Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are Golfers Athletes?

If you are a competitive golfer, are you also an athlete?  Your answer should be a resounding yes, but much of what we do as golfers moves us closer to the answer no.  Check out some ways you can move to playing the game as an athlete in today's blog.

Camillo.  His training would prepare him to compete in many sports.

Five Steps That Will Make You An Athlete on the Golf Course
1.  Move away from comfortable.
2.  Train yourself to play the game.
3.  Quit conversing with yourself when it is time to execute.
4.  Stay in the now.
5.  Compete!

Today, we will cover #1!

1.  Move away from comfortable.  Have you ever stated that you want to feel comfortable over a shot or that you like to hit shots that you are comfortable with?  If so, you are not in an athletic frame of mind.  Instead, you are either too self aware or looking for false confidence, or both!  For examples, we could use any sport, but for this example, we will talk about soccer.  If you are a mid-fielder, you decide to dribble or pass based on what the defense is doing.  In other words, your move is in response to what is offered or what you need to do, not what you want.  Can you play a course and allow the terrain, wind, or the lie of the ball to offer you a plan?  If a shot can be played any way you like, then you can choose your own best option.  However, most of the time, there is a "right" shot to hit.

I can hear you now, you are thinking, but I like to hit a draw, so I play that whenever possible and I have total confidence in that shot.  There is something to be said for that, but remember, we are making the transition to playing like an athlete, so here is what I would argue.  If you are playing mid field and need to hit a long, high pass to a streaking forward down the right side, but you aren't comfortable with high shots, what would you do?  In soccer, you could hit the low shot and have it be intercepted, you could hesitate and miss the open teammate or you could understand your limitations and vow to learn the shot.  The next step is to practice it until you owned it.  The next time you faced the same scenario, you could send a long, high pass and hopefully card an assist. We need to do the same thing on the course.  If we don't have a shot, we need to vow to learn it and own it so we have it next time we play.  If you want to compete at golf, you have to have all the shots, not just the ones you are comfortable hitting!

"I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match." -- Mia Hamm 

If you are a golfer and you need to hit a high, cut around a bushy tree, but you aren't comfortable with the shot, is it acceptable to simply say, I am not a player who fades shots and be finished with it?  In any other sport, that would be a signal to learn the shot, but for some reason, golfers have been told its okay to have one way to do things, because you know you can always do it.  That confidence is based on a lack of knowledge, not on a lot of knowledge.  Confidence that comes from being great at one thing is limiting if any situation calls for something different.  Confidence that comes from mastery of all shots is true confidence.  Teachers and coaches are selling their students short when they limit their learning instead of allowing them to approach the game like an athlete.

The other way I hear comfortable talked about is by players who try to get comfortable over the ball.  Name another sport where the participant's awareness is based on herself and her body?  Imagine if you had to be comfortable to shoot a basketball?  Most great basketball players shoot as well with someone hanging on them, spinning on one leg and falling away from the basket as they do from the free throw line.  If you want to play like an athlete, get your awareness on your ball and your target and get it out of your own body.  We all have remarkable abilities to balance ourselves, swing with rhythm and match our hands to what we want the club to do.  Learning to trust those abilities is a big step toward athleticism on the golf course.

This is Bridget Sloan on the balance beam.  Does she look like she is comfortable?  NO!  She is pushing her body to its limits.  She trusts her abilities and her training.  Most of all, her body reflects joy in its freedom and motion.  That is your goal as a golfer!  Allow yourself to have joy in the freedom and motion of your golf swing!

Most sports push players to the edge and past their "comfort zone".  Downhill skiers travel faster on skis than the speed limit we can drive our cars.  Gymnasts do flips on a tiny balance bar.  Football players catch passes while being stalked by big, strong defensive backs who are running as fast as they can.  It is impossible for any of these athletes to consider their comfort while playing their sports.  You might think golf is different, but at the highest levels it isn't.  It is the golfers who are comfortable with their own discomfort who succeed.  They thrive on pressure situations.  They feel as though they can hit any shot they need.  They think only of what they want to do with the ball.  Just as athletes in all sports experience high heart rates, adrenaline and heightened focus, so do golfers in the heat of competition.  If the golfer stays in the moment and relishes the feel of these body adjustments, she will learn they are all natural reactions to being in the heat of competition.  Instead of worrying about being comfortable, she will make the necessary adjustments, such as walking a bit slower to get the heart rate down before the next shot, grabbing one less club to offset the adrenaline and welcoming the focus and feeling the zone.

“I feel really good right now and really comfortable,” Tseng said. “I’ve wanted to be No. 1 since I was 12, and it’s been a dream come true. But I feel like I still have a long way to go. There are still some things I need to learn and need to work on. I’m really excited, and I’m just going to do my best and have fun.” Yani Tseng

Does this quote sound like someone who is comfortable being uncomfortable?  

The next time you play or compete on the golf course, play the game as an athlete would.  See the course with an open mind and eyes wide open.  What does it offer to you?  How can you take advantage of the course to help you score lower?  As you play the game, stay focused on what the ball is doing and let go of what you are doing as the player.  If you are uncomfortable over a shot, your mind is focused on you instead of the ball or the situation.  Step off the shot and see the shot you want to hit and step in and hit it with no thoughts of how.  Trust yourself and your athleticism.  Most of all, trust your training for this moment.

Our next blog will be about that training.  Until then, go play some golf and be an athlete!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Can You Learn From Tebow?

One of the hottest topics in the news, in social media and in conversation these days is Tim Tebow.  Tebow is a winning quarterback at every level of the game, despite the lack of tangible things such as a strong arm or perfect technique.  What makes him a winner?  Why is he so compelling to us?  What can we learn from him?

#1 – FAITH
His unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ has taught him to have faith in himself and those around him.

Football isn’t the most important thing in Tebow’s life.  He is building a children's hospital in the Philippines for the poor.  Here is what he says,  “Helping raise money for kids – there’s nothing better than that.”  This is one example of where his focus is when he isn’t on the field.
Tebow doesn’t care what others think of him.  He lives his life as he believes he should live it.  He does all he can with what he has and he knows that deep inside, so he needn’t listen to critics tell him what he can’t do.  He knows that he did all he could.  There is peace in that knowledge. 
#4 – FOCUS
Tebow’s game gets better as the game goes because his focus gets better.  At the end of the game, the goals are crystal clear and he knows what he is supposed to do.  Pressure flusters some and clarifies things for others.  Tebow is in the second category.  
#5 - FIGHT
Tebow doesn't give up.  His teammate Champ Bailey, a pro bowler, said this about Tebow, “One thing about that quarterback: he is going to keep grinding. As a defense, we just have to keep him in this game – keep this team in the game and in the fourth quarter you never know what you are going to get. We are never out of it, and it is a good feeling because I know if we are close we have a chance.”

#1 FAITH - Definition:  confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. 

If you want to be a great player on the golf course, you must learn to have faith in yourself.  The most important part of the definition isn't the reference to confidence or trust, but the part that says, "not based on proof".  Tebow is known for his fourth quarter heroics.  Read this account from the Denver Post:  Tebow's passes may not look like much, but when it comes to his fourth-quarter numbers, he shines. With a 107.8 fourth-quarter quarterback rating, Tebow is fourth behind Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Tebow has thrown eight touchdowns and only one interception in the fourth quarter or overtime.  Tebow is in the game until the end of the game.  He doesn't base his confidence on what he has done, but what he is capable of doing.  He has faith in his abilities and in his teammate's abilities.  

How many times have you gained confidence not because of your preparation, but because of one great shot?  How many times have you hit a few bad shots and lost your confidence, despite hours, weeks and years of practice?  If you have faith in yourself, it shouldn't matter what has happened in the minutes, hours or even days leading up to now. If you have done all you can to prepare to play and worked to master your game, you must take the next big step and have faith in yourself.  This is as important for a seasoned tour player as it is for a young high school golfer.   

Your faith in a higher power can teach you what it is to have faith in something unseen.  This is a tricky topic to discuss as a coach, because belief systems are very personal and individual.  I have always been careful to leave each to their beliefs and support all through the years.  The focus of a coach needn’t be on a player’s faith, but instead on character and focus.  The question for me isn't what do you believe in?  Instead, it is do you believe in something?  If faith is a learned skill, can your belief system help you to become a successful athlete?

#2 PRIORITIES - A priority is something given special attention.  

Think about your priorities for a moment.  If you are a new mother, your priority will be your newborn.  If you just married, your priority will probably be spending time with your spouse.  We all have different things to which we give special attention. If you are a competitive athlete, you probably spend a lot of attention, time, sweat and value on your sport.  That is also common and natural.  What if that sport is your only priority?  What if you work 100% of the time on becoming better at your sport, but very little time becoming a better person?  What if you work to please your coach, but not necessarily to please yourself?  What if your parents allow you to shirk many of your responsibilities to give your attention completely to your sport?  If any of these things are occurring in your life, you are losing your balance as a person and your perspective of what is important.

As a coach, I want my players to bring a passionate love of the game of golf with them to SMU.  I want them to do all they can to be successful, including eating right, becoming fit and getting enough sleep.  However, I also want them to have friends, spend time as a normal college kid would and focus on school or family whenever it is needed and as much as is needed.  Tebow does good work in the world because of his belief system.  This work is a priority to him and it allows him to see his football in the proper light and gives him a healthy perspective.  Balance is tricky in today’s world.  If you are a successful athlete, you will escape criticism for having other interests.  However, when you fail, they will be called distractions.  Tebow clearly prioritizes his interests in the press and doesn’t worry about fall out, because he chose his priorities and didn’t allow others to do that for him. 

#3 - THICK SKIN - is the ability to withstand criticism.

Tebow’s critics are crying from the mountaintops about what he can’t do.  Tebow is focused instead on what he can do.  I am sure he is clear on what he needs to improve upon to be a better quarterback.  Tebow believes in preparation and hard work.  These are the reasons that Tebow has thick skin.  He can see himself and his faults clearly.  He knows he isn’t perfect.  Instead, he strives to do all he can and be the best he can when he steps on the field.  He does the same off of the field.  With the knowledge that he strives to do and be his best, why should he listen to critics?  Why listen to people who aren’t important to you tell you what you can’t do?  I would bet that Tebow also ignores the people who think he is wonderful and can do no wrong.  He has a higher power that he strives to please and that is the opinion he works to appease.

How does this relate to you as a golfer?  Your goal should be to figure out who you are as a person and take that knowledge to the golf course.  How you prepare, how you compete, how you act and how you play should all be based on who you are as a person, what is important to you and what you want to achieve.  If your goal in life is to be happy and make others happy, figure out how to do that within your golf game.  A coach who tells you to put on a game face and play without talking will obviously be asking you to do the opposite of what you want.  How can you withstand criticism if you don't understand what is right and wrong for you?  Your thick skin will grow based on knowing yourself and what is important to you.

#4 – FOCUS - is quite simply the ability to concentrate.

Distraction is an enemy of focus.  So many of us today have a problem with focus. We have a phone that allows us to talk to ten people at once and none of them are in the room.  While we are doing that, we can also follow 500 friends on facebook and find out what they are doing and with whom.  You might think that it takes great focus to multi-task and pull this off, but I would argue that it takes a complete lack of focus.  Am I present with the person in front of me?  Can I listen fully to her?  Can I make eye contact with her through an entire conversation?  Can I be thoughtful in my responses to her?  To answer these questions, I will have to let go of the dings, beeps, rings and other notifications that get in the way of attention.  The question is, can we be trained to turn away from distraction and learn focus?  Just as I said that Tebow’s deep faith in God teaches him to have deep faith in life, deep focus in one area teaches you to have deep focus in other areas.  This is definitely a teachable skill and one that we need to address if we want to develop great young players.  Tebow probably spends quiet time in his day in prayer and contemplation.  That time of silence and deep thought is a transferable skill and is valuable to both his relationship to God and his ability to control where his mind goes and when. So many of us diagnose ourselves with ADD and I would guess that most of us suffer from it in some way.  The question is, do we give in to the diagnosis or do we learn to offset this problem?  Learn to be quiet, thoughtful, contemplative or prayerful.  It will be a big step toward your focus on the golf course. Start tonight!  Turn off your phone, your t.v., your computer, and your ipod  How long can you sit in a quiet room?  Can you direct your thoughts to a certain subject?  Can you focus?

To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” ~Bertrand Russell

#5 - FIGHT - Perhaps the most important skill you can take to the golf course.  Truly great players stay in the round on each and every shot, no matter where they stand in the round or in the field.

As a golfer, you have to know that you will have ups and downs in a round of golf.  You will do dumb things, make bad swings and have bad results.  Everyone does!  How you fight through the consequences of these is what makes you a fighter.  Tebow doesn't worry much about the "how" during the game.  He might throw some bad passes or fumble the ball, but the next time on the field, he fights to do great things.  Unlike Tebow, you have the ability to fight for greatness right away!  You don't have to wait until the defense gets the ball back for you, you get to hit another shot right now!  If you can view your challenges as opportunities to fight back, you will see the golf course as Tebow sees the football field.  

Tebow is a great athlete.  Do great athletes think differently than you and I?  Yes and no.  One thing that they understand is that it takes consistent, daily effort to be great.  They can’t give in to laziness, self indulgence, or distraction.  Unlike fans, they don’t think of one loss as the end of a season or a clear sign of failure.  Instead, they use it to figure out their next steps and focus on improvement.  We talk a lot about the “dream” of success, but I think that type of thinking is only the first step.    Greatness might start out as a dream, but to be great, you have to come crashing down to earth and work hard. 

Most of us have this approach in our daily lives.   We strive to be good parents, good siblings, good sons and daughters.  We go to work and do our best.  We go through illness and injury with grim determination and work hard to get better.  We don’t look at our lives through the scope of wins and losses, failures and successes.  Instead, we give a consistent daily effort to be at our best and be a good person.  That is exactly what great athletes are doing.  That is character.  Tebow isn't unique.  He is, however, someone from whom we can all learn lessons of success.

“You will have to adopt a particular lifestyle of ambition, not just for a few weeks or months but for years and years and years. You have to want it so bad that you are not only ready to fail, but you actually want to experience failure: revel in it, learn from it.”  David Shenk


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