Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Art of Misdirection

I love to watch Ted Talks.  You can find them on youtube or at Ted.com.  They are short, but usually thought provoking.  I watch random ones looking for new ways of looking at old problems. I found one today called The Art of Misdirection.  It is by Apollo Robbins, a world class pickpocket.  He shows the audience how he can easily control a person's attention and predict their behavior.  He explains that what you choose to attend to is what you are aware of.  His job as a pickpocket is to control your attention and he tells us that your attention is a limited resource.   Watch it!  It is both entertaining and enlightening.

Apollo Robbins plying his trade

If your attention is a limited resource, where would you choose to place it when you play golf.  On the first tee, what do you attend to?  Do you notice the tee markers and where they aim you?  Do you feel the wind's direction and strength?  Can you feel tension in your shoulders?  Is your breathing slow and deep or fast and shallow?  Can you clearly visualize the shot you want to hit?  Can you focus on the target?  Can you feel your pre-shot routine being rushed or slowing down?  Do you notice the people watching you?  Does your coach or dad or fellow-competitor make you nervous?  Are you remembering the shots you hit on the driving range during warm up or the shot you hit here yesterday?  Are you thinking about how tough that hole location will be unless you hit a perfect second shot?  Did you notice how the other players' balls flew in the wind?

Oh my!  There are so many things you could pay attention to in any given moment on the golf course.  Your job is to figure out how to use this limited resource in a way that helps you stay in the present, focus on the shot at hand and keep the faith that you possess the skill needed to perform.

Apollo's job is to distract a person's awareness and perception of what is happening and to use this distraction for his gain.  Golf's job is much the same.  The game works constantly to distract you from the moment and take you away from attending to what will truly help you create, learn and score.

Those three areas of the game, create, learn and score, need to be approached by attending to different things.  To create shots, you need to have an awareness of what the club is doing and how.  This is a big segment of today's teaching since Trackman and Flightscope have shown us how our impact creates shots.  To learn the game, you need to have an awareness of what your body is doing and how.  This has been a big focus in teaching since t.v. was invented and we were able to document what players did to hit the ball.  To score, you need to have an awareness of what the ball is doing versus the golf course.  This is how golf is learned by all players eventually, if the score matters.  You might laugh at the last part of that sentence, but there are players who would rather hit it long or swing the club perfectly than score well. 

All three areas are important and require you to pay attention to different things.  As coaches, we often see overlearning in one area, which leads to attention problems in other areas.  For example, players hit a bunch of balls thinking about what their right arm or left knee is doing to learn the proper movement, but continue to turn their attention to it on the golf course, when they would be better served being "outside" their bodies and aware of the golf course or conditions.  Most great tournament players focus on the ball, the course, the conditions, the club and themselves in that order.  If a tournament player flips the order of attention, she is in trouble of losing track of what is happening in the round.  As coaches, we are amazed at players not feeling the wind, playing break or seeing that a shot or putt is downhill, but the reality is, attention is a limited resource and where a player places it during a round of golf is completely under her control.  Our job then becomes to train players where to place attention to be most effective at playing the game.

Another way that a golfer can have her attention pickpocketed is by leaving the present and going to past memories or thinking about future events out of her control.  In the film, Apollo talks about asking a question that focuses his mark's thoughts inward, effectively taking away his perceptions of what is happening around him.  He says that you can access memory or you can be aware of the present, but you can't do both effectively.

Think of the questions you ask yourself during a round of golf and how quickly you can turn your attention inward.  Do you recognize any of these?  What's wrong with my swing?  What is my problem today?  How many times am I going to leave it short?  What am I going to shoot today?  When you ask yourself these questions, do you search for the answers inside?  Are you distracting yourself and losing your perception of the reality around you?

How about asking yourself different questions such as; Where is the landing area?  What is the wind doing?  What is my ball flight today?  Which way will the ball bounce?  How much break does this putt have?  Is this putt uphill or downhill?  Will this chip shot roll out or check?  Will my ball spin from this bunker lie?

It doesn't have to be all about the outside.  You can check in on your self-awareness as a player, too.  You can ask yourself questions that will help you attend to yourself as a player.  How is my tempo?  Am I tense?  Is my head up so I see the green before I get to it?  Am I focused on what will help me?  Can I relax a bit between shots?  Any and all of these questions are appropriate ways for you to check in on yourself as you play.  If you are in control of where you place your attention, it might be appropriate to check in once in awhile and make adjustments when needed.  Self-awareness is not the same as self-consciousness.  Awareness means you understand what you need to be successful, while consciousness means you can think of little else but yourself.

The point to all of this is, you need to be aware of your attention and where you are placing it.  You need to control situations differently depending on your needs.  You need to understand that attention is a finite quantity and if you have just a little bit to focus on, be careful how you use it.

Lack of attention can create a spiral that gets away from a player quickly.  For example, I often ask players during warm up from which direction the wind is blowing.  If I don't allow them to check before answering, they often can't answer.  Yet, I am witnessing them work to offset the fade that the wind is creating.  By not having awareness of conditions, they could disrupt their swing, their alignment or their club choices.  Warm up for a round of golf quickly becomes a worrisome session of "fixing" when in fact, paying attention was all that was needed. 

As a coach, my job is to teach you to pay attention to what you pay attention to.  Got it?  If you walk down the second hole paying attention to the putt you just missed on the first green, you are already in trouble after only 15 or 20 minutes of golf.  However, if you are walking down the second fairway, taking note of the breeze, the hills, how the green looks in front of you and your pace, you are paying attention to all the right stuff. 

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