Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mental Toughness Training

Training in anything that requires performance under pressure usually involves challenges.  Pilots go into the simulator and have hours of practice dealing with mechanical failures and horrible weather.  The military has boot camp to toughen recruits both mentally and physically.  In sports, coaches set up practices with challenges and scenarios that predict situations their players will face in competition.  Focus is a learned skill and developed through situational learning.  It can be practiced in any situation and you have to remember that you can train your focus at any time.  It is all about practicing the control you need over all aspects of your self.

U.S. Airways Flt. 1549 landed in the Hudson River when both engines failed.  Chelsey Sullenberger was the pilot. Speaking with news anchor Katie Couric, Sullenberger said: "One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I've been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal."  Perhaps your training is preparing you to win the U.S. Open in twenty years time.

Focus seems to be about mental toughness, but leaders know it requires more.  It requires a strong spirit, too.  Your mind is held aloft by your spirit.  Think of your spirit as your best friend, your biggest supporter and as having your back.  On the golf course, your spirit is what keeps your feet moving and your head up.  It is what reminds you that you love golf, love the challenge, and you can do it.  Your spirit is as important to your mental toughness as anything your mind does to help you.

Your body is also important to your mental toughness.  Your toughness will show in your posture and in your step.  Your spirit and mental game are reflected by your body language, which means that training your body is an important part of the process.  As a high school basketball player, we were not allowed to put our hands on our knees and bend over.  No matter how many suicides we ran, we had to stand up straight afterwards.  Our coach was training mental toughness through our body language.  Think of yourself on the range after a poor shot.  Do you take a moment to reflect on the adjustment you need or do you pull another ball over quickly to erase the image?  Do you maintain a focused attitude or do you slump your shoulders and bang your club?  The relationship between your thoughts, emotions and body language is unquestionable.  In order to train your mental toughness, you need to model the body language you want at all times.  You can relax after golf!

The third facet of mental toughness is your control of your mind.  No one can control the thoughts that flit through their mind.  However, you can control what you choose to pay attention to and how you react to your thoughts.  If you are nervous on the first tee, you can decide to focus on your swing thought or a mantra, such as "slow and steady".  You can visualize the shot vividly and make sure you stick to your practiced routine.  All of us have nerves, bad thoughts, doubts, and fear, but how we choose to deal with them and where we put our focus is what separates the mentally tough from the mentally feeble.  Mental toughness means that you have a plan for your focus.  It means that you learn from mistakes you've made under pressure.  It means that you understand how important your spirit and body language are to the big picture.  It means that you look forward to challenges to test it.

If you choose to believe in yourself, you will find examples of your success throughout your day.  If you don't believe in yourself, you will also find ample examples to show you are correct.  Your belief in yourself shapes your focus and expectations.

Now it's time to train and test your mental toughness.  There are a number of ways you can add adversity to your golf practice.  You can play from longer distances than normal.  You can play a round of worst ball.  (Play two balls from the tee, choose the worst outcome and play two balls from there.  Keep going until you hole out both balls.)  You can play the rough as out of bounds.  You can play with three clubs instead of a whole set.  You can play a game where your competitors are allowed to move your ball a club length.  Golf is tough enough normally, but by heightening the challenges and pressure, you will learn quickly what bothers you on the course and eventually learn a response to it that allows you to stay strong in mind, body and spirit.

In our last tournament in Austin, TX, we had a bad weather day.  Our attitudes were excellent and we held our focus throughout the day.  The team's approach was just as it was in good weather and that allowed them to maintain not only their good play, but their spirits were high throughout the day and their body language was strong and uplifted.  I was also very impressed with Iowa State, who used the bad weather to excel and pick themselves up from a tie for 9th place to 4th place with the low round of the day.  They showed composure, toughness and had an opportunistic approach to the day.  They knocked eight shots off the previous day's score when the average team added five shots.  Playing in bad weather is another opportunity to test your toughness.

Tomorrow, we are playing from the back tees on the Blue Course at DAC.  Here are the things I hope to see from the team.
  • Composure.  Composure is the feeling of being calm and in control.  It is important for golfers, especially when facing challenges.  It allows you to keep your head in the game and not get emotional over mistakes or problems. 
  • Game Plans.  Game plans will be necessary both in how to play the course and in how to deal with situations.  We will have a south wind tomorrow, which will make the 4th hole a long one over water.  It is 210 and the wind will be in our faces.  Will anyone consider playing it in two shots and gaining a putt for par instead of hitting 3 wood or driver?  Will the team think about putting themselves in the right position on long par 4's to have their go-to wedge distance on their 3rd shot or to give themselves an angle to the hole?  Will each player have a goal for the day that will help her get focused and stay in each shot until the 18th hole?
  • Athleticism.  Athleticism means relying upon your strengths as a player and maintaining them throughout your round.  If you have a smooth tempo, will you destroy it by swinging hard or will you maintain it and get what you can from each shot?  Can you maintain your swing in tough conditions and not give in to tension and pressure?  Can you be yourself or will you try to be perfect?  Will you play the game?
  • Attitude.  Will your spirit be there for you?  Will it keep your head up and a spring in your step? Will you see the fun in facing a challenge?  Will you let go of mistakes and problems? Can you keep pressure from making you press and instead decide you will do what you can with each shot?
  • Momentum.  Can you create momentum for yourself when you need it?  Can you capitalize when you are given chances and minimize your problems when you get in trouble?  Can you bounce back? 
  • Scoring.  Will the team do whatever they can to score?  Will they play position golf?  Will they have sharp short games?  Will they make putts when needed?   
  • Accountability.  Finally and most importantly, will the team have full accountability for their games?  There is always an opportunity to make excuses when the challenge gets the better of you, but as a player, your responsibility is to your score and your team's score.
Mental toughness means you are strong in mind, body and spirit.

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