Saturday, February 26, 2011

What Type of Player are You?

A few days ago we discussed playing to your strengths and being yourself on the course.  Today we will take it one step further and go into actual strategies to help you do this and what types of things could get in your way.

One of my favorite things is to wander through a big, book store, such as Barnes and Noble.  Books seem to jump off the shelf at me.  One of those books was the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.  It was empowering to read something that reflected what I believed.  I have met many people who have the same beliefs that I do, but I had never seen it written quite like this.  I immediately bought the book, connected to the website provided by the book, took the test to find my strengths and read detailed explanations about my strengths and probable explanations of my shortcomings.  It was dead on for me.  It was powerful to read what I was good at and it was revealing to read about my shortcomings.  For example, one of my strengths was "ideation".  I love to think of new or different ways to solve a problem or start a project.  However, it also noted that I was happy to hand off projects half finished and start on a new one.  Yep, you got me.  My finishing power is never as strong as my starting power.  The author didn't bother to judge on either quality making me great or horrible, but simply stated the outcome of the tests and how I probably used my strengths.

The book is based on 50 years of study and is one of the most powerful tools out there for people of any age.  If you are young, I think it could help a lot in choosing a career path or in understanding how to move toward your strengths.  As you age and get more and more entrenched in a career, I think it gives you insight into where your energy should be spent.  It could also help you to hire people to offset your tendencies that aren't necessarily positive.  As you can see, I am a big fan of the book and I would love to have the same tool for golfers everywhere.

As a coach, this is the basis of my philosophy.  While it is important to understand and work to correct your weaknesses, that will never be what leads you to victory.  Your strengths will always be what carries you.  If you can game plan to highlight your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, you will have a chance to get the most out of your game whenever you tee it up.  Too many teachers, coaches and parents get too caught up in correcting weaknesses, which causes the confidence to diminish and the strengths to lose their power.  Luckily, human nature usually offsets this influence.  People are drawn to what they love, whether it is driving the ball, putting or hitting bunker shots.  A smart coach allows for that human nature and leads them to balance their time between practicing their strengths and improving their weaknesses. 

When we talk about a golfer's strengths, they can encompass a specific skill, a mindset, an approach to the game, a personality or an attitude.  As I watch the match play, I can see all of these things play out.  J.B. Holmes has incredible power.  Luke Donald has an incredible attitude.  Martin Kaymer prepares meticulously and his approach is one of leaving nothing to chance.  Bubba Watson's personality is flamboyant, fun and has some flair, much like his golf game.  Matt Kuchar's approach to the game is not very exciting.  He plugs along, hits a lot of fairways and greens, but his secret weapon is his putter.  He is one of the best putters on tour, so his approach is unexciting, but effective.  P.S. His approach to the game lead him to the top of the money list. 

What are these players' weaknesses?  We have all heard the commentators tell us that J.B. isn't a great putter, Bubba is twitchy, and Matt's swing is a bit flat.  However, all are making millions on tour, so I guess they figured it out.Weaknesses can become overwhelming and ruin a career, but when that happens, it seems they are usually not a weakness in skills, but character.  That is the type of weakness that is tough to overcome. 

What are your strengths?  Do you keep statistics to understand the nuts and bolts of your game?  Start off by keeping simple stats such as fairways hit, greens hit, and putts.  If you compare the greens hit with the putts, you will also have an up and down percentage.  You can either use a scorecard and do it manually or download a program on your phone or use a gps, like GolfLogix, that has stats built into their program.  It might seem like work at first, but when it becomes a habit, it doesn't use too much brainpower. 

Once you accumulate stats from a number of rounds (at least 10), you will begin to understand which skills are helping you and which are hurting you.  After stats, you need to think about other facets of your play that may be helping or hurting you.  What is it about your personality that might help you be a better player?  Do you have a good attitude on the course?  Are you disciplined about practice?  Can you commit to the shot you visualize?  Do you dwell on mistakes or let them go?  Is your temper ready to flame up at any time?  Are you methodical?  Are you a planner?  Are you a risk taker?  You can look at any of these qualities as both strengths and weaknesses.  The key isn't who you are, but how you handle yourself. I call this quality self-management and I believe it is every bit as important as course management or game management. 

Here are two examples of self-management; one positive and one negative. 
John is a risk taker.  He owns a motorcycle because he loves to drive fast.  He has started three businesses and the latest is doing well, but the other two failed.  No worries, that is life, win some, lose some, but never give up.  John is also a very good golfer.  Once in awhile his risk taking has ruined a round and John is smart enough to learn from his mistakes.  Here is what John learned.  "When I am facing a tough shot over water that I will have to nail to achieve, I am willing to take the risk.  I believe in myself and my game and I am willing to live with the consequences if I should fail to pull it off.  What I have learned about my game is, it isn't worth it for me to take big risks when I am already in trouble.  If I am deep in the woods, I now look for an easy way out instead of looking for the little gap leading to the pin.  Those risks are no longer worth the reward, because I have noticed they rarely work out just as I see them.  I am still a risk taker on the course, but I have learned to rein myself in and be a bit more conservative when I am in trouble.  My scores reflected this decision to minimize risk when I was already in trouble and my handicap is now down to a 3."

This is a great example of a player who understands himself, his game and the bottom line.  He wants to score and therefore, he must control his compulsion to take risks no matter the cost.  He hasn't changed who he is or how he thinks, but his self-management is focused on minimizing mistakes.  John Jacobs once said, "A double bogey is a bad shot followed by a stupid shot."  John learned that same principle and put it into play in his game. 

Christie is a very outgoing, talkative girl.  She loves to be the center of attention and has a lot of energy.  She hasn't been playing very well since she got to college and she is pretty miserable.  Here is what she has to say.  "I didn't think the adjustment to college golf would be so big.  Everyone is so serious and focused.  My coach thinks I talk too much when I play and that my focus would be better if I was more of a grinder.  I am trying to do what he wants, but I am really getting bored and I feel boring, too.  Some of the girls I am paired with want to tell me about their boyfriends or what school is like, but I am supposed to walk and think, so I have to walk away.  If I would have known college golf was going to be this serious, I might have just gone to college to study and have fun.  I am not sure if I will keep playing." 

Here is a player who doesn't understand that she is being asked to flip a switch and become another person when she plays the game.  At a young age, she probably doesn't understand the importance of being herself to play her best.  She is doing what she is told, trusting her coach and working to be a better player.  Her coach's idea of what it takes to be a great player is based on a quiet grinder and that works for a lot of people, but for Christie, it is removing her from the very reasons she loves the game.  He means well and wants her to succeed, but he is working off of a model of what he believes will lead to that success.  Christie is outgoing and the opposite of the model.  She loves to chat up her playing partners.  She loves to show her energy with fist pumps and squeals when putts fall.  She loves to play well and have a gallery.  It will be important for her to understand what she loves about playing golf and tap into it so she doesn't get so bored that she quits the game. 

This is an area of the game that is truly personal and when coaches, teachers and parents understand that each player is an individual, not molded or modeled after another, they will allow that player to develop her own strengths and her own style of self-management.  If you are a player who wants to improve, one tool that might help you is to keep a journal or diary of your golf experiences.  When you have a great day, what happened?  Did you play with a favorite playing partner?  If so, what makes her a favorite?  Did you listen to a great song that was inspiring when you warmed up?  Were you rushed this morning and never felt your tempo?  Did you make it a point to use your pre shot routine on the range and the putting green and find that it really helped your focus?  Did you talk to your dad before the round and remember how much you loved to play golf with him?  The things that go into a great round of golf are countless, but what is it that leads you to your best day?  That is the question you should be asking yourself. 

If you aren't an introspective person and the thought of a journal curls your hair, just keep it simple.  If your bunker stats are poor, don't go for pins cut over bunkers.  Instead, play to the center of the green.  If you aren't good at 50 yard shots, leave yourself a full wedge on par 5's instead of busting a 3 wood on your second shot.  If you have a bad temper that is close to the surface, count to 10 after a poor shot and carry a stress ball in your bag to work out your anger with your hands.  The important thing to understand is, no one is perfect, but we don't have to let our imperfections ruin our game.  Instead, we can recognize what type of player we are and manage ourselves to get the most from ourselves and our games.  John Wooden, the wisest coach I have studied said it best, "Never allow what you can't do to get in the way of what you can do."  Remember, play to your strengths, manage your weaknesses and revel in being yourself.

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