Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Definition of Competitive

Today's blog began as a conversation on a plane ride.  Everyone loves to talk golf and our conversation turned to Jordan Spieth.  When asked what I believed separated Jordan from his peers, my answer was competitiveness. My fellow passenger commented that all tour pros are competitive and that alone couldn't be the deciding factor. While I would agree that all are competitive to have made it to that level of play, all things in this world lie somewhere on a scale and Jordan's competitiveness seems to be a 10.

Jordan Spieth

Think of the many variables needed to be the best at any sport. There's work ethic, persistence, resilience, strength, focus, speed, athleticism and on and on and on. One of these many traits is competitiveness. While you can measure speed or tally the hours worked, you can't measure competitiveness.  How can you even describe it?  Here is a glimpse into true competitiveness.  Our team once had the good fortune to spend a day with Fred Shoemaker, a golf professional and mental game coach. He shared with us a scenario to gauge our mental game. It goes like this:

What if:
You were on the 1st tee of the biggest tournament of your life to this point.

Annika Sorenstam on the first tee at Colonial in her PGA Tour debut.  Imagine the nerves!

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

What if:

You top your tee shot and it trickles off the tee and ends up 30 yards from you in the rough short of the fairway.

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

What if:
You go on to win the tournament.

Stop and consider your thoughts, emotions and actions.

The person who is a 10 on the competitiveness scale would have the same approach to the first two scenarios, whether or not she knew she would go on to win. It's an attitude that keeps the player in the present doing the best she can with what is in front of her. After the topped shot, there might be some anger, chagrin or frustration, but it's fleeting and addressed. If a player is a competitor, she moves on and tackles the task at hand, which in this case would be the 2nd shot from rough.

At a recent golf camp, I presented this scenario to the junior golfers. One of the golfers told me that anger and embarrassment were natural and automatic reactions to that scenario and wouldn't change given the known outcome.  While this was clearly true for this junior golfer, it doesn't need to be true for all or for you.  If we look back at Fred's presentation, it was based on his desire to teach the idea that every shot is unique and not to allow one shot to effect the next.  His scenario allows for so many reactions and outcomes, but only the truest competitor would remain consistent in the first two "what if's" without knowledge of the third. This is what I see in Spieth. Even though we both live in Dallas, I have no first-hand knowledge of this, but it's a quality you actively look for when recruiting and coaching and one that is recognizable.

If a player walks off the tee determined not to top another driver, he would be in a reaction mode to that first swing all day.  If a player walks off the tee determined to fix his poor swing, he is now in a mechanical mode vs. a playing mode. If a player walks off the tee embarrassed by his shot, he is allowing the swing to define him as a player. If a player walks off the tee angry, he stays in the past.  If a player walks off the tee worried it will happen again, he is in the future. A competitor stays in the present.

True competitors are rare.  Seve comes to mind. He was often far from his target yet determined to make birdie. He was never concerned with the question, "How did I get here?" But instead was always thinking, "How do I get out of here?"

Seve Ballesteros never worried about where his ball was, but only about how to get the next shot in or close to the hole.

How can you move a player up the scale toward a 10 as a competitor?  If you were to teach competitiveness, how would you do it?  Here are some things I see competitors do on the golf course. These things can be coached, copied, modeled and rewarded.

Head up, eyes open, and an outward awareness.
Short-lived or no reactions to poor results.
Focus on how many vs. how.
Sense of momentum and opportunities.
Bounce backs.
Vision of success and audacious in its pursuit.
Descriptions such as gritty, grinder, magician, tenacious, phenom, shot maker, etc.

Just as intense and excited on the 18th tee as she is on the first tee.

Here are ways to hold yourself back from becoming a great competitor on the course:
A focus on weaknesses instead of strengths, mistakes vs. opportunities.
Judgment based on swing feel or purity of contact vs. ball flight to target relationship.
Allowing the mind to wander to the past or future.
Inward thoughts reflected by head down posture and squinty eyes.
Descriptions such as better range player, streaky, hot and cold, inconsistent, talented, etc.
Plays to avoid trouble and fears failure.
Strings mistakes along. Dwells or tries harder and plays make up golf. 

Body language that reflects results.
Allows mistakes in one area of the game to effect others.

All skills can be learned and improved. It takes dedication and discipline to make a change. You can learn from what Jordan Spieth does so well. You can become a better competitor on the golf course.

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