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!

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