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.

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