Monday, March 21, 2016

Protection

After watching my college team lose a lead last night, it got me thinking about protection and it's prevalence in sports.  Protection is taught to us as toddlers.  Our parents strive to give us safety and security.  We grow to want to know that we won't be harmed or lose what we have.  Yet, the only way to earn greatness is to risk it all.  Whether in sports, love or money, you have to risk failure to succeed.

As an athlete, you're either going forward, holding steady or going backward.  If you give up going forward even for a moment, you run the risk of going the other direction.  There is a natural ebb and flow in all sports, including golf.  Few, if any rounds, are mistake free.  Yet, mistakes are rarely the definition of a round.  Instead, the reaction to the mistakes are what dictates the score.  When you are playing to win, mistakes will happen.  They are mistakes of effort and risk.  Without them, the reward would be great, but with them the player plays on and continues to play with freedom.  Playing with freedom isn't playing careless golf or without strategy, it is simply living on the edge of good and great.  Protection happens when you play to not make mistakes.  It is a mindset of knowing what you don't want and allowing that to be your guide instead of what you do want.



Juniors learning to play tournament golf will often have enormous swings in their scoring.  They might shoot 67 one day and 79 the next.  These are players who probably aren't protecting their scores, but are instead playing with effort and risk.  They probably drive their parents nuts and maybe even themselves, but they are on the right track.  The junior who consistently shoots 72 to 75 is probably winning tournaments left and right, but the ability to go low is a learned skill and won't happen if a player protects her score.

Two groups never protect; those working to catch the leader and dominant players.  If you're four shots back going into the final round, you have the mindset of doing whatever it takes to catch the leader.  You might take more aggressive lines on holes or give your putts a chance to drop.  You're willing to play with danger to achieve your goal of winning.  With that mindset, there is acceptance of mistakes and recoveries allow the player to get back to the task at hand.  Often, match play allows players to play without protection and it's a path to what is possible if that approach were consistent in stroke play.

Dominant players of every era seem to have a natural ability to stay out of the protection mode.  They keep the pedal down and accelerate whenever possible.  Their mindset isn't as much about winning as it is about playing their finest golf.  Their mistakes are often big and costly, but they don't seem to be as bothered and are often known for their recoveries as well as their good shots.  Tiger, Phil and Lorena come to mind as players who didn't play to protect.  Earning a good check isn't the goal and success for these players is the W.  When the W is out of reach, you can often see the motivation lag, but the mindset doesn't change much.

If you want to find a way to score under pressure and go low, you will have to learn to play without protecting your score or your ego.  Here are some things you can do to work toward this goal:

Pre-shot Routine:  Choose what you want.  This sounds simple, but so often, players talk or think about what they don't want.  After you choose, commit to it and hit the shot.  If you can't commit to it, you're probably still worried about outcome and safety.  The best thing about playing tournament golf is, you don't know what will happen.  If you want security, you've chosen the wrong sport.  Accept that and commit to what you want.

Post-shot Routine:  Accept what you did and refocus.  Players who play to protect against a big number are often the ones who make a big number after a mistake, because they have a hard time forgiving themselves for the mistake and are slow to recover.  Dominant players love the challenge and understand they created the opportunity to show their skills.

Execution:  Hit the shot that's called for in the moment.  Players who protect want to be comfortable and secure, but great golf is about creativity and learning to hit shots you fit to the situation.  Players winning at the highest levels of the game will do whatever it takes to get the ball in the hole.  I often hear coaches or parents say to never hit a shot that you haven't mastered, but I completely disagree.  Cookie cutter swings and straight forward shots are rarely what garners you a win.  Learning to curve the ball, use any club in your bag around the green and seeing exactly what you want to do with the ball are more commonly what will earn you a trophy.  Here are a couple of extreme and fun examples.






The point of these shots is, the greatest players create what is needed in the moment.  They don't get in the woods or into a tree and say, "How'd I get here?"  Instead, they say, "How do I get out of here and score?"



Mindset:  This is the toughest thing to change, but probably the most important.  If you're a competitive golfer, there will always be something to lose.  It might be a simple bet or it might be a major championship, but whatever there is to lose will always lurk in your mind when you get out of the moment.  Dominant players don't allow what they have to lose to dictate their decision making or their play.  If you listen to the announcers on any weekend, they will knock the risk taking leader each and every time, but they should actually be lauding them for keeping their style intact when it matters most.

As a coach or parent, you will walk a fine line between teaching your student strategy on the course and not teaching them to protect.  Your cues need to come from what you want to see, not what you don't want.  You must accept effort mistakes and teach recovery.  You need to coach away from security and green light danger when you know your players have the skills to pull it off.  If they don't pull it off, you can't judge the player, but you can judge the play.  What shots are needed under pressure to get it done next time?

No matter what sport you play, there will be times when you will want to protect your lead, your position or your score, but as soon as you do, you will stop your own momentum.  There isn't security in being a leader and yearning for safety or comfort won't get you to the top.  Play the game for what you want and accept what happens.  That's the simplest way to view playing without protecting.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bravery, Not Perfection

If you follow this blog, you know that I love Ted Talks.  Watch this one and then let's talk about it.
What Ms. Saujani had to say between minutes 7:00 and 8:00 were riveting to me.  It reflects what I see in coaching women golfers.  When they have a bad day, many of them say, "what's wrong with me?"  Those are the players who need to learn to be brave and accept their imperfections.  Some players don't think this way.  They are able to separate what they do from who they are and have a better chance at success.  What she is saying in this Ted Talk fits our sport perfectly.  Here is a facebook post I did just this week on the same subject.

Adam Scott won with two doubles and a shank on Sunday. It doesn't take perfection to win, it takes determination! Never give up, never count yourself out, never give up the next opportunity and most of all, never believe that you aren't up to the challenge of what you face. BrigitteLindseyAlexandriaAlexandraKatie,Jenny. Let's play some determined golf next week and see what happens. David and I are with you 100%! ‪#‎springbreak16‬ 


Image result for adam scott golfer
Adam Scott looking every bit as determined as he played last week.

At the end of the Ted Talk, when Ms. Saujani says she wants a world filled with courageous girls, I thought to myself that I want a team of them.  Dave and I coach our players to accept.  Accept the good and the bad you face in every round.  We've talked about it lately as a mindset that starts in the pre-shot routine, not the post-shot.  It is a mindset that can be learned as is pointed out in this Ted Talk.  Coaching is crucial to it.  Good coaching is filled with constructive criticism, teaching the tools used to succeed and a lot of support throughout the process of learning.  Poor coaching is filled with personal criticism, high expectations and removal from the process when it goes wrong.  I hate to say it, but I see a lot of parents using the second method.  It shows in the little things, such as using "we" when a player plays well and "she" when a double is on the card.  

One thing that we also talk about as a team, but that is hard to grasp is, if mistakes or poor play are filled with emotion, they will stick and be repeated.  That is what makes them a who you are thing vs. a what you do thing.  Great players view their mistakes as opportunities to learn and progress.  They consider them feedback.  I'd have to agree with Ms. Saujani that the boys I've coached are better at this than the girls.  I love to see my players hit a crummy shot and raise their chins higher and walk with more determination instead of seeing their head drop and their pace slowed.  In just that moment, I can tell if the player accepted her imperfection, learned from it and let it go or if she wants to erase what happened and start over.  I want players who run out of holes instead of players who want to begin again.  

As coaches, it's extremely important that we coach the game in players instead of the players in the game.  That's a big first step.  We need to start by asking what was wrong with your game today instead of what was wrong with you today.  The questions we ask of our players are crucial, because we are teaching them which questions to ask of themselves.  

Bravery or courage on the course is often as simple as Ms. Saujani relates in her story of coding.  It's a matter of accepting mistakes and persevering.  When players come to SMU who are in love with the driving range instead of the golf course, they are often into perfection.  Just as the coders want to hide their mistakes from the teachers, golfers want to drag another ball over to hit a better shot than the one before.  When on the course, they often play well when they start well or they're hitting it well.  However, any shot a perfectionist hits off line is a red flag that all could go wrong.  The mode often changes from playing the game to fixing the game. 

The next portion of the Ted Talk was just after 10:00 minutes in when Ms. Saujani talks about celebrating courage and bravery.  "We have to show them that they will be loved and accepted, not for being perfect, but for being courageous.  ....when we teach girls to be imperfect and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us."