Now hold on … I didn’t call you an idiot (today), but consider that I did. How would you respond to that? Would your reaction be to retaliate and hit me with a grade school “I’m rubber, you’re glue …” offensive? Maybe you would want a little more clarification. It’s another possibility that you might dismiss the statement entirely.
Today, I would like to address the topic of constructive criticism in relation to professional wrestling. Let’s make this as broad as possible – I’m not just talking about direct feedback on your in-ring performance bell to bell – let’s examine this from the time you wake up in the morning representing yourself as a professional wrestler. I can’t think of a single person, myself included that doesn’t still have something that they could learn about the wrestling business. Whether it be how to improve in the ring, developing a better understanding of wrestling psychology, or mastering the business etiquette of our industry. The fact is, that some of the best talents in the business identify that they have areas where they can perpetually work and improve. The irony is, you’ll find, that the best talents in the business are often the most humble and approachable.
At the same time, the guys who have accomplished nothing (I could list a few here) are the most arrogant d**** you’ll ever meet in your life, in any environment. The key to improving in any skill is always seeking constructive criticism. Find the guys on the card that you feel have the experience and knowledge of the wrestling business to help you elevate your game. Find a time when they’re not focused on their own business and ask if they can watch your match and give you pointers. Think about what you want to do with your career and see if they might be able to offer you some advice – or help to trigger your own imagination about how you might achieve those goals. If you know in advance that you will have an opportunity to spend time with an experienced guy like that – jot down a few questions you’d like to ask in advance. (There’s nothing worse than leaving the venue thinking ‘I really should have asked that’ or ‘I should have made a better effort to get some helpful info’.)
During my career, I have been asked for advice a number of times. I’ve taken time out to watch guys’ matches when I can and offer my opinions. Invariably, I have found that there are two kinds of folks in the wrestling game: 1. There are people you’ll meet in the business and in life that seek you out and ask your opinion hoping only for you to reinforce their belief that they are at the top of their game and that the “smarts” in the audience and on the message boards are 100% correct in their assessments. This guy is on top and there is no room for improvement. I can tell I’m dealing with one of these guys right away if he asks for feedback on his match and my answer doesn’t start with: “That was perfect. I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Once I start to offer some criticism, you watch the guy’s eyes glaze over as he thinks – “Oh s***, I’m not interested in this guy’s opinion. When can I walk away?” You know what, guys like that will always be satisfied being the big fish in the little pond – you recognize how to maneuver around these people, and I have a canned response for them. Not the one they want, but one that doesn’t waste my time either. Some guys that have worked with me a lot have learned my opinion of someone very quickly by listening to a match review. 2. There are guys (and gals) with dedication to improve and a focus on soaking up as much knowledge as they can. These guys seek out feedback from the vets in the locker room, their opponent, the referee, the promoter, and anyone with knowledge about the business that can offer a perspective. Somebody like that, with such obvious interest in self-improvement will always be a welcome fixture in the locker room. More importantly, when they are able to sift the good advice from the bad and demonstrate that they are applying what they have been told – they start to attract positive attention from within the business. This is how solid reputations are built.
When seeking out constructive criticism, find those guys in the locker room that you know are going to give you straight answers. Yes, you want to be praised for what you did well – but you get more benefit from learning where you could improve. Don’t settle for asking your buddies, or peers that you have trained with (at least not on their own). They know you best and might give you some good feedback, but they also have a vested interest in not hurting your feelings. If someone tells you that your match rendered visions of a bucket of drizzling s***, take the time to learn why. Figure out what you did wrong, and how you can avoid making the same mistake. Anyone who has spent any time in this business has had a bad match before – I can list DOZENS from my own career.
The key between turning failure into success is all in how you absorb direction, and how you translate that into future achievement. Not all advice is good. Just because you ask ten people for advice, doesn’t mean that you’ll get back ten pieces of valuable career-building information. However, it is important that you still seek out that feedback as much as you can. The first time that you dismiss or contradict some incoming info, you run the risk of shutting off that avenue to yourself forever. Likely, that veteran will say to themselves: “To hell with this guy, he doesn’t have a d*** clue about this business! But I guess he’s smarter than me.” You may never get anything constructive from that guy again. However, while you do want to soak up as much input as you can – you also don’t want to become a doormat for guys with more time in the business just because you have given them an opening.
They may be telling you that something you did was terrible – despite the fact that this is how you were taught. When offered the opportunity to do so, explain why you may have approached your match or that move in the way you did. Was that what your trainer said to do? Is that what the promoter asked of you in that specific situation? Was there a specific condition that required a change (i.e. injury, ring malfunction, etc.)? There are lots of variables. There are some instances when someone will share some wisdom with you that will turn a light on. Maybe they are sharing tips that you never knew before – don’t be shy to let people know: “Hey, I never heard it said that way. That gives me a whole new perspective.” Even after 20 years in the business, Les Thatcher shared FOUR WORDS with me that changed my whole outlook on tag team wrestling. Thanks Les. When good advice leads to bad results: Without fail, I guarantee that at some point in your career, you will receive good advice that will leave you stumped. Maybe what a veteran has recommended is right for your career, will land you in hot water with a promoter, and threatens to adversely affect your business.
What do you do? Do you demonstrate to the veteran that you are applying their teachings? Or do you contradict the veteran in favor of staying in the good graces of the promoter? Hmm … quite a dilemma. (Hint: I’ve already answered that question for you in an earlier column this week). Despite the best intentions of the experienced guys, while they may be looking out for your best interests, they are also not the guys that are making sure that you stay employed in wrestling. Consider your business … which approach will lead to more business in both the short and long term? Will acting on advice cause you to burn any bridges? If you’re burning a bridge, can your career afford to do that? In twenty years, I can say that I have burned a number of bridges … sometimes they were re-built and I burned them again. I can’t say that this was always the right career move, and I don’t recommend that anyone set out to blatantly shut any doors for themselves, but it does happen. Hell … I probably got new heat with someone by writing this column this morning.
Don’t believe your own hype: One of the risks that I see in independent wrestling is when the guys in the ring start to put too much stock (both positive or negative) into the feedback posted on wrestling message boards. By all means, it is good to hear how the fans appreciate your effort (or don’t) … but recognize that these opinions are just that. Someone anonymously posting on a message board that you’re the best doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t translate into more bookings (READ: more frequent and bigger payoffs in your pocket). Once you buy into the hype initiated by promoters or fans – forget about it. You’re closing doors. Never forget the guy you were when you broke into the business. Never forget the guys who helped you along the way. Never forget that as great as you are – it takes the pairing with an equally talented opponent to make you spectacular. Never forget that there is ALWAYS someone better out there. Never forget that there is always room for improvement. So far, I’ve talked about a lot of listening and thinking on your part. Perhaps one of the most significant pieces of this puzzle is what you need to say. NEVER forget to say “thank you” to those people that take the time to help you along the way – those that help positively and directly. P.S. (And never say it, but BE thankful to those guys whose bad example and the reactions of vets/promoters also help you to avoid their mistakes and make good choices in your own career).
There are plenty of douchebags in the history books too that we can learn from still today, right?