Friday, December 15, 2017


Where do you place your awareness?  This is a gigantic question, because there are so many things, thoughts, people and conditions to be aware of in any given moment.  Your choices might be your key to success in your next round of golf.  Let's go through some scenarios of the importance of awareness.

You step to the first tee of the US Girl's Junior.  There are about 25 college coaches milling about, a woman in a blue blazer holding a clipboard, ropes, signs and a bunch of players waiting their turn.  The wind is blowing hard in your face and the afternoon sun is hot.  Your name is called and it's your turn to peg it.  Where is your awareness?

  • Have you noticed which way the wind is blowing?
  • Do you feel rushed?
  • Are you thinking about the coach of the school you really want to attend?
  • Do you see your dad out ahead standing expectantly?
  • Did the first player in your group take forever standing over the ball?  
  • Are you focused on your routine?
  • Do you have a game plan that includes your target on the first hole?
  • Can you feel your heart beating quickly?
  • Do you take a deep breath and get yourself centered?
  • Are you in your own bubble?
  • Did you remember to grab water, sunscreen or a snack?
  • Do you have your notes and hole locations?
  • Are you still thinking about how you hit it during you warm up?
After all my years of standing on the first tee waiting for that player I'm going to set off after, I've seen all of these scenes played out in group after group.  So much of a young player's success is based on experience, but your experience doesn't have to be the actual situation you are in at the moment.  You can prepare for the first tee of the US Girl's Junior by becoming great at your process whenever you play.  You can place your awareness where you choose and it can be consistent no matter the situation.  Here is an outline for you to start getting ready for the 1st tee of the major you have coming up.

Be aware of:
  • The time.  Make sure you have time to warm up your body, go through your routine, stop in the bathroom,  mark and compare your golf ball, grab a water and feel calm when your name is called.  
  • The conditions.  Take note of the wind on the driving range and think about whether or not it's the same as it was on prior days.  Is the course firm or soft?  Are the greens quick on the practice green?  Is the wind strong enough to affect the ball on the greens?  Is the bunker sand wet?  Then when you get to the first tee, make sure to take note of the conditions there, too.
  • Your body.  Are you loose or tight?  Are you pumped up and jumpy?  Are you focused?  Are you feeling centered and rhythmic?  Are you breathing deeply or from your chest?  
  • Your equipment.  Have you counted your clubs?  Are they clean?  Do you have your umbrella?  Have you marked your tournament golf balls?  
  • Your surroundings.  Take note of the teeing ground area.  Check in on the possible distractions so there are no surprises.  If you are on the 10th tee, know how much time it will take to get there.  Note the yardage you're playing from each round.  
  • People.  Who should you allow in your bubble?  Can you acknowledge people without losing focus?  Does anyone bother you and if so, what's the plan for dealing with them?
  • Your game plan.  Know where you want the ball.  Weigh the conditions and your feel with the path to your target.  
  • Your tendencies.  Perhaps the most important awareness you can have.  If you tend to rush when you're nervous, you can have a plan to go through your pre-shot routine slowly.  If you tend to grip it tight when you're on the first tee, you can put a moment in your routine to check your grip pressure.  
This is a lot to be aware of, which is precisely why you need to pick and choose how to deal with each thing on the list.  You can have a routine of cleaning and counting your clubs after you hit your last shot in warm ups.  You can take out your course notes when you arrive on the first tee and note the wind direction and how it compares to the days before.  Everything on this list can be surprising, off putting or a distraction if you don't have a plan for it.  Everything on this list can cost you shots or lower your score, depending on how you approach it.

There really isn't anything you want to be unaware of in your day.  If something helps you, you want to make sure to place it in your routine.  If something distracts you, you want to plan for how you'll deal with it.  However, you want your awareness where it will help you most when you step up to hit your shot.  This is the problem I see the most.  Players are often still fidgety or rushing when they step up the ball.  Their target looks are quick or even non-existent.  They often seem as curious as to where the ball goes as are the spectators. In short, they hit their first ball with more hope than focus.  

Where you place your awareness is based on your preparation and priorities.  Pay attention to how you handle yourself on the 1st tee of your next event and what helped you.  Keep a journal and keep the thoughts, actions, focus points and routines that helped you.  Also pay attention to what distracted you or made you uncomfortable and plan to alleviate it or handle it differently next time.  If you make your routine great, nothing will shift your awareness from the things that truly help you focus.  

This blog was about one moment on the golf course, the first tee shot of the day.  It was chosen because many find it to be the toughest shot they hit.  However, the process used to prepare for the first tee is the same that great players use for all of their shots.  They choose what they want to be aware of and allow that awareness to channel their energy in a way that helps them succeed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Choices We Make

We've been having a great off-season.  This team is focused, hard working and coachable.  Our trajectory will continue to rise.  We have been working one-on-one for at least an hour each week.  The sessions have been varied with each player picking skills they'd like to learn or improve.  Yesterday, I spent an hour with one of our players on the putting green.  I think I'm getting as much out of these sessions as the players are getting.  One thing that I've learned is, when we work one-on-one, our communication is a lot better and we get to the root of problems or roadblocks within a skill.  These hour lessons need to stay within our framework in-season as well as in our off-season.

Yesterday, my player wanted to work on visualization in putting.  We had done this in October while working on pace and lagging putts high and slow.  In other words, we want our long putts approaching the hole from the high side and moving slowly.  It had been eye-opening for this player.  We worked on visualizing the putt in real-time.  One way that we do that is by having the player see it in her mind's eye and counting the seconds it will take to roll from the putter face to the hole.  She then putts it while I count it out to see if her prediction matched what she produced and what she needed.  This player got a lot better at this skill quickly and it immediately showed up in her lags.  Instead of struggling with the pace, she had a lot of tap ins and a few makes.  As we talked through the process, her inclination was to focus on the end speed as the problem when she was off with the pace.  Instead, we talked about seeing the delivery speed as she visualized instead of only the end of the putt.  That is one of the skills that improves when counting out the time a putt takes to roll.

As this skill improved, we varied the putts and looked at uphill, downhill and double-breakers.  Each presented new challenges to her.  As we talked through things, I noted that when she was unsure or confused, she took longer to walk into the putts and struggled with pace.  She admitted that on those, she was uncommitted.  That caused me to change our focus.  The second half of the lesson was about commitment.

We went to a fairly straight six footer and I asked her to close her eyes and putt.  When she did I asked her to tell me how much trust she had on a scale of 1-10.  She answered 3.  When I asked why a 3, she said because her eyes were closed.  We repeated this with her eyes open.  She then told me 8.  I asked why and she said she wasn't 100% sure of the line.  Now, we are getting to the heart of the problem.  Uncertainty is leading to a lack of trust.  We repeated the exercises, but this time I asked her to trust the putt at a level of 10.  We started with her eyes closed and it went in dead center.  We did it again focused on a sparkly place on the ball and again, it was dead center.  She didn't make every putt, but she did putt much better.  I was there to hold her accountable and ask for feedback after each putt.  We started moving around the green again and she was able to notice when she wasn't at a 10 in trusting herself.  When that occurred, instead of simply hitting the putt uncommitted, she stepped off, put her trust at it's max and stepped back in to hit the putt.

You see, trust is a choice.  She tried to argue that it wasn't at the beginning.  She pointed out that a really tough putt naturally lead to a lack of trust.  I argued that all putts have a beginning line, a correct speed and an end goal of the hole.  Those three things are consistent and judging the difficulty of those three things is simply not needed.  Instead, judge only the factors themselves.  She then said it is sometimes tough to trust after a poor result.  While that may be true, the best manage to do it.  They hold themselves accountable to being in a state of mind that helps them be their best.  They monitor their actions, they keep their minds quiet and they trust themselves.  So often you see a great player make a big mistake and follow it with an even greater shot.  A flubbed chip followed by a chip in.  A wayward tee shot followed by a provisional that looks like a laser.  Great players use their mistakes as wake up calls and learn from them.  Mistakes don't scare them or cause them to lose trust.  Instead, they are reminders to trust more and dive deeper into the process.  Allowing results to dictate your level of trust will cause your mindset to go up and down like a yoyo.  Trust is always your personal choice.

By the end of our session, we were both smiling and having fun putting.  She told me it felt good to trust and that her visualization made the putting feel good too.  She is reading Zen Golf by Dr. Joseph Parent and that book reinforces what we've been working on.  She is getting consistent messages from us, the book and our sports psychologist, Carrie Stewart.  She is learning about herself and her tendencies and learning to manage and offset them.  She is allowing herself to play athletic and competitive golf instead of mechanical, perfection based golf.  As a coach, it is so much fun to work with players who love the game enough to want to stretch themselves and trust us enough to make these changes.  Teaching is a blast when you are surrounded by learners!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Compete By Managing These 3 Things

              Body Language
                           Head up, shoulders back for awareness & confidence
                           Act, don’t react
                           Set your pace
              Self Talk
                           Stay in the Now
                           Be your best friend
                           Have a personal goal
                           To Plan
                           To Self
                           To Shot

Your Game
                           Choose your aim point on every shot
                           Conservative targets, aggressive to those targets
                           Attach to it and see it
                           Know your lengths
                           Control your lengths
                           Choose based on average not best
                           10% vs. 90% Rule - Can you hit the shot 90% of the time?
                           What is your GO club?  With what club can you go at tough targets?
                           Remember the basis for scoring = putter  

The Golf Course
              Have a Plan for the course
                           Choose targets that help you score
                           Be aware of slopes, winds, conditions
                           Know the greens and go pins vs. no pins    
              Be prepared and organized
                           Course Notes
                           Know yourself and play within yourself
                           Figure out how to be yourself on the course.
                           Have some fun - It's called "play"!
                           Compete - Do the best you can with what you have.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Trial and Error vs. Errorless Learning

Blogging has been a great way for me to think through ideas or observations while sharing with others.  I've decided to write a book, so I've been blogging a lot less lately and spending time putting my thoughts in order for a book.  Blogging is more fun, because there is no central theme I have to follow.  I can write about any aspect of coaching or teaching golf that I'm exploring.  My book is more specific and is aimed at coaching golf in the 21st century and competing on the golf course.  

One of the first subjects that has me stalled is the idea of errorless learning.  B.F. Skinner proposed in the 1930's that errors weren't necessary for learning and we could instead teach children based on specific prompts that ask for behavior, which when given is rewarded.  I'd imagine that it is this idea that lead to our grandparents shaking their heads and proclaiming us all a bunch of softies without discipline or direction.  I know that is a broad sweep, but imagine the change in approach this brought to parenting.  My grandmother didn't reward me for doing the right thing.  It was simply expected and if I did the wrong thing I was punished.  Along comes Skinner and he basically tells educators, parents and the world that we have it all wrong and could be far more effective as teachers if we diminished expectations, gave clear instructions both physically and verbally and rewarded what we asked for.  Prior to his findings, there was more reliance on trial and error, modeling, apprenticeships and as I like to call it, "learning the hard way".  

From Skinner's model of learning, there emerged a paradigm that our children could be taught instead of learning on their own.  If allowed to learn on their own, they would be making errors and then either seeking to correct them or living with them.  Yes, this works, but wouldn't Skinners' way work better?  Imagine you bought a small sailboat, such as a Hobie Cat and decided to learn to sail without instruction.  Within this goal of sailing lie many skills from learning to tie knots to tacking to learning to flip the boat upright when you make an error and it tips over.  Which of these skills would be better taught with errorless learning and which would be better taught through trial and error?  Would you eventually learn to sail?  Would learning the hard way make you a better or worse sailor?  Would or could learning on your own lead to autonomy or even expertise?  Who knows the answers to these questions.  I'm certain there is a championship sailor out there who was self-taught and plenty of others who got tired of flipping their Hobie Cat over in cold water and simply quit.  Sailing instruction would hasten your learning and make you better at the individual skills of sailing.  But would it make you a better sailor overall?

Now up the ante and imagine the pilot of your next cross country flight who was taught to fly in an errorless manner.  You might imagine that this makes sense since an error while flying can result in a crash.  Yet, airlines spend a lot of money and time on building realistic simulators to train their pilots for the moments in time when there is a catostrophic failure of some sort.  Airlines have learned that there are two types of pilot errors; tactical which points at a pilot's behavior and operational which points to training errors.  They have gone past providing a simulator to providing instruction in both areas.  They do so by adding realistic and more importantly, stressful situations within the pilots need to perform.  Check out this excerpt from

"The benefit of a flight simulator is that it allows pilots to internalize their new knowledge. Instead of memorizing lessons on the blackboard, they were forced to exercise emotional regulation, learning how to stay calm and think clearly when bad stuff happens. (I've been in these realistic flight simulators and let me assure you - they can be terrifying. After I crashed my jetliner, I left the simulator drenched in sweat, all jangly with adrenaline.) The essential point here is that pilots were the first profession to realize that many of our most important decisions were inherently emotional and instinctive, which is why it was necessary to practice them in an emotional state. If we want those hours of practice to transfer to the real world - and isn't that the point of practice? - then we have to simulate not just the exterior conditions of the cockpit but the internal mental state of the pilot as well. For far too long, we've assumed that expertise is about learning lots of facts, which is why we settled for the "chalk and talk" teaching method. But it's not. True expertise occurs when we no longer need to reference facts, because we already know what to do."

So, my question is, should our young golfers spend more time with instruction and on the range working on expertise or should they spend more time playing golf and competing?  Maybe they would be best served by letting them play Tiger Woods PGA Tour on their X Boxes.  The thing that I do know is, when it comes time to hit the drive in the fairway on the final hole with a 1 shot lead in a big event, no teacher will be there to do it for them.  It's the player's responsibility to figure out the club, the target, the conditions, the juices running through them and the moment to pull the trigger.  It is  both simple and complicated all at once.  It is reliant upon the information taken in, the decisions made based on that information, the state of the decision maker and the physical moves made based on the goals decided upon.  The more it's done, the simpler it gets.

As with all things, learning is probably a balance with each of us coming in somewhere on the spectrum of self-taught to trained by others.  Tiger was taught from a very young age by a golf pro.  At age four, he began taking lessons from Rudy Duran.  When he played the US Junior, he had Dr. Jay Brunza, his sports psychologist, on the bag.  Lee Trevino, on the other hand, learned his game by himself.  Here's what he had to say about it, "When I learned a shot, I wanted to know why. And I would test things in practice until I knew exactly why. That's how I earned my confidence."  

As a coach, I think of it as going out versus going in.  I try to figure out if a player I coach goes in for help or out for help.  That way I can help them when they tip too much in one direction or the other.  I have players on the team who tip completely different directions.  The one who is almost completely self-reliant gets caught up thinking through her motion, her play, her mistakes and her next move.  That is what has lead to her success, so you can't take that action away from her, but you need to teach her a different type of awareness and evaluation so she doesn't get stuck inside.  With one of my current players, we simply talk about what the ball is doing instead of what she is doing.  That allows her to move from introspection to competition. 

She is unique in today's world of instruction, experts and answers.  Most players we recruit have been taught every skill they perform in the game.  Back in the day when I still played competitively, I was paired with a phenom.  She was a young player from a golfing family who had the best instruction money could buy.  We were playing an Open qualifier.  She hit a fantastic shot out of the trees that started out low and cut to the green.  I was impressed that a young player could hit a low cut so I asked her how she learned the shot.  Her reply was that she had simply been told by her caddy, who was also her pro, to set up a certain way, aim a certain way and swing a certain way to make the shot happen.  Had she been there alone, I'm not sure if she could have or would have hit the same shot, but with instruction, she hit a fabulous shot.  

Neither way is the right way.  Errorless learning is still learning.  Could that phenom hit that same shot under pressure on her own in a year's time?  If she retained the process she went through then yes, she could have.  If she simply took directions and then forgot them, then no, she wouldn't be able to reproduce it.  And that is the question at hand.  How well do our "taught" students retain their knowledge?  From my perspective, not too well.

How do we teach retention to players who are taught in an errorless setting?  That is our challenge.  This setting is one of prompting and fading (Skinner, 1958).  The golf pro prompts a swing and then gives positive feedback when it is done.  Eventually, the need for the feedback fades.  However, most of our players are learning their games on the lesson tee, not on the golf course.  They aren't used to learning through trial and error, but through prompts, direction (often hands-on) and positive feedback.  Mistakes on the golf course are often not related to strategy, state of mind, conditions, course presentation or club choices.  They are instead related to not delivering on a prompt that they received on the lesson tee.  It is such a widespread problem that we now have experts to teach strategy in the same way the players learned to swing the club.  Clear prompts, specific directions and positive feedback for success.  It makes sense to me that errorless learning has spread to all the skills needed to play the game.  However, my goal is to teach these players to use more trial and error in their learning.  I want them to simulate tournament play by playing meaningful rounds of golf and getting off of the driving range.  I want them to learn to feel their swings, produce different ball flights, make adjustments, figure out the real cause of a bad score and have self-awareness.  I want a balance between BF Skinner and my Grandma's ideas of learning.  I want players who understand how they learn and how to learn more.  They will do it not through more reliance on prompts and directions, but through an understanding of what produces errors and how to correct them.

On and on this goes.  We can't figure out why our players don't learn from their mistakes and why they feel like failures when they make mistakes, but we aren't teaching them self-reliance, self-efficacy, self-awareness and accountability.  I'm pretty sure this isn't what B.F. Skinner visualized when he transformed how we learn.

Here are some of the websites I looked at for this blogpost.  I'm not making any cites as I would if I were publishing for publication, but my thoughts aren't coming from nowhere either.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Age and Coaching

Age and coaching get better with each passing season.  I know it might be hard to believe that age gets better, but for me, it does.  It has given me a clear idea of what I want, what I love and where I'm going.  Mostly, it has allowed me to get a firm grasp of what is important.  As you age, you begin to lose people.  You lose your parents, friends who go too soon, heroes you had growing up and extended family who were the foundation of your life.  It wakes you up to a sense of urgency as well as slows you down to enjoy people and time with them.  In that way, I have a firmer grasp of what's important.  I don't worry too much about what isn't important to me, either.

My second year of coaching -1993.  We played well at the Betsy Rawls, which is always fun.
L to R: Kristina Edfors, Isabelle Rosberg, Aurora Kirchner, Jamie Hullett and Lisa Allee
I stay in touch with all of these young ladies and they still make me smile.

How does that relate to coaching?  It gives me a perspective of watching countless young ladies go from hesitant, giggling high schoolers to successful young women with family, careers and purpose.  The years in between, I try to help them find their way.  We use golf as the common ground and it is a very steadfast pursuit that teaches all the lessons needed in life, if the player chooses to learn them.  It teaches self-reliance, resilience, focus, work ethic, positive mindset and most importantly, failure and how to handle it.  My job is as a guide through these years.  Here is what we do (golf), here is how we do it (with excellence and intention) and here is what results (performance, character and clarity).

As a coach who just turned 57, I still want to react to failure as I did when I was 25.  I want to run from it, then pout about it and then act like I'm above it and then decide to forget about it.  However, that way of being didn't allow me to do much but stay in the same cycle.  I can't go so far as to say I embrace failure, because I still am not a good loser, as my father often told me as a kid.  I say that he "told" me, but I could say goaded me, teased me, taunted me or admonished me.  He knew it was my hamartia and that I needed to face it or it would get the better of me.  At 57, I can say that failure in any way is like my alarm clock.  It wakes me up to what needs changing, doing or understanding.  It is part of life and important.  I pay attention.

In coaching, we fail as a team and perform poorly.  I fail as a coach to teach or support in a meaningful way.  Players fail to do the right thing.  We all fail to communicate on a level that allows connection.  Accounting tests are failed.  Wake up calls are failed.  Speed limits are failed.  There isn't a day that goes by without some type of small failure.  Each and every small failure is isolated and means nothing.  That is what I've learned through experience.  None need to be permanent.  None need to point to bigger problems.  None need to be significant.  That is unless we make the ultimate failure and choose not to learn from them.  As a coach, I've learned that it is important to point out what specifically went wrong, what can be changed to get it going right and how it can be done.  For all of us, there needs to be a solution based approach to what we are doing and a focus on what we want to happen.  There needs to be an acknowledgement of the failure in order to learn from it.  There needs to be separation of what we do from who we are.

Seeing my players go on to happy lives is the best part of the job.
Elena Villamil and Jarret Shook were married at Our Lady of Covadonga in Northern Spain and I was lucky enough to attend.

Seeing my former players is always a treat and coupling it with a Guinness is even better!
Here I am with Danielle McVeigh in Dublin.  What a great one she is!

In my first year of coaching, my AD was Lynn Hickey.  She told me at our Southwest Conference Championship that the small problems I didn't take care of during the year would become big problems under the pressure of a championship round.  She told me this as I watched a player implode on the very first hole.  She was right.  However, it still took me time to be a brave enough coach to confront the small failures that needed acknowledgement; the slips of character that lead to the destruction of a team; the failure to prepare that leads to poor performance; the lack of respect that leads to a breakdown in relationships or the simple failure of being confident when there is no reason to feel that way.  The idea of keeping the peace or doing what is easy in the moment has no value to me as a 57 year old.  The more I age, the more I know what I want from myself, from my players and from my team around me.  That isn't to say that I get it, but it is to say that I will work tirelessly for it.  It is easy work, because I love it.  It is hard work because there is not a clear path to success, nor even a clear definition.  We've had years when we haven't won, yet the team clicked together, everyone was accountable, the work was put in and we all were better at the end of the year.  We've also had years where we had great results, yet selfishness was a common theme and it was every woman for herself.  Learning takes place in both situations, but to be a part of a small, close group of women who support each other allows learning to take place at a higher level with respect and communication at the core.  Those are the years that allow us to build character, relationships and wonderful memories.

The smiles we share on the golf course is the most common, yet the most special of enjoyments in the job of coaching.
Here I am sharing a smile with the woman with the million dollar smile, Brigitte Dunne.

Building relationships, networking and camaraderie and also wonderful parts of the job.
Neither one of these two players played for me, yet I feel close to them and supported them whenever possible.
Julia Boland and Casey Grice.

So, here's to being one of the few old coaches out here these days.  I finally feel like I know what I'm doing and I'm enjoying it more than ever.  I love my team and David and it feels like one of those years when we can really create strong team character, strong relationships and wonderful memories.  I think we can also work toward great results, but that part can't be the focus, it needs to be simply the result of our work, focus, support and vision.

Happiness as a coach!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Toughness Matters

Last week, I wrote a blog about getting caught up in problem-solving and the move I've made away from that in my coaching.  I've since deleted it and replaced it with this blog, because I've now seen the response to our week.  This philosophy isn't anything new.  If you read any of John Wooden's books, you'll soon realize the same ideas espoused and perhaps if I'd read more closely at a younger age, I would have caught on sooner.  However, I will say that I've now embraced it fully.  Even though we had a tough finish last week, we aren't going to stop what we are focused on and change our course.  Instead, we are going to do what we do and make it even tougher.

One year for our convention we went on a cruise.  I remember doing a coach's roundtable at that cruise and talking about tournament strategy without problem solving involved.  In other words, we worked to form game plans, mental strategies and sound games that would match what the course offered us in the way of scoring.  When things went wrong, we didn't necessarily look at the hole or the shots on the rough holes, but the game plan, the mental strategy and the skills.  Of course, that is still problem solving, but it is aimed at long-term growth instead of short-term gain.  I had a lot of coaches question that as ignoring the actual problems.  It was a very unusual way of looking at strategy for many.  However, if you want your players to become independent thinkers who are ready for the next step, whether that is the tour, business or family life, they need to understand that strategy is long-term and day-to-day events can't become knee jerk reasons to change your path.

We are very young this year and our scores have been up and down. I needed that reminder myself last week.  What are we lacking?  My two answers were short game and mental toughness.  We designed a very tough week of practice.  Most of the learning done, would be done the hard way.  We made scores double, triple and even quadruple to highlight weaknesses.  Not one player complained, talked about fairness or even failed to embrace it as a great way to play.  As a coach, I'm blown away by the great attitudes I saw and by the aptitudes for learning and growing.  The week has done it's trick and we got a little better than we were when we played poorly at UT last week.  I'm certain there will be more up and downs, but the scale is headed the right direction and this team will become great before they are finished.  Even though we have time since we have no seniors, there still must be a sense of urgency.  Four years flies by!

Working with a young team is a good thing if you can introduce your philosophy, have them embrace it and start to work hard on long-term growth.  Telling them that they lacked those skills wouldn't do much for them, but showing them by how we played our qualifiers has done the trick.  They rose to the challenge.  They toughened up or realized they lacked it and worked hard on short game and wedges.  They've asked for help, they've made adjustments and they've talked through what might be holding them back.  This won't lead directly to under par rounds, but it will allow them to be better than they were last week and that is the goal.

Onward and upward and a reminder to myself that tough practices make sense.  It's time to go back and grab some John Wooden books off the shelf and remind myself of what I've forgotten.  Toughness matters!

Just in case you're a golf coach who has a team who trusts you, here is our qualifier schedule this week.  I relented by not doubling the score of the first three holes today or the last three on Sunday.  At least I haven't yet.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Gentle Teacher

My dad was a good man.  He passed in 1998 and I still miss him a lot.  He had a smile that lit up his eyes and he had bright blue eyes.  He was a hard working, but gentle man.  He had so much love for his family and he taught me so many lessons that I think about daily.  One of the most important lessons he taught me was to give my best.

Me and my dad, Gene Sutherland in 1983

Giving your best sounds very simplistic, but I knew as a teenager what that demanded.  If I had a bad day at basketball or golf, he would ask me one question.  "Did you give your best?"  He was a man of few words and when he asked this he would look me dead in the eyes.  No matter how bad my day was, if I looked him in the eyes and said, "yes" he would accept it and smile at me and say "that's all you can do."

That quick exchange might signal an easy give and take, but it was anything but easy.  In fact, if I had let my temper get in the way on the golf course or if I dogged it at basketball, I couldn't say yes.  It was hard to lie to my dad.  He seemed to know the truth, so lying was going to lead to disappointing him.  I learned early that it was better to be truthful and talk through my actions or inaction than to lie and disappoint him.

The simplicity of his question is often what's missing from young player's games.  The importance of scores, rankings and wins often makes acceptance hard to find.  Young players focus on the bottom line to the point that they often repeat their mistakes over and over, because they don't learn to give their best and accept that it was enough on any given day.  If you are a basketball player and you have a rough day, you might have teammates who get hot or someone who helps on defense when you get beat.  In golf, your rough days are simply rough days.  Your bad shots have to be chased down and played.  Your scores have to be posted.  No one is around to bail you out.  It is probably why golf was my favorite sport of the many that I played growing up.  The sense of accomplishment after a good day is unmatched in any other sport.

Back to my dad's question.  What if you asked yourself that question when you played?  If you did, what would lead to a yes or no?   For me as a young player, it was about my attitude.  Did I get disgusted with my scoring and start messing around?  Did I get angry and give up on myself a little bit?  Did I focus on what I could do with each shot?  These were the questions I learned to ask myself before I answered him.  These were my measures of whether or not I gave my best.  It never had a thing to do with the physical shots I hit, but always with how I reacted to the shots.  His question helped me accept rough days and to understand what lead to good days.

My dad was a basketball coach and what he effectively did with that one question was hand me the ball.  He was never the judge of my effort or score.  He always allowed me to be that judge.  He always accepted my answer, too, whether or not he believed it.  His disbelief showed and that was the disappointment I mentioned earlier.  That was harder for me to face than shooting 80.

This blog post might be more for the parents who read my blogs than for the players, but I think either would benefit from the same mentality.  Lots of players are eaten up with poor results while they are playing the game.  It is impossible to give your best with that mindset.  A focus on results changes your game plan, your confidence, your touch and your reactions.  You can hear people talk about process all you want, but if a double bogie sends you into a tailspin, you aren't thinking about your process out there and you aren't giving your best to the next shot or the day.

What if we all just took a deep breath and asked each other, "Hey, did you give your best there?"  Then, look that person in the eye and demand an honest answer.  Golf is a tough game and there will be many days when your best will fall short of good scores, wins or even your expectations, but by not giving your best, you will never know what you could get done.  Allow your son or daughter to be accountable for his or her best.  Players, give your best and accept the outcomes.  Tomorrow, you will have another chance to give it.

The last paragraph I'm writing is for those players who gave me their best as their coach and I didn't accept it.  I was caught up in results too.  I'm sorry for not recognizing your sincerity, your effort or your ability to do all you could with what you had.  I promise I will do better at doing my best as a coach and accept your answers just as my dad accepted mine.  By allowing my players to be completely accountable without question, they can actually understand the acceptance needed to do it.  Off we go into our first competition.  I'm going to ask my team to do their best.

Link to live scoring at the University of Tennessee's Mercedes Benz Invitational


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