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How to handle criticism and sexism without kicking anyone

Confidence, Resilience

Today, I quit my soccer team of 8 years. Sexism and constant criticism shunted me over the edge. Neville metaphorically flipped the bird at one of my teammates and announced (not for the first time) “Yeah, nah.”

A few weeks ago, I’d found myself standing there mid game, not running to empty space, not giving my all, because one of the guys on our team rarely — if ever — passes to any of the females on our team. There’s no point sprinting up the Futsal court when he has the ball.

He’d prefer to kick it to the other team —which he does often while ball hogging — than pass it to one of the girls on our mixed team.

Why am I still playing with this guy? I thought to myself.

He joined my team 7 years ago, and we have a (mostly playful), bickering relationship where I constantly joke-spar with him about never passing to the girls.

Sometimes less joking, more shouting.

“Pass the fecking ball Kev!”

Obviously his name is not Kev, but for the purposes of this blog post, it is.

Kev joke-spars back about us needing to not mess it up when he does pass to us.

I laugh, determined to stay resilient, but it crushes me a little every time.

The sad reality is, it’s become true.

Nowadays, I get such a surprise when he passes to me, I’m rarely prepared. And the pressure is on for me to not mess up on this one rare opportunity.

So naturally, I balls it up completely and pass it straight to the other team, or some other such facepalm moment.

I used to be not too bad at soccer — certainly never a star player — but I’ve played on and off since highschool, when I played and trained 4 days a week. It’s a wonder how my ball skills have managed to remain so supremely average all this time.

Since playing with Kev — who constantly criticises everyone on the team for what they do wrong, rarely encouraging or congratulating — I have become progressively worse at soccer.

In the last game I played, four weeks ago, I had the thought (a familiar thought since Kev joined the team) “Fuck this, I’m done with playing for this team.”

Then literally moments later, I tripped myself over (didn’t even have the ball at the time), fractured my foot and had to be semi-carried off the court by the ref only to land myself in a moonboot.

Sheesh, Mr Life – I didn’t mean immediately!

Be careful what you wish for, eh? You got me.

The thing is, I love all the players on my team, we’re a group of misfits who hardly know each other outside of Tuesday evenings, but we all get on really well and have had a lot of fun playing together.

I don’t even dislike Kev as a person — we get on pretty well all things considered. Over the years we’ve developed a (sort of) friendly bickering companionship. However, as a team player, I’ve never played with someone so full of advice and criticism (especially for females), and who so blatantly avoids passing to members of the team he doesn’t think are good enough — even though he frequently messes things up himself and is never criticised in return.

When one of our newest female players (who is awesome despite not having played before) got her first ever goal recently, Kev turned to her when she went to high five him and laughed “It makes up for all the ones you missed.”

I’ve persevered with the blatant sexism for a few years more than I usually would, because I didn’t want to give up my team that I’ve enjoyed being part of for so long.

As I wrote in a recent blog post — What to do when everything goes wrong and fans are being hit — in any situation that frustrates you, the only sane options are to leave the situation, change the situation, or accept the situation, exactly as it is.

I had tried and tried to change the situation for years, with some success — explaining to Kev that positive feedback and encouragement is much more effective than negative, and trying to goad him into passing more. Even one of the refs who manage the league sometimes laughs “He’ll never pass it”, as does our own goalie. Kev is well known as a non-passer in our league,

But today I reached my limit of bullshit and was unable to accept the situation any longer.

So I decided to leave, though I knew it would mean I may not be able to play soccer anymore.

I spoke to one of the girls on the team – we’ve both been playing the longest of anyone on the team, and she validated everything I said. She’s much more diplomatic and less combative than me, so I wasn’t aware she was just as frustrated as I was. Unexpectedly, we’ve ended up deciding to form a new team.

What a relief. Why didn’t I do this sooner?!

The lesson in this for me is twofold.

One: LCA (leave it — change it — accept it) is the Queen of all Queens when it comes to life techniques.

It comes up in 70% of my sessions with my brill 1:1 coaching clients. (You can read more about the LCA technique here: How to accept something you can’t change when you’d really just rather punch something)

And two: the lesson I’ve started exploring with anyone who will listen (mostly my clients and corporate workshop participants!): Having a critical boss who doesn’t have your back is demotivating, makes you more likely to make mistakes, makes you lose confidence, makes you rebel, and eventually makes you give up or quit.

Do not put up with a critical boss/ partner/ friend/ family member/ team member who doesn’t support and encourage you for too long. It does not end well.

I have no doubt Kev grew up with an excessively critical parent, and he’s accidentally taken it on himself. I’m betting he criticises himself harshly too.

If you’re worried that you’re too critical towards others or yourself (something that I have absolutely struggled with myself, and continue to work on), the answer I’ve found that works the most effectively, is unexpectedly – to practice self compassion.

I wrote more about self compassion recently when Bloody Good Bloke made me grimace with shame when he told me that I had been too critical of him while we were moving house. 😬 You can read about it here: How to be less of a dick to yourself (and others, probably)

The kinder you are to yourself, and the more you can accept that you are allowed to be imperfect, like all humans — the easier you’ll find it to accept (and even love) other’s faults. And to be encouraging and supportive, rather than crushing people (or yourself!) with criticism.

I have an online workshop coming up (details TBC) called How to be Less of a Dick to Yourself (AKA Self Compassion for Sceptics) that I would love you to join us for — It’s going to be bloody splendid! Click here to register your interest.

Pstt - enjoyed this blog post? Splendid news! If you fancy getting these snippets of self-deprecating radical honesty delivered freshly to your inbox moments(ish) after I take them out of the gluten free oven (every week or three-ish), subscribe over here.

I have an online workshop coming up (details TBC) called How to be Less of a Dick to Yourself (AKA Self Compassion for Sceptics)! I would love you to join us — It’s going to be bloody splendid! Click here to register your interest.

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