Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mental Game Tools

What is my job as a coach?  In my mind, it is to free my players up to play the game at their best.  How do I do that?  Offer them the mental game tools to play with freedom to go along with the physical skills needed to strike the ball well, get it up and down and get it in the hole.  What are these mental game tools?  That is the subject of today's blog.

Today's blog is about the first and most important tool and that is the focus of a champion.  Focus in and of itself isn't a great thing.  I have coached players who had fantastic focus, but aimed it on the wrong things, such as being perfect, solving problems, or on past events.  Focus is powerful and if misused, can lead to just as many problems as a total lack of focus.  

The focus we want at SMU is simple and goal focused.  Here is an example of goal focused practice.  Practice Goal:  I want to be a great putter!  To do that, I need to roll the ball where I aim it and control the speed of every putt I face.  At practice, I will separate these two skills and work on one at a time.  When I work on speed control, I will focus on the rhythm of my stroke and match the distance of the putt to the rhythm I need to hit it the proper distance.  I will do drills that test my distance control and make sure I am great at controlling the speed of all lengths of putts.  When I work on starting the ball on line, I will set up things so I have feedback, like the gate drill and have Coach watch my alignment and where I am starting the ball. 

This is a focus based on results.  It is a focus based on what you want as a player.  It is the type of focus that keeps you focused on the future.  Players get in trouble when their focus moves to problem solving.  If you have a rough time at a tournament with your putting and come out of it asking things like, "why can't I putt?" or "how did I miss so many putts?" then your focus will not be on results.  It will be stuck in problem solving and aimed at what isn't happening.  Champions continually move forward.  They don't spend time thinking about what isn't happening.  If you do fall into this cycle, your brain will start answering the questions and you will soon have a list going of "why you can't putt".  Once that happens, your brain will get attached to a few of those things and defend them.  As soon as you get into this mode of thinking, you are spending energy trying not to do things.  That is energy wasted.

Mike Singletary, who played for the Chicago Bears, had a singular focus on the field.  He wanted to stop the ball from moving into his territory.

A great way to approach practice following a poor putting round would be to ask yourself some simple questions.  What can I do today to be a better putter?  Is there something specific I can do better?  Who can I find to help me get better?  What can I do in the next hour that will make me better?

These questions are results based and will take you closer to your goal of being a great putter.  There is a huge amount of power in having this consistent approach to your game.  This is how champions think.

How can something so simple help you so much?  First, there is a clarity of purpose and direction.  You know what you want and how to get there.  Second, there is confidence in keeping your goals in front of you.  If you know what you want, failures along the way are insignificant.  You can be open to failures as learning opportunities to help you refocus.

As coaches, Dave and I look at your stats, we watch your play and we come away with areas we think could be improved and also a clear sense of your strengths.  We come up with a finite list of skills that need improvement, we develop a plan to work for that improvement and we guide you through the process.  We also laud the strengths and encourage you to build on them.  We are always working on what we want to see.  We never focus on what we don’t want to see.  We never think about the reasons you aren’t great at certain skills, but instead we develop those skills with no thought of obstacles.  If you also approach your golf skills in this way, you will be in a mode of constant learning and openness, not stuck in defending what you do or reasoning why you aren’t achieving your best possible score. 

Have you gone to practice your game with no clear purpose?  Does that lead to your mind hopping around from one thing to another?  When you hit balls, do you have a target for your distance and direction?  Do you use your routine at practice?  Do you compare yourself to others on the range?  Do you become upset when things don't work the way you want or quickly enough?  Of course, no one plans to do things this way at practice, but if you don’t control your focus, it is exactly what happens.  An hour of practice with this approach leads to confusion and no progress.

How about your tournament focus?  Here is an example of an approach that is focused on results.
Tournament Goal:  I will have great speed control today on the greens.  To do that, I will take a good look at the terrain of the putt and notice slopes and grain.  I will allow my eyes to focus in on the hole and judge the rhythm needed to swing the putter.  I will be an athlete and trust that I will make the putt and take that freedom to the stroke.

If you have a three putt, do you stay in the goal or do you start to look for reasons you failed?  Can you stay in the mode of “trusting doer” and out of the mode of focusing on the problem of a prior stroke?  

Focus isn’t only the ability to think about the shot at hand, but also your ability to think about how to be successful.  No matter what the weather or the obstacles faced, successful scorers who stay in the mode of having a mental game plan and staying with it on each and every shot have a great opportunity for consistency in scoring and will tackle challenges with a mind focused on success.  Golfers who allow poor results to change their focus into problem solving or what isn’t happening will soon see their scores fluctuate based on their approach to the game, not a change in their actual skills.  Are you a consistent scorer?  Do you find a way to get the ball in the hole no matter what?  If you approach each round focused on the result you want, you will have a great chance to get all you can out of your round.  

This type of focus takes practice, motivation and consistency.  It needs to become a habit. It needs to start today and you need to commit to it no matter what the pressures or problems faced.  It is a big step toward consistent greatness.  Start at practice tomorrow.  Choose one skill that will help you become a great player and figure out how to work on that skill and improve it.  The next time you play a tournament round, decide who you want to be, how you want to act, what you want to think and how you will play.  Here is an example of how you can think about your goals. 

When I play my tournament tomorrow, I will be calm and loose out there.  I will focus on the shot in front of me and see it clearly before I hit it.  I will give myself a chance to shoot the best score I have ever shot by having a great attitude no matter what I face.  

It always helps to have a technique. In golf, it's all about visualizing. You have to practice; being in the situation is the only thing that helps. You have to make all the mistakes and you have to learn from them. The more you do it, the more comfortable you feel and then you learn.
LORENA OCHOA, Newsweek, Oct. 15, 2007

Good luck and if you do it for six holes tomorrow, that is a great start.  Make it nine the next time out.  Don't feel like a failure if you have to work at it.  Remember, if you are open to failures, they are simply opportunities to learn and refocus.  You can do it!

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