Thursday, July 24, 2014

On the Road to Mastery

Whether you are a junior golfer, a college golfer or a young professional, you might be on the road to mastery.  Do you know what mastery is?  Do you know how to achieve it?  Here is one of the best explanations of mastery that I've seen.  Take 11 minutes and watch it and then we'll start our talk about your travel down the road to mastery.


Here are some great quotes from Sarah Lewis' TEDTalk along with my ideas for how they relate to our journey in golf. 

"Success is a moment, but what we are always celebrating is creativity and mastery."

"Success is hitting that 10 ring, but mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can't do it again and again."

Both of these quotes hit home for me as a coach.  In today's world of result oriented athletics, it is good to be a coach at a school that understands what we are celebrating.  We are in this for the long haul.  We want to achieve mastery, not just success.  On a smaller scale, I've seen and worked with players who truly understood that their success wasn't mastery.  This is a hard thing to watch, because our nature is to bolster spirits, build confidence and point at success as an indicator.  The very best players are hardest on themselves, because they understand they haven't achieved mastery.  As a coach or parent, you must witness this drive and support the journey, not blow smoke.  There might be contentment with the process, but until mastery is achieved, there can't be contentment with success.  Numerous players come to mind who were not content with the success they achieved, because they knew they weren't yet masters.  Somehow, we must help these players find happiness within the process while allowing discontent with their place in that process.

At times, players have looked at their success as an end in itself.  These are also tough times for coaches, because pointing out that a success was merely a blip in a long line of blips doesn't always go the right way.  This athlete is often getting her cues from outside instead of inside, meaning that approval of others, trophies and publicity are the goals instead of the indicators of progress.  This is success that is ego driven.  Part of the maturation process for players on the path to mastery is to set aside the ego and tap into the passion they feel for their pursuit.  If there is no passion or connection, mastery won't be achieved.  When coaching a player to look for cues from within and to be her own judge, it is easy to be perceived as not having appreciation for past success or for the trappings that accompany it.  It is important to continually reward process and catch that player making progress that wouldn't get anyone's attention but the two of you.   It's possible for these players to mature into people who don't rely upon my approval or anyone else's.  They will know that results can be celebrated for the moment they provide and those moments are important, but they don't define the player.  Instead, they learn to define their games based upon their own standards.  This is a skill that players often learn in college.  College is a time when players have many more voices to decipher and a higher standard of competition.  It can be learned earlier or later in a career, but it is very important if mastery is the goal. 

Michelangelo's famous painting in the Sistine Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica shows an unrequited reach.  Couple that with his quote; "Lord, grant me that I can desire more than I can accomplish." and I believe you will see that he was a true master.
If golf is your passion and you want to play it at the highest level, then mastery is probably part of your vocabulary.  What does it mean and how can you strive for it?  Robert Greene believes that mastery comes from the following:
Intuition, level of effort and desire and connection to the game are the differences in masters.  You are a unique being with a calling.  Do you follow your inner voice?  If you listen to your calling and build the skills needed, you can turn your calling into mastery.  "Channel that natural excitement and interest you have in the right direction..."
From: An interview with Robert Greene, author of Mastery, a New York Times bestseller.  Here are some other relevant points he makes in this interview and in his book.   

You can't be afraid to make mistakes or feel suffering.  That is what will lead you to what works.

You can learn by what you hate as much as by what you love.

These are just a few of the highlights I pulled from the 30 minute interview.  I would urge you to watch it to listen to a person who is truly a studied expert in the science of mastery.  After listening to Greene speak on the importance of building skills, I began to relate that to the success or failure of players working to get to golf mastery.  Why do certain people seem to emerge on tour without much success along the way while others are successful at each stage yet fail to achieve mastery?  There are countless golfers on the PGA and LPGA of whom you know nothing about.  They weren't college All Americans or stars on the AJGA.  How did they reach the highest level without the successes of others?  On the other hand, we can all name top juniors who failed in college.  We can think of numerous college All Americans who struggled for 10 years on mini tours before giving it up.  What leads to two diverse outcomes for talented young golfers? 

There is a skill set for success at every level of the game.  When people look at golf mastery, they often see the physical skills that the pros possess.  However, the evident skills, such as driving the ball long or putting well are only a small percentage of what is needed to succeed as a golf professional.  Junior golfers are learning physical skills, course management, competitive skills and mental game skills.  This is the period of time that they learn both control over their game and creativity in their approach.  They must control their motion, the ball's flight, the distance the ball travels, their emotions and their strategy.  To move past control is to create.  They must learn to create shots, match shots to terrain or situations and create their temperament and attitude.  These skills will continue to develop long past junior golf, but these skills are the foundation for the next stages.  

To play college golf well and continue on their path, they will need to learn independence, self-reliance, preparation and time management.  For the first time, they will be in charge of their own leisure time, as small a window as that might be.  They will make decisions daily that effect their path to mastery and be forced to prioritize tasks and desires.  Along with this new set of skills, they are continuing to develop the skills learned as a junior golfer.  However, if they missed out on some of those skills, such as emotional control or creating varied shots, they will have a tougher time in college.  As coaches, we often see freshmen who are inept at problem solving within their swings or games.  They have had a lot of guidance and haven't learned to go through these steps on their own without a pro or a parent.  What the coach has to say is different and confusing from what they've heard and they don't have the skill set to assess if it is right for them.  These players will often return for their sophomore season with this skill intact, because they figured out it was needed for their success.  With this skill, they can listen to coaching and decide if it works for them or not. 

Young touring pros have another set of skills.  They must learn how to deal with uncertainty and become adaptable.  They become nomads with the only constant being the game and the relationships with the other players and tour staffers.  They have no idea when the next check will come or what it will total. For the first time, most are now in charge of both their leisure time and their work time.  They must book their own flights, find housing and figure out when, what and where to eat.  If they didn't learn independence in college, simple tasks such as laundry or budgeting will set them back.  Every stage of becoming a master golfer builds on earlier stages and the more that players decide to have ownership of the skill sets of each stage, the better the chance they will succeed at gaining mastery. 

Often times, well meaning parents and coaches take over certain skills in different phases of development.  While trying to help the golfer reach mastery, they are actually prolonging the process by delaying important learning.  The best example is perhaps the simplest.  If a young athlete makes a mistake, allow her to think it through and process it on her own.  Our need to point out mistakes, correct them, coach the player and create change is exactly that, our need.  Players who are allowed time on their own to make their own adjustments following mistakes are learning to rely on themselves, analyze their play, be adaptable and self-correct.  If our voice overcomes their voice, they may never develop it as is needed for mastery.

"Mastery is not a commitment to a goal, but to a constant pursuit." Sarah Lewis

These quotes might explain to us why Tiger, Padraig Harrington and Curtis Strange all made swing changes after they won majors.  The hardest person to please is the person working toward mastery.  What seems crazy to observers seems as merely part of the process for those players.  Their success was merely part of the pursuit; a moment in time. 

Another facet of Ms. Lewis' talk made me think of the great players who seem to be flawed.  She talks about the Spirit Line, which is a deliberate flaw that Navajo potters and weavers place in their work.  It provides them with a "way out" and also a reason to continue.  Think of the difference between two masters of golf, Tiger and Bubba Watson.  Tiger seems to use perfection as his path to mastery, while Bubba seems to use the Navajo Spirit Line as a way to stay on his journey.  He doesn't see himself or his swing as flawed, but the fact that we do provides him with an out.  He revels in his mistakes for the  opportunity for recovery and the creativity it calls for.  Tiger's goal seems to eliminate mistakes entirely.  Both are masters and both reached their mastery in their own way and on their own terms.  There is no one way. 

"As people become masters, they are truly one of a kind.  You need an open, fluid, adaptable energy.  You exploit opportunities.  Rigidity stops you from growth.  You need a fluid spirit." 
Robert Greene

"We build out of the unfinished idea, even if the idea is ourself." Sarah Lewis

Good luck to you if you are on a journey to mastery.  I'm on one myself and I hope I'm not halfway there. 

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