Monday, September 29, 2014

Goals, Expectations and the Big Picture

Are goals and expectations valuable to you as a golfer?  YES!  Goals and expectations are tools that allow you to see the Big Picture and move forward into a future that you create.

Are goals and expectations harmful to you as a golfer?  YES!  Goals and expectations can overcome your ability to be in the moment on the golf course and disrupt your focus on the shot at hand.

As with all things, there is a learning curve for your ability to use goals and expectations as tools that allow you to both see the Big Picture and move within it to excel in the moment.  This learning curve is revisited constantly and even the top professionals sometimes allow their goals and expectations to creep into their heads at the wrong times.  However, the more seasoned the pro, the better they are at staying in the moment and the shot at hand.

How does it work?  Let's say you are playing in the Ryder Cup and you desperately want to win your match against the European Team today.  That is an obvious goal.  Both you and your opponent share the goal.  There is no need to revisit it during play.  Your goal is coupled with a lot of expectations for the day.  You expect that your preparation was enough for you to prevail.  You expect to rise to any challenge you face.  You expect a tough competition.  You expect your opponent to hit great shots.  You expect the crowd to be against you.  You expect to have courage, patience and determination.   

Expectations are important tools for preparation.  They help you anticipate what you will face and allow you to form your mindset to meet it.  They help you prepare for the intensity of competition.  Expectations are a part of the Big Picture.  Once you tee it up on the first hole, your goal of winning and your expectations need to drop away and you need to play the game.  If at any time your mind pops back into the Big Picture with thoughts such as, "I'm winning" or "I want to win" you are out of the moment and in trouble.  You are now in the future.  The outcome is the enemy to the moment.  The goal hasn't changed, so why worry about it?

As for your expectations, they are Big Picture tools, not tools for the golf course.  You might catch yourself smiling when one of them comes true, but they aren't the focus.  They might have helped you reach this tournament, but they won't help you win it.  Put them away for after play.  They are especially harmful when they don't meet reality.  If you hit it great last week and expect it to continue, but it doesn't, you can lose yourself to what is lost and spend your time searching for it.  Great players accept their realities and don't allow expectations to follow them onto the first tee.  If you expect the greens to be fast and they are slow, you will be slower to make the adjustment to what you are facing.  Expectations aren't reality.  They are merely ways of helping you prepare for what might be reality.

The Big Picture will take you right off the road to excellence during play.

There are many ways that your goals and expectations can get in the way during a round of golf.  If you spent the last month working hard on your golf swing and getting a move down, you had the goal of mastery and the expectation that it would make you a better ball striker.  Both of those are important steps to becoming a champion golfer.  However, during play of the game, that goal and expectation cannot be in your mind. If you make a bad swing (and you will make at least one bad swing) and fall into an old habit that you had worked to overcome, it was simply a bad swing that probably produced a bad shot.  If you stay in the moment, you will have an opportunity to create a good shot very soon.  If you decide instead to think about your goal of changing your swing and your expectation that you would be a better ball striker, you are now in the big picture and out of the moment or out of the shot at hand.  Competition is about the goal of playing the game and making the best score possible.  That is also obvious, unless you replace it with your goals of swinging well, winning the tournament, impressing your gallery, or any number of things that can get in the way of playing with freedom.

There is a time to think of the Big Picture.  That time is when you are contemplating your game and its strengths and weaknesses.  It can be prior to a practice session or following a tournament.  It can involve others, such as your pro or your coach.  It needs to be an unemotional look at statistics, misses, good shots, bad shots and progress.  However, none of this can happen during play.  Play needs to be a time when you are "ALL IN" with the shot at hand.  There should never be a Big Picture moment during a round.  As soon as you have it, you are sunk unless you replace it with renewed focus on the shot at hand.  Everyone has Big Picture thoughts creep into their minds at times, but to dance with those thoughts during the round is a bad idea.  Instead, leave them behind with determination to be in the moment. 

There are players who play the game in the Big Picture at all times and they are able to reach high levels of play.  The problem with playing in that frame of mind is, they are in a state of constant reaction to what has happened (the past) and working to change the past with their next swing (the future).  They are in a state of evaluation at all times and judge each shot, each golf swing and each result looking for feedback.  They spend their time on the golf course searching for patterns and adjustments of what they do.  When they finish, they are mentally exhausted and usually find few answers to the questions they pondered in their round.  They quickly head to the driving range in search of answers.  The habit will remain until they figure out that the questions will never end unless they learn to quit asking them during play.

When great players learn to live in the moment on the course, it allows them to create shots, adjust to conditions on the course and find a natural rhythm for their play.  Without the constant questions of what they did, what went wrong, how did that happen and did I make the right move, their mind is free to think about what they want in the shot at hand.  The simplicity of the game takes over and after the round, they feel fresh and know they did their best.  They might still head to the range, but it isn't with the many questions produced during the round.  It is with a goal that they produced after play based on a shot or a feel that they lacked.  After play is the time to jump into the Big Picture and see what is needed for the next day.

After watching countless rounds of golf by recruits, college players and pros, I constantly wonder what separates the good from the great.  It is obviously not golf swings, because the great ones sometimes don't swing it well, but they manage to get it into the hole.  I watched one of the best young players in the nation play this weekend and nothing about her physical game stood out.  What did stand out was her ability to get the ball in the hole.  It seems to me that a player's determination to score is the separator.  No matter how you are hitting it.  No matter what trouble you face.  No matter the conditions.  No matter the competition.  No matter what's at stake.  No matter how you are feeling.  The greatest players spend their time on the golf course in that one little place, the next shot.  At every level, this is a separator. 

Are goals and expectations good?  Yes!  For years they have been the tools that allow players to reach their dreams.  Are goals and expectations good all the time?  NO!  They are in place only when looking at the Big Picture of your game, not when you are facing a 5 foot putt for par or a tee shot on a tight fairway.

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