Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Great Putting Drill

We are going to call this drill the Casey Drill.  It's a great one.

Place five tees around the hole randomly from 8-15 feet.  The game starts with the first make.  You must make 3 of 5 to pick up the tees.  If you make 3 in a row, it's a hat trick.  If you make every other putt, it's a leap frog.  Make the 3rd putt really, really important so you learn to take the same mindset into every putt you roll.  If you move around to different holes, you will see all kinds of different slopes and speeds.

One of the skills lacking in young players is speed control within 15 feet.  It is a vital skill for learning to read greens well.  If you can't roll the ball at the speed you envision, your feedback for reading putts won't be valid.  An added goal of this game would be to have any putt that doesn't fall go 6"-12" past the hole.  At that speed, your ball has the best chance of falling into any part of the hole, not just the center.

Finally, make sure you celebrate your makes, especially the third that allows you completion.  A grab of the hat, a tightening of the fist or a simple smile would work. When you miss, give a thought to why, learn from it, adjust and let it go. Your goal is to learn and improve.  If you aren't improving at any skill, look hard at what you take away from your practice. If you are in the habit of getting angry or sad after a miss, you won't accept it and learn from it.  You need to be your best coach and beating yourself up or looking for failure patterns isn't good coaching.  Many players bring emotions to their practice and play that get in the way of their improvement.  Another Tar Heel said it best:

The SMU Mustangs will be playing this game next week.  It's a great way to practice making that clutch putt for birdie or a par save.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Teaching Perfectionists

Over the years, I've had a lot of perfectionists whom I've coached and taught.  Golf seems to lure them in with the constant process of improvement.  Often, these players reach a high level fairly early in their careers.  They put in countless hours on the game with the goal of perfection in their minds.  The qualities of hard work, attention to detail, lack of satisfaction with less than perfect, fear of failure, independence and focus on results all combine put them on a track of success and then to hit painful plateaus.

This is the idea that pushes golfers to work harder and harder, yet, golf by design seems far from perfect.  It is played outside in the elements on imperfect surfaces by flawed human beings.  A better sign would be the one below.

Here are some things you can think about if you're a perfectionist or if you teach, coach or parent one.

  • When you speak to them as a coach, teacher or parent, they are often not listening.  They are busy in their minds saying NO or thinking of how they will explain themselves or how they can prove you wrong.  Don't take offense, simply repeat your message calmly, often and stay consistent.  
  • Don't use the world perfect with them and make goals both process-oriented and reachable.  Give them goals that allow them to be perfect, such as a perfect pre-shot routine, perfect visualization or a perfect post-shot routine.  They will be the only one who monitors a goal such as that and that is also important.  Since we aren't using the word perfect, this isn't how the goal is stated, but it will be how they process it.  
  • Don't argue, you won't win.  If they are skilled at confrontation, they will get the last word and if they aren't, they will simply stay silent.  It is far more effective to put them in situations that show them what you want to work on or change.  They won't like being forced to chip with different clubs or practice in different ways, but stay the course.  Because they are result-oriented, they will eventually give in to what gives them the best result.  
  • Not only do perfectionists want to be perfect, they often choose the toughest shots and strategies.  They make it very tough on themselves to be perfect.  Make sure you spend time talking with them to find out what they see and how they are managing their games and the golf course.
  • Give them leash.  If they push back on structure or routine, give them more autonomy in planning their own.  Any control you wield will be seen as a lack in their eyes.  
  • Don't avoid results, since that is foremost on their minds.  Instead, give them a zone of acceptable results and a lot of results to track.  That will allow them to get their mind around the fact that they can be successful in many different ways.  They will pick out the stats that aren't strong to talk about with you, but you can easily include the stats that were good.  Perfectionists will always look at what they consider failures, but as a coach, it's important to give them many opportunities to succeed so your talking points can be mostly positive.  
  • The most important thing is to be unconditional in your love of your perfectionist players.  It's okay to point out to them that they are employing those traits, but you don't have to judge them to do so.  You simply point it out to nudge them out of the habit.  When they walk off the course, ask them if they enjoyed themselves.  Find out what they did well.  Compliment them on things you can see or great recoveries such as great body language or a nice bounce back.  
Hopefully, these strategies will help you push over that plateau if you're a perfectionist or help you coach one.  Find perfection in your process and patience with your imperfections.  We all have them!

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are what we want!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

High School Coaches Clinic

On Saturday, I will have the opportunity to talk to a large group of Texas high school golf coaches.  I'm very excited about this and my mind has been turning about what the subject should be.  Keep in mind that these folks work with players who just picked up a club and players who will be heading off to play college golf in a year.  In such a diverse group of students, what one topic would help the coaches prepare for their season and their role as leaders, teachers and motivators?

What I came up with is this question:  What tools do you offer to your players to improve their skills?

This seems like an obvious thing; that you need to teach the skills needed to get better at the game, but it often doesn't happen within programs.  Often, coaches turn the players loose to practice and play, expect improvement and get upset when it doesn't occur.  This happens at every level of the game, including college programs.  As high school coaches, your goals should be to have an improvement plan for each player and for your team, too.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it can be standardized and tracked pretty easily.  Here is a way to set it up for your team this season.

The Tools You Will Use
1.  Goals

  • Set individual goals.  This will allow your players to each work toward what will be right for him or her.
    • Make it simple.  Ask for two goals each for long game, short game, putting, mental game and being a good team member.  Here is what it might look like:
      • Long game goals:  I want to learn to keep my driver in play.  I want to hit at least 9 greens per round.  
      • If these two goals were your player's long game goals, your question would be, HOW?  They then could tell you how they will practice with a fairway in mind on the range, learning to take a smaller/smoother swing, aiming at the middle of the greens, spending 30 minutes each day using a specific target on the range, etc.
      • Your job is to get them to write down their plan to reach their goal and then have some conversation about it daily to hold them accountable.  I know this sounds like a lot, but it can be a simple question as you walk past them, such as "have you done your 30 minutes yet?
      • Make sure they have a way to keep track and hold them accountable for that, too.  Have them keep a practice journal and turn it in weekly.  Have them keep stats after each round.  Have them partner up with a mentor player if they are young and keep each other accountable for their goals.  
  • Set team goals.  This will keep your team moving the right direction and teach them to hold each other accountable.
2.  Preparataion
  • Have a practice plan, just as you were coaching any other sport.
    • Account for the players' time.  Have team culture points.  
      • At SMU, we always start on the putting green.  That is one way we emphasize the importance of our putting as a key to our team's success.
      • We control at least half of every practice with structure, competition and play.
      • We use stats to focus the players on their needs.
      • We keep it fun, moving and varied with time limits. 
    • If possible, get them on the golf course as much as possible.
    • Notice hard work, focus and grit and reward it.
  • Have a strategic plan for the courses you play, including your home course.
    • Note the widest parts of the fairways, the best targets on the greens and the angles needed to be in position to score.
    • Allow players to use their strengths and work to offset weaknesses.
    • Have team pride in hitting a fairway or team push ups for hitting it into a dumb bunker.  In other words, make strategy fun with consequences. 
  • Have your players have an attitude goal or a mental game goal with each round and hold them accountable to it.  Examples are:  I will walk with my head up and carry my club in my hand when I hit a good shot and gently place it in the bag if I hit a bad shot.  That would be an example of an attitude goal for a player who gets angry or lost in the past.  Putting the club away is significant.  Allow them to come up with their own attitude goal.  A mental game goal might be, I will visualize the shot before I hit it and commit completely to what I see.  With young, inexperienced players, simply using a pre-shot routine might be a goal.  
3.  Play
  • Your goal as coaches is to get your players to stay in the moment, fight for each shot and compete for a score to help your team.  
    • If coaching, make sure to stay in the moment with them.  
    • Cue their mental game goal.
    • Cue body language and pace.
    • Lighten the mood between shots and cue focus over the shot.
  • Every round is a learning opportunity, but you must give the player some time to cool down emotionally if you want to use the experience as a talking point. 
  • Ask questions, don't assume.  
    • Reward the mental game goal or attitude goal even when the shot's results fail.  
    • Trust the answers.  Even if the player is being defensive, he or she is giving you an answer.  If you refute them or argue, you will pave the way for more defensiveness in the future.  When the player figures out you are being constructive and not just critical, you will start getting better answers.  If they have hyper-critical parents, this might take awhile.  I've had it take an entire year and a lot of patience.
    • Use their experiences to give them one or two learning points from each round.  Build on the positives.  An example might be:  You had three pars in a row today.  What did you do well on those holes?  
  • Your goal for play is to get them to play with a quiet mind, with trust and with a simplistic goal for each shot.  No matter what the level, that is your goal.  New players shouldn't think more.  They should play with the same quiet mind as experienced players.  That is rarely the case.  
Good luck to you and have a great season.  At the end of the year, only one team and one individual will win your state championship.  However, many more players will improve, learn to love the game, use the game's lessons to improve other areas of life and benefit from your leadership.  You are important in their lives!

Enthusiasm or Dread

We had a great camp with 10 junior girls this past weekend.  We focused our time on how to practice, how to prepare for competition, how to ...