Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Next: Player Plans

At the end of the first semester, I had my players do a self-assessment of their games.  They rated a large variety of their skills on a scale of 1-10.  Using their assessment, their goals, their season statistics and our coaching observations, we will put together a plan for them for the spring season.

My goal for their plans is to help them see and embrace their strengths, learn more about the skills that they consider their weaknesses and find freedom when they play.  I will keep our team touchstones in mind.  They are to love each other, play with freedom and possess a learner's mindset.  We can all do better at all three of these.  To truly embrace a touchstone and shift your thinking to it takes a lot of focus.  Our job as coaches is to model, teach and reward each of these.  I can think of many instances when I didn't do those things effectively, so I will also have my own plan for the spring, based on our touchstones.

Before I talk about the individual plans, I need to talk about our touchstones.  First, the touchstone of love.  What does that mean within a team?  My team showed me this far better than I showed them this past fall.  When I pay attention, I learn from them how to hold people accountable without judgement.  They show me how to lift each other up and remain a strong group while competing against each other.  They have a blast with each other and remind me daily of their resilience, love for fun and their drive to reach their goals.  They show love daily to each other, to their coaches and to the game of golf.
SMU Women's Golf Touchstones

Our second touchstone, to possess a learner's mindset, was only hinted at this fall.  The problem wasn't that we weren't willing, but that we didn't really understand what it takes to embrace that mindset.  To have a true love of learning, we need to set aside our criticism of ourselves when we play the game.  When we finish our play, we can decide if we need to improve or make a change in our game, but while playing, we don't judge.  To have a learner's mindset, we can't allow a shot, a fear or a round of golf define us.  Instead, we must understand that a true learner's mindset comes from the knowledge that time and effort can provide new possibilities.  Within those possibilities is freedom.  Until I sat down and reflected on the season we played and what I needed to focus on to be a better coach, I didn't realize that the two touchstones represent the same thing.  Freedom comes from having and embracing a learner's mindset.

We had individual meetings at the end of the fall season.  Once again, the team members impressed me with their preparation, their honesty and their vision.  This team's desire is phenomenal and it really pushes us as coaches to deliver back to them.  During the meetings, I had the team present to me their assessments, their "I am" statements and their goals.  The first thing that struck me was their views of themselves and their games.  These girls are good!  But these girls don't think they are good.  I don't think it is a lack of confidence or a true lack of ability.  I think it is about them learning to play golf in a culture that constantly judges, criticizes and fixes.  In their attempt to honestly evaluate themselves, most of them shared their most critical selves.

We seem to be our own worst critics.  Can we change to become our own best teachers?

My thoughts about what we needed to do better this spring were the normal coaching thoughts upon first reflection. I believed that we need to be more accountable for our attitude and focus on the course.  Then when I reflected on it, I realized that that is a limiting focus and one which doesn't truly address the problem.  Discipline isn't what we are lacking.  It is freedom. If our team has freedom on the golf course, each player will create her own discipline.  This discipline will be her guide to her thoughts, choices, emotions and focus.

What is freedom on the course mean and how can we get it?  If our attitudes on the course are shaped by results, we aren't free.  If our attitudes are shaped by meeting other people's needs, we aren't free.  If our attitudes are shaped by expectations, we aren't free.  Freedom means you are the star of your story, but not a story teller.  When you play, you create a story.  If you tell stories to yourself, you are living in the world of results, other people's needs and expectations. 

Do you tell stories?  Do you recognize this self talk after a 3 putt?   "Oh no, here I go again.  I am such a bad putter.  I can't believe I just 3 putted from 15 feet.  A 10 year old could have 2 putted that.  The girl I am playing with keeps making everything.  I am hitting it so much better than her. She sucks.  I hate putting." This can go on and on.  "I hope Coach didn't see that.  I'm going to hear about my speed control again.  Uggh."  or "Our goal as a team was no 3 putts.  Now I did it!  I let them down."

When you tell a story, you trigger emotions, such as sadness, anger, jealousy, and anxiety.  You label yourself as a bad putter or a stupid player or any of a million rude things.  Instead of playing golf, you are now living as the main character in your story.  It is often a story you have told to yourself over and over.  You know how it ends.

Can we learn to accept, so we can learn from it?

Story telling doesn't just occur when things go wrong.  If you are telling a story when things are going well, you are equally at risk for unneeded emotions, labels and becoming a character in a your version of the day.  Here is how that works; "I made two 15 footers on the first two holes.  I am -2.  I got this.  I am a great player.  Today is going to be my day.  I am going to kick butt and win this tournament.  I love golf."  What is wrong with this you ask?  If you believe in the power of positive thinking, this seems to be a good self talk.  But it isn't!  You aren't in the moment.  You aren't freely experiencing your day.  Your label of "greatness" will be tough to live up to if you make a mistake on the 3rd hole.  Your emotion of happiness is based on results instead of your efforts which means you are in the judgment role on the course instead of the player role.

If we want to have a true learner's mindset, we will still evaluate our efforts, but not for success or failure.  Instead, we will think about our 3 putt for what we can learn from it.  What adjustments are needed?  How can I do a better job on my next 15 footer?  When I make 2 long putts for birdie on the first two holes, I can recognize that I did a great job of seeing the speed and break of the putt or that I followed my game plan for the first two holes.  I am learning as much from doing good things as I do when I make mistakes.  If I have a learner's mindset, I am still noticing positives and negatives, but I am not telling a story, labeling myself or allowing my results to be in charge of my emotions.  Instead of a story, my self talk might be this after a 3 putt; "Ok, that wasn't good.  The first putt got away from me.  I need to do a better job of noticing the slopes around the hole.  I also need to see the putt's speed in my mind before I stroke it.  I will be sure to do that on my next putt."  Here is my self-talk after starting with two birdies; "Ok, that is a good start. I did a nice job of seeing the break on those two putts.  I will keep paying attention to that and learn from what I did on those two putts."

As I work on these player plans, I need to figure out how to better coach a learner's mindset.  We need to commit to the freedom that this mindset will offer us.  We worked on mechanics in the off-season and the players put their efforts into becoming more efficient in their movements.  As soon as we report back for the spring semester, our goal will move from the how to the what.  We will put our efforts into deciding the goal and then allowing ourselves to produce shots.  Instead of an inward focus to produce shots, we will shift to an outward focus.  We need to trust our abilities to play the game.  We have to trust our training, our athleticism, our creativity, and our melding of vision to action.  We are capable of incredible things when we are free to create them.

Finally, we need to figure out how to turn the critic in each player into a visionary.  We need to coach possibilities instead of fixes.  We need to star in the stories we create instead of telling our stories as we live them. Those are my goals for 2013.  Wish me luck!  I will share the player plans anonymously as they are written.  Perhaps they will help other players out there as well as our players.

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