Monday, November 25, 2013

A Moment in Time

So often I am asked what I look for in recruits.  My answer, often answered jokingly, is low scores.  That is the simple answer, but it isn't really true.  Why?  Because low scores at the age of 15 doesn't really predict low scores at the age of 20.  Much of the time, the trend continues and an outstanding 15 year old becomes a star in college.  Once in awhile, a star in college becomes a tour player.  Even more rarely, a player who scored well when she was 15 becomes a star on tour. 

Why is it so rare?  What would I look for in a player if not low scores?  Is there a way to predict success?  What will protect a young player from slumps or peaking at a young age?  What causes talented players to pack it in when others fight through and come out better for the adversity?  All of these answers can be answered by understanding that we aren't who we are at any moment in time.  Instead, we are a constantly changing, growing, learning and emotional being.

If I were to ask you, what has been the most defining moment in your life to date, how would you answer?  Take a moment and think.  Does that moment define who you are as a person?  Could it be the other way around?  Could who you are as a person decide your defining moment?  Write down your thoughts before going to the next section.

Was this hard to answer?  Are these valid questions?  Did you choose a successful moment or a failure?  Did that moment signify the end of something or the beginning?  Would those close to you choose the same moment?  Did you choose a moment because it was significant to others?  Now, think of the emotions you felt in that moment.  Will those emotions help you reach your goals or keep you from them?

How you answered the first question might give you insight into how you view yourself as a golfer, a competitor and a person.  The second set of questions will give you insight into whether or not this view will help you or hurt you as you strive to become a great player.  The answer of the moment or what it is that you believe defines you isn't the most important answer.  The emotion that you attach to that moment is!  What do you want?  Will the emotion which you connect with how you see yourself allow you to achieve what you want?  Whatever the emotion is, it will ultimately decide your path.  It will shape your view of yourself along that path.  It will feed your passion or desert it in search of a new passion.

Over my 20 years of coaching, I've seen "can't miss" players miss and I've seen anonymous players become stars.  This happens in every transition.  From junior golf to college golf and from college golf to professional golf.  You could go further and look at the transition to making it to a new level and winning at that level or winning majors.  There are so many levels of transitions in the life of a competitive golfer that you could honestly say transition is constant.  In fact, watching Yani Tseng, Stacy Lewis and In Bee Park work through the transition of becoming #1 in the World and holding on to it has been as interesting as watching Jordan Spieth transition from UT to the President's Cup.  For every Jordan Spieth, there are ten All American's each year who never get to the big tour.  Is it talent, resolve, resources or luck?  In my mind, success often boils down to how a player defines him or herself and the emotion attached to that definition or the moment in time that formed the definition.

Jordan Spieth has had one of the smoothest transitions from junior golf to college golf to winning on the PGA Tour of any player in a

It would seem that an All American would be chock full of confidence and have all the emotions needed to be successful, wouldn't it?  However, what if the player defines himself as a winner based on his past, but struggles to make cuts?  Does the confidence stay intact?  Does the definition change to that of a loser?  Does the player see a process of transition or a time of failure?  Now do you see the problem with definitions?  What could possibly be wrong with defining yourself as a winner?  Not winning is the answer.

Any way you have of defining yourself can be either positive or negative which is why it is important to give it some thought and make it a conscious choice.  The young man mentioned above could allow his definition to lead to positive emotions, such as resolve, determination or confidence.  He could define winning differently, such as winning might mean playing a round of golf with a positive mental attitude.  However, so many times, young players fall into slumps or fail to progress when they develop negative emotions from their own definitions.  One of my most talented players to coach was a Swede who hit an amazing 90% of her greens in junior golf.  She defined herself as a ball striker.  She won a lot!  When she got to college, she didn't have as much time to practice.  She played in a lot of wind for the first time in her life.  She was ill a lot and didn't feel very strong.  Every course was unfamiliar and seemed a lot longer than in junior golf.  You can guess what happened.  She dropped to hitting 50% of her greens in her first semester.  Now she had some choices to make.  She could either change her definition of herself or she could stick with ball striking and fight through until she was back to 90%.  It took her a full year to change her definition.  It was her choice and it came from her desire to help her team.  As soon as she changed her definition she began to develop her short game.  She worked to understand course management.  Her scores dropped and she was ready to turn pro after her college career.  Her ability to see herself differently and adapt her definition of herself allowed her to achieve her goal of playing professional golf.  In as many cases as this that are successful, there are probably five that aren't.

Nike seems to understand the need for believing in something other than results in this ad.

When the Swede arrived at college, she was defining herself based on a statistic of which she was proud.  Basing your definition on your score, a tournament finish or a skill is risky, because you will always judge yourself based on results.  Her ball striking was fantastic because she was a great athlete who worked hard to build a great swing.  She was methodical in her practice and trusting of her golf teacher and her swing.  She was very disciplined in her pre-shot routine and great at focusing on her targets.  Any and all of these factors could be used in a player's definition of herself and would allow her to move away from results.  She could have defined herself as a great athlete, a hard worker, methodical in her approach, trusting, disciplined or focused.  However, the fact that she thought that hitting greens was the key to her success discounted all the qualities that lead to the skill.  Not only that, it made her opinion of herself vary constantly.  Some days she hit 17 greens and knew she was a good player, but other days she hit only 12 greens and knew she wasn't a good player.

If a moment in time defines you, make sure it defines you because of what went into that moment.  Understand that a big win came because of your determination or great attitude, not simply because you were the best golfer that day.

Another player I coached didn't hit the ball very far or very high.  Her definition was more of a comparison than based on her own strengths.  She was on the range for hours working to get longer and better.  I asked her one day if it was possible for her to be the best putter on the team and she immediately understood what was behind the question.  It might have been the 50th time I helped her try to form a new definition of her golf game, but for some reason that question was the one that lit the light bulb.  She changed her focus to defining herself as a "rock roller" and became an important player for us and helped us reach the NCAA Tournament.

Make sure your definition is based on your gifts and talents, not based on a comparison to others.

A third player defined herself by what she didn't do well and what she didn't have in her game.  Her transition from junior golf in a small place to college golf didn't go well.  Her new definition of herself and her game was a long time coming, but it came in time for her to be a valuable asset to the team and to make her experience in college a great one.  Her journey through her tough times taught her a lot about herself and she is now a successful mom, wife and golf professional.  She gave me a little embroidered pillow with this quote on it:

"The woman who challenges herself to invent herself daily displays sublime creativity." 
Maya Angelou.

I think that pillow defined my player's transition perfectly and as a gift it reminds me whenever I look at it to believe in the power of transformations, which, in my mind, is the whole purpose of coaching.

When you think of how you would like to define yourself, don't think about what you can't do or what you don't have.  Some of the greatest people in history took what they could do and what little they had and turned it into greatness.
This blog post started with what I look for in recruits and quickly turned into transformations and transitions and the mindset required for them, because it all ties together.  I'm looking for players who define themselves not by their successes or failures, but by their love of the game.  Not by their past, but by their ability to grow as a player.  I'm looking for players who have enough balance in their lives to understand that defining moments as a golfer might not be as important as defining moments in other areas of life or that the two might intertwine.  I'm looking for players from families who aren't fixated on a defining moment from the past, but understand there will be more in the future.  I'm looking for players who don't allow the last shot or score to define them.  I'm looking for players who understand that their best qualities define them and not the trophies that those qualities earn.

What is it you want?  Whatever it is, make sure you have a way of defining yourself that provides you with the positive emotions that will help you achieve it.  If you want to make a transition, understand that it might require a transformation.

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