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!

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