Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning to Lean

In 1983, I moved to Jackson Hole.  I was and still am in love with mountains and the Tetons are the most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.  During the first ski season in Jackson, I had to learn an important skill, skiing steeps.  Jackson Hole is a very steep mountain.  If you live there and want to tag along with your buddies, you need to keep up. That was my motivation, so I took it upon myself to learn to ski anything.

I spent hours and hours skiing by myself off the Thunder Chair.  I took the same route countless times.  Directly to the right off the chair was a little steep that was about ten turns long.  I learned quickly that in order to be in control on a steep slope, I had to lean out.  If I leaned out over the hill, I had leverage to keep my ski's edge on the hill.  If I hung back and clung to the hill, I lost my leverage, my edge and was soon on my hip sliding out of control.  That was why a ten turn run was perfect.  I couldn't fall too far.

A skier about to make a turn on a steep.  This is the moment of weightlessness that is both frightening and addicting.

Learning to lean meant fighting my instincts to hang back.  It meant creating my own momentum in a situation where I was fearful of speed.  It created a moment of weightlessness that felt a lot like falling.  It was scary!  Once I leaned, I was into the first turn.  There was no turning back.  A little lean equaled action and my job at that point was to keep up with what I created.  As soon as I learned the skill, I couldn't get enough of it.  I was soon skiing the Cirque or Headwall or even the Alta Chutes.  I no longer watched my buddies head off without me, but instead I was close behind and skiing the entire mountain.

Learning to lean is a skill that helps you in any situation.  It is that moment when you take a breath, close your eyes, maybe even say a little prayer and then LEAN.  It isn't about having confidence or even courage, its simply about creating your own momentum.  There can't be thought.  There can only be action.  The action is small and almost immeasurable, but it is enough.  It is a lean.

Over the years, I have coached so many great golfers who at times struggle with confidence.  Instead of relying on their training, their instincts and their athleticism, they question themselves.  Their minds are busy and their spirit is low.  They get overwhelmed with things like results, the how-tos, and the possibility of failure.  They feel pretty isolated in their fears and thoughts and begin to question everything.  By everything, I do mean everything; their talent, their future, their place on the team or their ability to play the game, much less win.  The questions gnaw at them until they feel lost.  At this point, they have lost their confidence.  At least, that is what they tell me.

Rory McIlroy lost his way at the Masters, but was soon back on his game.  He created his own momentum. 

Losing your confidence can happen in short lapses during a round or it can happen over a long period of time and stick with you.  It hurts and it takes the fun out of golf.  What players need in these times is a lean and very little more.  They need to quiet their mind, close their eyes, say a little prayer if needed and create their own momentum.

Even the very best players will lose their confidence if they question their preparation or their talent.   What great players learn is that they need to set aside those questions and trust themselves enough to focus and take action.  They make mistakes and then they lean a little and get a little momentum.  They do this over and over until they know that they can do it at will.  Young players think that confidence is a trait they should feel lifting them up, but confidence is actually the ability to pick yourself up.  A great player doesn't rely on confidence in a tough situation, she relies on herself.  The only time a golfer ever thinks about confidence is when she feels as though she has none.

When things aren't going well and you feel really low about yourself and your game, confidence seems like the magic you are missing.  When you have those feelings, force yourself into action.  Give a little lean and create your own momentum.  That action doesn't need to be big, but it will signal your commitment to yourself and the situation.  Know that you will still take some falls.  It will make it tougher to create your own momentum, but remember the drill; take a breath, close your eyes, say a little prayer if needed and lean. 


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