Monday, February 25, 2013

How We Communicate (With Ourselves)

"There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it."
- Dale Carnegie

Dale Carnegie understood performance.  One of his concepts was that you could change other people's behavior by changing your behavior towards them.  What if we took that approach to ourselves and decided that in order to change our behavior, we change how we communicate to ourselves? 

Go back to the quote at the top. What are you saying to yourself on the golf course?  How are you saying it?  What do you do and how do you look to yourself?  If you think about your contact with yourself, you might find the key to unlocking your greatness on the course. 

Over the years, I have witnessed players employing obvious techniques of self-talk.  I've had players who hit themselves, kicked their putters, pouted, stomped, cried, yelled out loud or clammed up.  I've also seem players fist pump, cue their focus, smile, get squinty-eyed with focus and strut with energy.  They are often overt in either their negativity or positivity.  When players are overt, it is easier to know how to coach them.  It is tough to coach what I cannot witness as a coach and that is self-talk.  

Dr. Seuss is equal to Dale Carnegie in teaching the power of positive thought.  Here is a great quote from him.

What are the players saying to themselves as they make their way around the course? Are they focused or distracted?  Accepting or judgmental? Calm or worried?  Patient or impatient?  Focused outward or inward?  Peaceful or angry?  Kind or mean?  

The more I talk to players, the more I learn about what works and what doesn't.  I had a great conversation with a couple of players after our recent 36 hole day at the Central District Invitational.  On days when we play 36 holes, the players are truly tested.  Their mental game often suffers from sheer exhaustion.  It is easier to give in to the bad self-talk when you are physically worn out.  I mentioned another quote from Dale Carnegie.  It was,

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t think about yourself. Try to help others, and your fears will vanish.” - Dale Carnegie

One of my seniors, Felicia, said, "That is exactly what was helping me on my final 9 holes today."  When I asked her about it, she told me that when she was getting really tired and her shoulder started to ache, she thought about her teammates and not letting them down.  She shifted the focus from herself to others and that allowed her to conquer her negative self-talk and simply replace it with the priority of her team.  Her reaction lead me to yet another Dale Carnegie quote:

“Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.”
- Dale Carnegie

When I see players drag themselves around the course, dragging a bag of mistakes behind them, I can see them lose their energy to their problems.  Everyone gets tired on 36 hole days, but players who stay in the moment as they play seem fresher when the day is done than players who replay shots over and over until they have played 72 holes in their head.  The old cliche of staying in the moment is often a product of our self-talk.   


How can you improve your self-talk?  Make it powerful!  Feelings follow actions.  Can you keep your physical reactions to a minimum?  Limiting any negative reactions will keep negative feelings from overwhelming you.  Adding positive physical actions will help you.  A simple smile, a fist pump, a focus cue or a little skip when you think a happy thought are all examples of a feeling leading to action. Mindfulness.  Use the three C's of mindfulness.  Catch your thoughts, challenge your thoughts and change your thoughts.  Just to understand that you aren't a victim to your thoughts is power in and of itself.  Perspective and Attention.  Just as you can be mindful of your thoughts, you can be mindful of your perspective and attention.  A round of golf can be full of suffering or full of joy and amazingly, that choice is not one based on results, but perspective and attention.  That seems so hard to understand when you are stuck in the cycle of reacting to results, but choosing where you place your perspective or attention is the key to maintaining a great attitude.  

Here is the last, but most important Carnegie quote for you to think about when it comes to your self-talk on the golf course:

If you want to check out more about Dale Carnegie go to this site.  You can also check out the Dale Carnegie Leadership Training here. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Structured Golf Practice

As a student at the University of Northern Iowa, I earned a minor in Coaching.  I'm not sure how many schools offer that as a course study, but I can tell you that those classes were great.  Our professors were the head coaches on campus and I had the honor of learning from Coach Berry and Coach Arabi-Fard.  One thing both of them stressed was to have a controlled practice in order to accomplish what you wanted each day.

From The Well Prepared Coach website.

At SMU, our goal is to spend half of our practice time with structure and control and allow the players to play and focus on what they need in the other half of the time.  Golf is a bit different from other sports in that most athletes have come to college with a great deal of self-direction and discipline regarding their games.  Our structured days are generally focused on putting, short game, mental game and skill development.  Our unstructured days are called OYO or "on your own" and play days.  It is important to have both types of practice to ensure that as coaches, you are leading the players to be their best, but also allowing them to feel in control of their game and the time to play on the course and score.

Here is an example of a structured day.  You will notice that there are time limits associated with each segment.  This is much the same as a basketball practice that touches on 10 different skills or play development over the course of two hours.  If you allow your players to choose what they want, they will often avoid the very area that they need the most.  None of us like to feel unsuccessful or bad at a skill so we will unconsciously steer ourselves away from them.  On the other hand, you will sometimes find the player who wants to stay with something until it is accomplished.  While that sounds good as a theory, there are too many skills needed to play great golf to get stuck on one skill for hours.  It is important to vary the skills and keep the players fresh and challenged.  

If possible, we meld competition into our practice schedules.  It ensures focus, since we don't have any players who enjoy losing.  Another thing we do is introduce visual aids to help players with identifying targets and focus.  In this practice, it was paper plates on the greens held in place with a tee.  It doesn't need to be fancy or extravagant, but if you can make it colorful or fun, all the better.  We also had string on the green for lag putt putting practice.  

Mustang Golf

Thursday, February 21    6:30 AM Workout
            2:00 Practice at DAC
            Putting - 1 hour
                Short Putt Challenges - 20 minutes max
                 Put 10 tees down at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 feet.  Start at 1 and putt from each tee going back, then up and then back.  Do it until you make at least 25/30 putts.
                Play Around the World. Put 5 tees around a cup with some break.  Start at 4 feet and make all 5 in a row, move to 5 feet and make all 5 in a row and then do the same from 6 feet.  Use your routine and SFT!
                Mid Length Putt Challenges - 20 minutes max
                Annika Challenge - Put 3 tees in a triangle around the hole from between 10 and 30 feet.  Make 2/3 to finish challenge.  If you do it quickly, find a new hole with more break.  Go through your routine.  You get one putt from each tee and cannot start over. 
                Find 2 holes about 10-20 feet away from each other.  Play the make it game with a teammate.
                Put a club 2 feet behind a hole.  Putt 1 ball from 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 feet.  You get 5 points if you make it, 3 points if you are high side within the hole and club, 1 point if you are within 1 foot after putt and -3 if short or low side.  Play until you get at least 15 points.  Go through your                 routine.  SFT!

                Long Putt Challenges - 20 minutes max
Putt until you get a ball within a clubhead of the string from 30, 40, 50 and 60 feet.
            Chipping - 30 minutes
           Pitching - 30 minutes
                Hit Your Mark - 15 minutes
                    There will be flags out and targets on the greens.  Hit from each flag until you hit each target twice.  Vary your clubs and trajectories.  Which club makes the shot easiest for you?  Which                     trajectory makes the shot easiest.  Make sure you drop the ball and don’t improve the lie.
                Compete - 15 minutes    
                    Use one ball and play at least two matches to 5 points.  Get the ball up and down.  Point for an up and down.  No points if you both get it up and down.  Drop the ball.  Make it tough!
            Bunkers - 30 minutes
                Hit 50 bunker shots today in sets of ten.  How many did you get within 5 feet?  Double that and it is likely your up and down %.  Tell us how you do.
            Ball Striking - 30 minutes
                Spend time with a partner on the range.  Your partner can put your ball in any lie and will call your shot for you.  She can put imaginary trees in front of you or ponds of water on the range.  Be creative, be mean, have some fun and hit some great shots.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Your Three Responsibilites

What are your three responsibilities on the golf course?  They are to have a game plan of how you want to play the course, to have a routine that gets you focused and to have a connection to the target on each and every shot.  The four hours on the course are important, but the time you spend preparing to play is equally important.  Here are some things to think about.  

First, there is the start.  Do you wonder how you will play when you stand on the first tee or do you decide how you will play?  A tentative start is a mark of uncertainty and can be caused by being in a new situation.  Your first time in a final group or your first time in a professional event are examples.  Your mind is busy wondering how you will do today.  As soon as you allow it to wander to those thoughts, you are in trouble.  Instead, you must focus on your game plan, your routine and your target.  Decide before you step on the tee what your focus will be and stick to it. 

Alex Rossi sees the shot she will hit.

Once the day starts, you will probably get a bad break.  A putt will lip out, a ball will rest in a divot or a shot will plug in a bunker.  This will happen, because it always does.  It's golf.  How will you react when it happens?  Better yet, how will you act?  If you are in an action state instead of a reaction state, you will do what is needed to maintain your focus.  If you are in a state of reactions, you will be all over the map emotionally.  Bad breaks seem to happen at the most important times.  While that isn't really the case, they become magnified when you feel as though results are crucial.  Have an action plan for your bad breaks.  You can count your breaths or your steps to the next shot.  You can see it as a challenge that you are up to confronting.  You can simply let it go and play from that spot as though it is a garden spot. 

As your round progresses, it might be going really well or really poorly.  Either way, its not for you to notice or judge.  Your focus will continue to be on the shot at hand.  What is your game plan?  Are you holding to your routine?  Are you connected to your target?  These are the questions you need to ask yourself between shots.  A little relaxation between shots is okay, too.  Chat a bit or enjoy the birds and trees.  Your state of mind between shots is important.  If you spend your time with worry or what if's, it will be hard to stick to your three areas of focus which will continue to be your game plan, your routine and your target.  This sounds a bit redundant, doesn't it?  Good golf is exactly that, redundant.  It consists of a measured approach that is planned for, acted upon and executed from beginning to end.

Jennifer Park hits a shot close to the hole.

What distractions will you encounter in your round?  We already talked about bad breaks and your mind wandering to your score.  You could also face poor weather, a slow playing partner or a million other things that want to jog you from your goal of playing good golf.  All must be faced, acknowledged and set aside.  A good sense of humor would be a ally in most situations.  If you could laugh to yourself as you jog down the fairway, on the official's clock, because of being paired with the slowest player on earth, you would be taking an attitude that would help you focus when it comes time to execute your next shot. 

The better prepared for distractions you are, the better you will handle them.  Know exactly how long your pre-shot routine lasts in case you are on the clock.  Have all of your gear with you in case of bad weather.  When you play a practice round, figure out how you will play the hole if the wind comes from the opposite direction.  Before you start your round, think about what you might face and how you will act if it happens.  It will make it easier to keep your three responsibilities in the forefront.  Remember those responsibilities?  They are to focus on your game plan, go through your routine and connect with the target on each and every shot. 

Finally, you might be doing everything well.  Your focus is in good shape, your game is sharp and you feel in control.  Yet, the ball isn't falling.  Birdies just won't come and the odd bad break might cause a bogey or two.  Is it time to try harder?  Can you will the ball into the hole?  Can you focus more?  The answer to these questions is no, pressing isn't the answer.  Frustration is probably the most divisive distraction of all, but is often accepted by players as justified based on the situation.  It never is.  All of your planning and preparation will be for nothing if you allow frustration to take you off track.  Stay the course and play golf as you planned.

If you fail to embrace your three responsibilities on any one shot, your day is not ruined.  You will have another chance as soon as you walk to your ball.  Don't judge your performance, simply recommit to it.  That sounds easy when it is actually a hard thing, but as you do it more and more often, it will become easier for you.  The next time you play golf, focus on your three responsibilities.  Plan for distractions and bad breaks.  Don't justify unneeded emotions and remember above all, have some fun on the golf course.  Your smile and sense of humor might be your best friends at the end of the day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Step Up to Greatness

Over the years, I have been in a good position to watch players embrace greatness.  Players are individuals, so no two take the same path to success.  There are, however, some similarities from which we can learn.  Here are some I have noticed.

Personal Responsibility -
One mark of success seems to be personal responsibility for one's game, one's time, one's focus and one's goals.  These are the players who stand in the bunker for two hours until they feel like they "got it".  These are the players who stay home on a Saturday night so they can get up early on Sunday to go to the course.  These are the players who aren't disappointed by a poor round or a rough tournament, because they understand that their goals are unshakeable. 

Coachability -
Players who want greatness are sponges for knowledge.  They don't mindlessly accept coaching or advice, but instead, take in information, see how it fits them and use what they can to become better players.  They are often fun to coach, not only because of their skill sets, but because they will argue points, challenge you and take what you have offered and give you back more.  Coachability doesn't mean mindless acceptance, but a give and take relationship that teaches both teacher and player new things.

Unshakeable Belief -
You might think that players who embrace greatness are extremely confident and know how good they are, but that simply isn't the truth.  They suffer from the same doubts as anyone else.  The one thing they do know is that they will do what is needed to be successful.  Their unshakeable belief doesn't always lead to confidence, but simply the knowledge that they will work harder to reach their goal.  When faced with failure, their belief is that they can find their way through their diligence, determination and doggedness until they find their success.

Comfortable in Your Own Skin - 
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
There has to be a time when you know deep within your bones that you are good enough to be successful and not be reliant upon anyone or anything outside of yourself to validate your worth as a player.  You have to be yourself, like yourself and quit comparing yourself to others. 

A Foundation of Faith -
Greatness seems to be easier to achieve for those who have a foundation of faith.  Faith is a belief that is not based on proof.  There are so many times in a golfer's career that there will be no proof of success or indications of greatness, yet there can still be the belief.   The ability to believe in the unknown or unseen is a trait that needs to be practiced and developed.  Players who come to the game with the ability can translate their faith into their own unseen success. 

These are a few of the traits I have noticed in the players who have achieved success at the highest levels of the game.  They aren't unique to golf, but golf seems to require them the most of any sport.  If you want greatness, think about how you approach each of these traits.  In these, you might find your key to success.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cover the Ball

What does it mean to cover the ball at impact?  It is a phrase I first heard when I was young from the old timers at the muni where I worked.  They were trying to get me to get off my toes at impact and "cover" it.  It is a lesson that a lot of young ladies need, due to learning to play before back, forearm and hand strength develop.  Young players have a tough time hanging onto the angle into impact, so one way to create room for a release is to move up.  It is also tough to hang onto your angle when you are stuck behind your hip.  You can see the move still in use on the LPGA by players such as Lexi Thompson, pictured below. 

Lexi Thompson, who turned pro at age 15, at impact. 
Ko at age 15 just after impact.  Her shoulders have rotated, her feet are solidly on the ground and her spine angle remains the same.  Both Ko and Thompson are phenoms, but based on what they are both managing in their golf swings, I think Ko will chalk up a lot more wins in the next ten years.  Compare this picture with the one of Lexi below and you can see the stability which leads to control in Ko's swing.
Lexi from the front at impact.  Her shoulders are rounded because they have stopped rotating.  Instead of turning through the ball, Lexi creates space by going up.  She locks her left knee and pops onto her toes.  She also loses her spine angle, which also creates a bit of space. 
This is the move that gets Lexi in trouble.  Her right arm is behind her hip in this shot.  Players who get into this position have a couple of options.  Some will spin their hips out of the way to create space and some do what Lexi does and pop up. 
Here is Ko at the same time in the downswing and her right elbow is already in front of her hip.  She is swinging freely and is not stuck behind her hip.  Her chest is covering the ball beautifully.  She makes this move as well as any woman golfer today.  The last female I saw that looked this good on the down swing was Annika, who also freely delivered her arms, hands and club to the ball while rotating strongly to the left side. 

Strength in athletes doesn't have to mean big muscles.  We train to develop our muscles for golf, but golf strength is also reliant upon using what you have correctly.  If we learn moves in our swing that are incorrect, we will need more strength to offset them than if we learned correctly.  Balance and support are crucial to strength in the golf swing.  With that in mind, let's talk about covering the ball.

Stand with your hands up, as though you were being robbed.  Your shoulders and arms should look like the bottom of a square.  Now, put your body into golf posture and turn back and through.  Keep the relationship of your arms and shoulders intact.  As your trunk turns, your elbows remain away from your body and your shoulders remain wide.  As your trunk turns from the top to the target, can you feel how your chest works out and down?  That motion is covering the ball.

In talking with players, they often feel that covering the ball means that the chest quits turning, but it is exactly the opposite.  Rotation is what allows us to move our chest down and over the ball.  When rotation stops, the chest raises up and our spine angle is lost.  

Many young players get in trouble when their shoulders turn without supporting the arms.  In other words, they start the club back and immediately lose the relationship between their ribs and their elbows.  Imagine starting your back swing as though you are tossing something heavy.  Having grown up in Iowa, I know that kids on the farm often throw bales.  They don't do it with strength, they do it with balance and leverage.  If young players start their swing with their arms alone, their strength will be used for compensation of poor positions.  Here is Lydia Ko at aged 12.  She obviously doesn't have the strength of a golfer such as Tiger Woods, but her trunk supports her shoulders, her shoulders support her arms, her arms support her hands and her hands support her club.  This relationship is what creates the strength needed for a good golf swing at any age.

Lydia Ko at age 12 at the top of her swing. She has great balance at the top!
Lydia Ko in her downswing.  This picture shows her upper right arm in a straight up and down position and the elbow is in front of her hip.  This allows her to cover the ball. 

Ko's finish position once again shows a wide left elbow supported by her shoulders.  Her arms don't swing around her body, they swing with and in front of her chest. 

The simplest way to work on this in your swing is to do some drills to feel a good turn.  One is the Hobo Drill.  Address the ball and simply toss the club onto your right shoulder without turning or swinging.  With the shaft of the club on your shoulder, turn back.  At the top, gently extend your hands away from your right ear to get some width and swing down and through.  This will give you the feeling of turning your trunk instead of using your arms to turn your upper body.  Another drill that has worked in teaching this move is to put a shaft across a player's hips that extends a few inches outside the right pocket.  Have the player swing up and back down making sure to get the elbows over the shaft.  This will create a feel that is brand new if the player routinely gets stuck.  It often makes them think they are coming over the top of the ball, but it is simply a cover position that is unlike what they have felt in the past.

Here is a video of that drill.

I like the position of the right elbow on this down swing.  I believe it is Matt Kuchar.  Once again, the trunk supports the shoulders, the shoulders support the arms and the arms support the hands.  I especially like the move to get the club in position.  His chest simply turns to the ball and his arms stay with it.  His is a flat swing and it all still works well.  

Hopefully, you understand a bit more about how the balance of your body supports your swing.  Learn to swing your arms in front of your chest and you will be able to swing freely.  One last video for you to watch from another great female player, Suzann Pettersen.  She talks about exactly what we are talking about in this blog.  She has struggled in the past with getting the club stuck behind her.  I like how she talks about having the club in front of her body and how she is working on speed and release.  Enjoy!  Suzann Pettersen NG360 Video


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