Saturday, January 29, 2011

Using your Confidence

Yesterday, we talked about confidence and the choice you must make to embrace it.  Today, we will talk about the by-products of confidence and how to keep it.  Here is a list of the benefits of confidence that I outlined earlier this month.  How can you move past the choice of being confident and embody its benefits?

Confidence

  • understanding of game 
  • positive decision making
  • clear vision of plan
  • execution without distraction
  • ability to stay in moment
  • doesn't compare himself to others
  • can clearly verbalize wants and needs
  • has a team to rely on and keeps a small council
  • believes in himself in any situation
  • welcomes pressure

If we were robots, we could remain in a constant state of being.  Our physicality wouldn't change, our attitude would be the same each day and we wouldn't have to deal with emotions.  Often, that is what is expected of athletes.  It is hard for the arm chair quarterback to understand how a star can have a bad day.  How can a champion hang his head?  How could he throw that pass?  What happened to his decision making, his arm, his attitude, his speed, etc.?  Athletes are human and like the rest of us, their game, both physical and mental varies.  The main difference between star athletes and the rest of us is, when they have variances, the one thing that remains constant is their confidence.

We often view it as heart, that ability to fight through a tough challenge.  Other people view it as simply not giving up.  However the media frames it or we imagine it, when the game is being played, the athlete sets aside immediate results and draws on confidence.  The list above is an inventory of what their confidence gives them during tough times.

By clearly understanding the game and we will talk about the game of golf, but this is relevant for all games, a confident athlete knows that their will be challenges.  The ball will take bad bounces, he will make some bad swings, a putt might lip out, but in turn good things will happen.  A confident approach allows a player to see the balance of the game instead of focusing on the bad things that occur.  Confident golfers are never victims to fate.

Positive decision making means that a golfer chooses what he wants to happen when planning for a shot and doesn't make decisions by what he is avoiding.  This alone would be a big benefit for many amateur golfers.  To look at a tight fairway and commit to hitting a spot in the fairway instead of avoiding the trees on the right.  The commitment of making a positive decision is hugely valuable to the mental game.


Approaching a shot with a clear vision of what you want to do with it seems to be easy, but doing it consistently, especially when confused by wind, between clubs, or unsure of the break, isn't an easy chore.  If you have a good caddy on your bag, this portion of the mental game gets easier, but it is still up to the player to see the plan clearly.  Confidence helps by simply making the decision to commit to a shot, no matter the confusion in the planning process.

Distractions can disrupt focus, but it won't happen twice.  A confident player takes control of his surroundings and his situation without fear of backlash.  If a fellow competitor walks in his back swing, it is his responsibility to point it out and make sure it doesn't happen again.  Once again, confident players are not victims and they understand the responsibilities they have to themselves.  Inner distractions might be a bit tougher for a golfer, but experience along with confidence will teach a player how to handle them.  An inner distraction might be as simple as feeling unbalanced at set up.  As we said at the beginning, athletes are humans and things change daily.  A confident athlete sets it aside, focuses on what the ball does instead of how his body feels and gets through the day.  After the day, he will head to the range and figure out the balance problem to be ready for the next day.

 It is repeated so often, that is is almost cliche, "stay in the moment".  Those four words are often lauded as the key to a great day.  In the '80's we called it "the zone" and it seemed elusive.  Now, there is so much great mental training available to athletes that it is no longer mysterious, but a part of good player's arsenal.  The ability to stay in the moment is one of the biggest by-products of making the choice to believe in yourself.  It allows you to not relive past shots and not worry about what is to come.  If you believe in yourself, you gave your all on every shot you hit and if it did or didn't work out isn't important during the round.  You also understand you will be up to any challenge you face.  No one better for it than you!  Being in the moment doesn't even seem like a chore for a confident player.

Any kid growing up in a family of high achievers knows how crummy it is to be compared.  Your older sister designed the yard stick you will be measured by and your older brother's trophies seem to taunt you every day.  Good parents know that each child in the family is unique and comparisons are unneeded and even harmful.  Yet the world of athletics thrives on comparisons.  We teach using Tiger's swing on video, we compare statistics and driving distance constantly, we talk about mannerisms, tempers, and personalities.  There has to be a best way to be successful and if we could just put together the best parts of the best players, we will have the answer.  The true answer to greatness is to be completely and totally oneself whether on the course or off.  The use of comparisons jeopardizes uniqueness and uniqueness is the key to becoming the best golfer you can be.  You will have a different set of strengths and weaknesses than any other golfer on the course.  How you choose to use your strengths and minimize your weaknesses will be important to your success.  Learning to be someone else on the course abandons the idea of managing yourself and puts you in a different mode, which will quickly break down under pressure.


A confident player knows himself, his game, the best way to prepare, how to relax and how to focus.  He understands his needs and what it takes to be successful.  The next step is to live that knowledge and be able to communicate it to those around him.  It is as though he is an actor in a movie and he can design his set, write his lines, choose his costars, and direct the action.  The ability to know yourself and communicate your needs is crucial to confidence and confidence is crucial to it, too.  This ability is like getting a PhD in confidence and when it happens, things seem to get a little easier.  This doesn't mean that a great player needs to be a tyrant or a control freak about his world.  One can accomplish this by simply having a routine, such as a run in the morning no matter what the tee time.  Other players like to arrive at the course two hours before their time and create their day from there.  It is simply a matter of knowing what is important and how to make it happen.

Teamwork is important, even in an individual sport.  No man is an island and by sharing your focus with a small group of trusted individuals, you will get help, find fun and rely on support that is key to your success.  Having a team helps your confidence in many ways.  First, it frees you up from listening to a lot of people who don't really matter to you.  In the golf world, everyone has the answer and is willing to give it to you, whether or not you asked a question.  In a competitive environment, it is a bit scary to rely on untrusted sources for answers.  Second, your team will hold you accountable.  They know your goals and what it will take to reach them.  Third, your team will provide you an atmosphere of relaxation.  You can be yourself completely with them.  They are not judging you or your actions.  They are there for support.  It is so important for athletes to have safe places where they can be themselves and relax and a trusted support group can offer that.

The last two by-products of confidence are much the same.  A confident player believes in himself in any situation and welcomes pressure.  When I was playing high school softball, our coach used to hit grounders randomly to us in the infield.  Usually, when you take infield, the ball goes around the horn in order.  He would instead say, "want the ball" and then smack it hard to one of us.  That simple coaching technique has always stuck with me.  He wanted us to "want" the ball.  That translated to games.  I would find myself at first saying, "hit it to me".  That "want" turned into a focus of expectation.  I was certainly not the best fielder on our team, but by wanting the ball, I expected to get it and my focus was at its peak.  This wasn't situational, but constant.  It must be the same for golfers.  A great player must want a challenge.  He must want to be the person with a bad lie and a carry over water to hit the green to make the birdie to win the Open.  Pressure is not something that is added, but is something that is welcomed.  When there is pressure, there is a greater chance for success.  Belief in oneself must be an all-time thing and pressure is a state of mind for commentators, but not for a confident player.  When you play with confidence, you practice and embrace all of the things mentioned above.  You are in the moment, you have a clear plan, you make positive decisions and you believe in yourself.   Choosing confidence allows you to reap a bounty of mental toughness and strength.
One of my top five mentally tough athletes, Dan Gable.


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