Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Consistency and Your Goals

As a tournament player, your goals need to lead to consistency.  When I say consistency, I'm not talking about your scoring, but your approach to your game, to your mindset and your approach to learning.

Golf is fickle.  One day you'll hit it great and the hole will seem as big as a bucket.  The next day, inexplicably, you have a two-way miss and every putt is burning the edge.  While it may be possible that you're somehow causing these good and bad results, it is also possible that you got some good and bad bounces or breaks. All is not in your control.  As a tournament player, you'll play in wind, calm, tightly lined fairways and wide open spaces.  You'll get paired with a slow player or wake up with a sore shoulder from sleeping funny.  There is so much that is completely outside your control and all of it creates chaos instead of consistency.  Golf has a lot you can't control, but you can answer these things with your ability to control your approach to the game.  You can have a plan for the day which allows you to control your preparation, your mindset, your focus and your emotions.  Your plan is your goal for what you want to accomplish.

Over the years, I see so many players jump from thing to thing in their attempt to improve.  They fail to plan and have different goals for each round.  They are inventing and reinventing their approach week to week.  Their focus changes so often that they don't learn what went right and what went wrong.  It is an approach based on instant results and an "aha, I got it now" mindset instead of a slow and steady wins the race mindset.  To become great, there is a lot of learning to take place.  Learning takes place when your effort is consistent, measured and adjusted.

The picture above signifies a player constantly searching for what works and starting over each time she plays.  When consistency is lacking, no learning takes place.  After play, there is a focus on what was wrong and what should be different.  With consistency, there is a process of learning and improving in a player's approach.  Progress can be noted and after the fact, patterns can emerge to further teach the player how to adjust.  One of my students has kept a focus score for the last 8-10 years.  She consistently works to commit to the shot.  After each hole, she gives a quick tally for all the shots she committed to and at the end of the day, she can compare it to the number of shots taken.  Whenever her score is above 90%, she scores well.  On a few occasions, she has scored above 95%.  Those are the weeks she scores in the 60's and is in contention.  As her coach, her consistent approach allows me to learn from her success and failure, just as she does.  I can figure out when it's tough to commit and know what we need to work on in her physical or mental game.  Sometimes, the work is simple, such as learning a new technique or approach to fluffy sand.  Sometimes the work is tough, such as getting past old demons when there is trouble left.  The goal for both are the same and that is to commit to the shot.

Let's stay with the idea that your performance is a puzzle.  You need to find your four cornerstones. These are the pieces that will allow you to fill in your frame and the big picture.

As a coach, some of the cornerstones I've seen from players are determination, love of the game, focus, commitment, athleticism, fun, visualization, connected to your target and breathing.  There are many from which you can choose and it needs to be what is most important to you as a player.  If you are like my student and know that you need commitment to hit great shots, then that cornerstone piece needs to consistently be in your mindset in both your preparation and during the tournament.  Over the years in working with players, I've urged them to adopt one focus goal for each and every round.  Many players will tell me the same one over and over while keeping it fresh and vital.  Others need a bit of variety to keep it fresh and not get bored.  This is your individual approach to the game, but I'd urge you to narrow your focus goals down to your four cornerstones and stick with them until you've had enough rounds to know you're making ground.  Here are some that I've heard.  "Roll the rock."  "Fairways and greens." "Be an athlete."  "SFT" (see it, feel it, trust it).  "See the shot."  "Find the fun."  As you can see, there are some very different approaches to cornerstones and there isn't a right or wrong.

Consistency in your approach will allow you to learn what leads to success and what doesn't.  If you have a rough day out there and your goal was to see the shot prior to hitting it, my question to you would be, did you?  Did you see each shot clearly?  If not, when was it tough and what got in your way?  Let's figure out how you can quiet your mind and see the shot more easily.  Do you need to say out loud what the shot will do?  Do you need to see the shot from beginning to end?  Do you need to have the ball fly to a cloud or simply see the end when it rolls up to the target?  Are you picking a target when you see your shot or do you only see it start?

There are many ways to approach just one cornerstone and improvement in tournament play doesn't come unless this work is done.  These are the tools that allow a player to be consistent in her approach.

Let's say you've chosen the visualization cornerstone.  Learning to use this one skill will help you in so many ways.  As in the picture above, you will start to put the puzzle together and see your game as a whole.

Visualization will keep you in the moment when you play.  It will allow you to connect with a target.  It will tap into your creativity.  It will give you a solid goal for each shot.  It will help you alleviate mechanical thoughts.  The list goes on and on.  However, you can't get to this point if you say this will be your goal and do it for only the first four holes.  Or if you say it will be your goal and do it for only one event.  Learning to have a consistent mindset based on your cornerstones is a lot like learning to hit wedges.  It takes a lot of work and when you get the basics, you've only just begun.  This focus goal might be the key to winning the NCAA Championship, because under the greatest pressure, you have a tried and true skill that allows you the freedom to hit the shot needed.  Your cornerstones are like good friends.  They are there in tough times and you can lean on them to help you when you need them the most.

Great players treat their mental and emotional games the same as they treat their physical games.  They work hard to make them better over time.  We all know that guy who has a new swing thought every time he steps on the range and proudly exclaims, "I got it" ten swings into the session.  We all also know he will lose it soon, because golf can never be truly gotten, kept or discovered.  It is a game that needs steady and focused progress on the fundamentals.  The fundamentals, once mastered, will allow a player to be creative and individualize the game to himself.  When he loses track of what he's doing, he dives back into the fundamentals and builds his foundation back up.  That is how it works and the mental and emotional sides of the game are no different.

Your goal is to see your own game as a puzzle that needs cornerstones, a frame, individual pieces that fit together and a big picture that emerges to make you a tournament player.  Your pieces don't change every time you show up to a course to play.  They are there to provide you with consistency and structure.  Make sure that you have a consistent mindset and emotional approach so you don't start from scratch each time you tee it up.  Your goal is to learn and grow as a player and that means to put the pieces together and hold them in place with consistency.

Homework:  What are your four cornerstones for your mental and emotional games?  If you want to include your physical game you can do that, too.  Perhaps it's balance or tempo?  These are your cornerstones and they will always be there for you.

Now, choose a cornerstone as your focus goal for your next event.  Give yourself a tally mark whenever you used it to hit your shot.  For example, if your cornerstone is to be calm, focused and present, then you'd get a tally if you were calm, focused and present for each shot.  Let's say the officials put you on the clock and you lose your calmness out there.  It will be clear to you that it's lacking and you'd lose the tally mark.  The longer you work with this tool, the quicker you'll recover the state of calmness you want to play with.

Keep a journal of your tallies for at least 3 months.  Do you see a correlation between scoring and your focus score?  How can you improve your focus score?  Does it need to be adjusted?  Does it work in all areas of the game?

Good luck!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Talk to Yourself

If you're a competitive golfer, there is very little distinction between your golf and your life.  Most players refuse to take more than two days off in a week.  They can't imagine being away from the game more than that.  They aren't going to lose their skills or their timing if they leave the game for a week, but their connection to the game is so strong, they actually feel loss when they take breaks.  Time away helps their bodies heal and grow stronger.  It helps to remind them how much they love the game.  It also might help them gain perspective or think through problems they've been having with their game.  However, you can't really sell any of that to a determined, competitive golfer, because they aren't buying it.

This tightly woven relationship of life and golf leads to a lot of situations that often get in the way of a player's success.  When there are struggles in life, they manifest themselves on the golf course.  The biggest struggle I see in players is their ability to have unconditional confidence in themselves and their abilities.  People often ask how we motivate players.  These players I coach and teach are at the top of the scale for self-motivation, but that doesn't mean we don't continually motivate.  Our motivation is most often aimed at their self-image.  We motivate them to believe in themselves, to have faith in their ability to persevere, to understand that what they have and what they do is enough, to not stand in judgment of themselves, to find humor and joy in all things and mostly to be themselves.  Coaching is a little about the sport and a lot about the person.  

The author Jon Gordon wrote the book, The Carpenter  It's a good one.  In it, the character of the Carpenter says, "...I want to encourage you to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself.  It's a powerful tool to build your success."  When young players are struggling with their games or their confidence, this is the skill they need the most.  They question themselves, their talent, their preparation, their game, their mechanics, etc.  In other words, they question everything.  They start listening to those little voices in their heads that tell them they aren't good enough or they don't have game.  Everyone who plays golf has those voices, but good players learn to talk to themselves instead of listening to themselves.  That is the key in life and in golf.

Decide prior to your day what you will say to yourself.  Script your lines, just as though you're an actor going on stage.  The first time I heard of this was when I read Dr. Jim Loehr's book, Mental Toughness Training.  In it, he equated athletes with actors and urged them to think of their performance in the same way.  He went on to write The Power of Story later in his career.  He took the idea of scripting a bit further and explained how our stories become our realities.  Here is a quick explanation of this:

Dr. Jim Loehr is a phenomenal teacher.  Check out this video.  He worked mainly in tennis, but I think all he has to say has as much or more impact on golfers.  If you find the video below intriguing, go to this link and watch a longer video on exactly how you can learn the 16 second cure.

When you talk to yourself on the golf course or in life, you can choose what you say.  You can write your story.  You can leave the bad stuff behind.  You can make the choice to focus on your strengths.  You can quiet the doubts through scripting your self-talk with action goals.  If you doubt yourself over important putts that are left to right, you can talk to yourself about how every putt is straight if you only focus on where it needs to start.  All of these things are what the best in the game do, but they all learned it along the way.  No one is born mentally tough.  No one naturally shuts down the voices that talk about fear, worry, doubt or failure.  Some people listen to them and are paralyzed by them, but many people learn to shut them down by drowning them out with their own voice.  They talk to themselves.  

If you fear failure, choose to embrace the possibility of failing and welcome the lessons you will learn from it.  That will take all of its power away.  The best golfers in the world learn to control what can be controlled and form either a positive attitude or a no-care persona about the things that cannot be controlled.  You will never control the little voices in your head.  We all have them.  Our brains are busy and often negative.  You can control your self-talk and drown out the voices with what you want to hear.  

My job as a coach is to motivate my players to tell themselves good and positive stories about their success daily and to work to live those stories each and every minute.  I can tell when the motivation falls short.  I can see their body language on the course and know whether or not they are listening to the voices or talking to themselves.  Talking to yourself doesn't mean you're crazy; it means you are telling yourself your story.

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 ...