Thursday, February 24, 2011

Play to Your Strengths

I just hung up the phone after a great conversation with a fellow coach.  Inevitably, coaches trade niceties, but then the conversation delves into performance, relationships and how to get the most out of your teams.  This is where our conversation went and both of us hung up with some new ideas, a heightened motivation and some direction for our teaching and coaching.  One of the topics we covered was how to get players to be themselves.

In order to play to your strengths on the golf course, you first have to be yourself.  It is impossible to be the best you can be if you are trying to be someone else.  That is one of the reasons that coaching college athletes is so challenging, no matter what the sport.  Players of that age are trying to figure out who they are and what they really want.  The challenge for coaching college golf is often in helping the player figure out who she is, what her strengths are and how to use those qualities and traits to compete.

So often, teachers, coaches and parents unknowingly move players away from their strengths.  It is sometimes a battle for control or sometimes a player's strengths don't fit with the model the advice givers have in mind.  An obvious example is Phil Mickleson.  Imagine if Phil's college coach had a team rule that prohibited players from going for par 5's in two.  I know that would be a stupid rule, but sometimes coaches make what seem to be stupid rules to get control or to make a point.  So, all of a sudden, the persona of Phil the Risk Taker is changed to Phil the Strategic Player.  Would he play his best golf?  Would he feel comfortable in competition?  Would he rebel or buckle under?  How could he make decisions if his basic persona was taken away?

Phil is a golfing swashbuckler!

This is a fictitious example and very extreme, but all of us need to be careful to understand what makes an individual tick and coach those qualities.  If you are the type of person who moves quickly through life and doesn't do anything slowly, I would bet you have been told your backswing is too quick.  It happens all the time.  I am often on the lesson tee asking people to speed up their backswing so it matches their style.  I have found that it usually improves balance, overall tempo, distance and confidence.  Don't get me wrong, I am not standing on the lesson tee teaching quick backswings, but it is sometimes obvious to me that a student finds her own tempo to be foreign or forced.

These two illustrations are both examples of a teacher's style, methods or preferences clashing with the student's style.  This is one reason why players such as Aaron Baddeley or Justin Leonard find new success when they switch to their old teachers.  The old teacher probably doesn't know more about the swing or how to teach than the new teacher did, but he or she usually know more about the player.  They understand the personality and style that took the player to success in the first place and tap back into those qualities to bring out the best in the player.

This article by Kirk Oguri sums up exactly what today's blog is about - find a teacher who fits with you and you believe in.  Here is an article about Justin's return to Randy Smith.

If you are reading this as a player, think about how you spend your time away from the course.  Are you a calm and mellow person who takes things as they come?  If so, your game might reflect those traits.  You may be in need of a good game plan prior to play to assure that you don't wander through a round and play from poor positions.  You will probably be a natural at letting go of mistakes.  Are you a perfectionist who wants to be in control?  If so, you will have to script your reactions to mistakes, because they will be tough to take during the round and may disrupt your focus.  You will be well prepared and your practice will generally leave nothing to chance.  Are you an athlete who plays every sport well and loves to compete?  If so, be careful of choosing a very methodical and technical teacher or coach who might demand a lot of thinking over the ball.  These are some examples of how you need to think through your strengths as a person, how they can help you and how they can hurt you.  All of us have a unique set of characteristics that we bring to the table and there is no one combination that will trigger success.  Instead, each of us needs to rely on our strengths while working hard to diminish our weaknesses.  Our weaknesses should never become the full focus of our practice time.  When that happens, our strengths will fail to carry our game and it will suffer.

Tomorrow, I will talk about how you can help young players figure out their strengths and weaknesses and use them to their advantage.

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