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Soccer Star Carli Lloyd on How to Kick Criticism to the Curb

Four steps to thrive when criticized

U.S. Soccer
Source: U.S. Soccer

Before she left the field at the Women’s World Cup finals, Carli Lloyd picked up the Golden Ball trophy, the soccer tournament’s prize for its best player. Lloyd also took home a champion’s medal after her astounding 3-goal performance in the finals helped clinch the Cup for her United States team.

Those goals—including an unforgettable shot perfectly launched from midfield to take advantage of a goalie who had strayed too far from the net—have made Lloyd the toast of the soccer world.

When the event began, however, Lloyd was the center of attention for a different reason. The soccer world was abuzz over comments Lloyd’s former coach made about her.

Pia Sundhage, the former head coach of the American team, left the U.S. to lead the national squad in Sweden. Sundhage leveled criticism at several of her former players, but her remarks about Lloyd were particularly biting. Labeling Lloyd a “challenge to coach,” Sundhage said Lloyd was “so delicate, so, so delicate.” Sundhage said Lloyd did well when the coach had faith in her, but when the coach was critical of Lloyd “she could be one of the worst.”

Whether this was a carefully planned strategic attack on a player who now stood in the way of her Swedish team’s success, or just small talk for the coach, media members immediately sought comment from Carli Lloyd. What did she have to say to this biting criticism?

The danger of destructive criticism like this, of course, is that it meant to be destabilizing. As a result, studies show it can cause people to lose confidence in themselves and even to give up.*

But Carli Lloyd wasn’t about to let that happen.

Lloyd’s Lessons: How to Kick Destructive Criticism

1. Don’t answer it. It’s hard, almost impossible, not to get angry and try to refute harsh criticism. But Lloyd did not point out that it was her game-winning goals in two Olympic finals that made Sundhage a gold medal coach. And Lloyd did not try to pick apart the comments point by point. Because she understood, destructive criticism is unanswerable. Destructive criticism is personal and conveys no value. There is no rational answer to it because destructive criticism is irrational.

2. Respond with action. But when someone is trying to knock you backwards, the best response is to keep moving forward. When asked for comment on Sundhage’s criticism, Lloyd said she “planned to respond on the field.” There is no better use of destructive criticism—in fact, there is no other productive use—than turning it on it’s head. Someone says you can’t. They will be right if you don’t try. They’ll be right if you give up in frustration. But how sweet to take that criticism and kick it to the back of the net.

3. You set your own value. When asked how she deals with different coaching styles, Lloyd said, “I don’t change my game plan for any coach.” Research finds that the clearer sense of value we have of ourselves, the less likely we are to be stymied by critics.** Lloyd understands that her dedication and talent are not subject to the limitations of any coach's opinions. She is going to play the way she plays for any one, and that’s a big reason she could succeed even when her coach didn't believe in her.

4. Remember: Critics shrink over time. By the time Lloyd and her teammates stepped onto the field for the finals, Coach Sundhage and her team had long since been eliminated from the tournament. They were dispatched from the field by a German team that would itself later fall to another scintillating Lloyd performance. For Lloyd, there will no doubt be a moment to smile at a new round of headlines mocking Sundhage’s comments as silly and embarrassing to Sundhage. But Lloyd doesn’t have time to focus on all that. “If you worry about what everybody says in life, it’s going to get you nowhere,” she said. Instead, what Sundhage said will get less and less important over time. Indeed it will be forgotten. But the World Cup championship is forever.

*Robert Baron, “Negative effects of destructive criticism: Impact on conflict, self-efficacy, and task performance,” Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 73(2), May 1988, 199-207.

**Gordon Atlas and Melissa Them, “Narcissism and Sensitivity to Criticism: A Preliminary Investigation,” Current Psychology, Volume 27, Issue 1, March 2008, 62-76.