Monday, December 28, 2015

Don't Hide the Star Ingredient

We (golf coaches) get a few days to hang around the house this time of year which is rare and wonderful.  One of the things I did was catch up on one of my favorite shows, A Chef's Life.  It's a PBS show about a couple who opened a fine dining restaurant in eastern North Carolina.  The reason I like it is, it combines cooking with real life angst and family life.  The main character, Vivian Howard, is a real person.  Her strengths are her care for her food, her love of community and her ambition.  In one of the episodes, she was given a piece of advice by another chef.  It was, "Don't hide the main ingredient."  He continued by saying, "keep it simple and let the ingredient shine."

This is exactly the right advice for coaching, too.  So many times, coaches want to add to our player's skills and perfect them instead of allowing them to keep it simple and play to their strengths.  Unlike cooking ingredients, players have consciousness and pay attention to the messages they are receiving.  If you have a player who is extremely competitive and can score, but isn't as long as other players, you can point out her weakness and spend time working to make her longer.  Or, you can celebrate her strengths and coach her to continue to improve all of her skills.  That doesn't mean you have to ignore a weakness or not strive to improve it, but instead, keep it in perspective.

Winners win because of their strengths.  As an Iowan, I'm a Hawkeye and a fan of Zach Johnson.  Johnson isn't the longest hitter on tour.  In 2015, he ranked 148th at an average of 282 yards.  Guys like Bubba are outdriving him by 40 yards and if that were the only factor that lead to scoring, Zach would be toast.  However, if I stay with the cooking analogy I started with, golf is a game of many ingredients.  Johnson knows his game and sticks to his plan to allow his strengths to serve him.  He hits fairways, he makes putt and he is a great wedge player.  He was both jeered and lauded by the press for winning the Masters by laying up on every par 5, but he played to one of his strengths, his wedge game.  Johnson plays the game and strategizes based on what he knows about his game and himself.  Along with the physical stats, you can add the ingredients of a deep faith and a love of pressure and you have a guy who can produce wins while others fall away from the spotlight.

(Photo: Ian Rutherford, USA TODAY Sports)

If Johnson's coach decided that he needed to be longer to win on tour and then set off to make changes to his mechanics to accomplish that goal, his coach might take Johnson away from his star ingredients outlined above.  Here is a quote from his coach, Mike Bender, on the process of improvement.  This was from Jaime Diaz's article in Golf Digest 9/15/15:   "We work on weaknesses," Bender says, "but make sure his strengths stay strong."  Bender understands that as a coach, all skills need to be addressed, but Johnson's strengths will be what leads him to success, not the lack of weaknesses.

As a recruiter of players, I look at players for the skills that I can effect through better mechanics, better practice and better strategy.  There are, however, skills that are tough to effect in the limited time we have in college golf.  Some coaches avoid players with a poor showing in those skills, but there are a lot of great players out there getting the ball in the hole with a variety of skill sets.  The goal of recruiting or coaching should never be based on what you want to develop or change in a player, but more in what you love about a player and her skill set.  If I love a player's competitiveness or her iron play, I will relay that to her through my words and attitude.  If you coach with an eye on what is wrong with a player or what needs to be changed, you will relay a lack of confidence or a worry about her skill set that will eventually effect the player's game.  The key to consistency in golf is to work on your weaknesses, but the key to greatness in golf is to work on your strengths.  Finding a way to strike a balance between the two goals will lead you to success. Every player you coach will be unique and bring an array of physical, mental and emotional skills to the golf course each day.  Your job as a coach is to celebrate the strengths and work a little bit each day on developing the weaknesses.  Your job as a player is to know your strengths and play to them.  Don't hide the star ingredients!  Keep it simple and celebrate them.

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