Weekly ‘crit’ might help sen­si­tive souls

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

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.

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