subject first- and second-year pros to a sporting ‘Crit’, a weekly critique that sometimes tore players to shreds? By 17, they are old enough to take it. A few harsh words would sting, but not cause lasting damage. And, instead of taking complaints to heart, they might just come out fighting.