Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Teammate Scale

Click on the scale to see it in original size.

Today's blog is a picture of a scale we are using this year to help our players define where they are and where they want to be as teammates.  Our hope is that they strive to move to the left and that they hold each other accountable for behaviors that are found on the right.  We hope that it becomes both a useful tool for us and an important part of our culture.

It is also a very important tool for us as coaches.  It allows us to monitor behavior that is hurtful either to an individual or the team culture and put labels on it to talk about it with the players involved.

If you are a player in a high school or college program, here is an outline of what you need to do to move to the left.  If you are a coach, here is an outline of the character and actions to applaud when you see them and also the things to nip in the bud when you hear or see them.  I hope it helps everyone on their path to becoming a leader.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Risk is an Outcome

Whether or not you choose to take a risk often isn't based on strategy, but instead, it's based on emotions.  If you think of all the emotions you have on the golf course during a round, you can list many.  Check out Plutchiks Wheel of Emotions and you can probably think of where you were on the wheel during your last round of golf.  A lot of players make the complete circle in a round of golf.

Young players have a lot to learn to compete at the highest level of the game.  They have to learn the physical shots, the mental game and how to put their emotions in a place to help them, not hurt them.  When coaching young players to be emotionally strong, my question to them isn't "How can you avoid that feeling?"  Instead, it's "What is the opposite of that feeling?"  You truly can't control your emotions, but you can choose to channel them the opposite way.  If you don't believe me, think about hitting a shot into the water at an important time in a round with onlookers.  Tell me you could control the disappointment or anger that would well up inside of you.  To not feel those things would mean you didn't care enough.  However, once you recognize the disappointment or anger, you can choose to move to the opposite side of the wheel and feel acceptance and trust.  If you can make this move in an instant, you will be emotionally strong and your strategy will come from a place of strength.  That is a goal young players can make when they play.

That brings us back to the idea of taking risks on the course.  Many young players who take risks are doing so because of weak emotions.  Look at the peachy part of the wheel above and notice the anticipation + anger = aggression.  This is a classic place of decision making for golfers under pressure.  Neither anticipation nor anger are "in the moment".  Anticipation is an emotion based on the future and anger is based on the past.  You are angry for hitting an easy 8 iron into the water and you are thinking about your score and holding the trophy.  Those two things = aggression.  If we can choose our emotional state and allow that to lead our strategy during a round of golf, we would choose the lime-yellow portion of the circle:  joy + trust = love.  It is in the moment, it is surrounded by acceptance and serenity..  In golf terms, that means positive emotions allow you to make strategy choices in the moment, not based on past results or worries of performance or score.

You might think it's crazy to think about love or joy after dumping that 8 iron, but you can do it!  You can love the challenge, you can love digging deep, you can find joy in making a bogey, you can find joy in acceptance or you can simply remember how much you love the game of golf and the joy you feel when you play it.  This is all within your control.

Risk isn't a good thing or a bad thing.  Understanding when to take a risk during a round of golf is a crucial part of learning to win.  Risk is only a bad thing when it comes from weak emotions.  That turns risk into aggression instead of strategy.  Our goal as coaches or parents shouldn't be to control our players game plans to the point where they aren't the decision maker when it comes to risk, but to help them understand if their decision making is coming from a place of strength or weakness.  Strong emotions are positive and keep you in the moment.  Weak emotions are negative and based on the past or future.  

If I could wave a wand and magically give my players an emotion, it would be one of acceptance.  Many of my players see acceptance as an emotion of forgiveness, but in my mind, it's one of honesty.  If a player is honest about what she is capable of on any given shot, she can accept the outcome of the shot.  Understanding that you can miss a four footer makes it easier to accept it when it happens.  It goes a step past forgiveness to understanding you aren't perfect and have nothing for which to forgive yourself.  The great players seem to understand this, which allows them to weather bad days without getting down on themselves or seeing it as carrying greater significance than just a bad day.  It's part of the learning curve for young players who want to be great.  It starts with flipping that switch after you hit that 8 iron in the water and it progresses to an attitude you carry 24/7.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Your Choices

Some years ago, I was called for jury duty.  It was in season and I was nervous that I would need to be away from the team for a long period of time.  I called a friend who was a trial attorney and asked him how to approach the jury selection process.  You know how coaches are; we all have a strategy for things.  His response to my question was fairly remarkable to me.  He said, "Don't worry Coach. The defense attorney will dismiss you.  Just make sure they know you're a coach."

I was a bit confused and asked him what that had to do with serving on a jury.  His response is the subject of today's blog.  He said, "You believe that people choose their actions and are responsible for their circumstances.  All coaches have that attitude toward others."  He was right, I did think that way.  As I've matured, I have more empathy for people with few options in life.  I now know that poverty or health can sway your path, but while those circumstances can make things difficult, the choices are still there.

Let's talk about your golf game.  That moment between an event and your response to the event is the moment that means the most to your score.  Some might argue that the moment of impact is the most important and I'll agree, it's pretty darned important, but the moment after is more important.  Why?  You will hit good shots and bad shots.  It's tough to be perfect on the golf course.  When Furyk shot 58 last week, one of my buddies said, "It shoulda been a 57."  There you go!  That's golf, the game of Shoulda.  Rarely perfect in any way.

So, back to the most important moment.  That decision when you decide on how to respond to what just happened.  It's your choice.  Some people think it's based on training, but training doesn't go deep enough.  I can train my dog Sweeney to sit when I hold a treat.  That's training, not choice.  Your response to what you do or what happens on the course is based on your choice, not your training.   When something happens on the course, you can react with emotion, you can pop into memories, you can use your imagination, you can direct your thoughts to the sky or you can find something humorous.  It can be positive or negative.  It can focus on the past or the future.  It can lead to resolve or collapse your shoulders.  It's somewhat amazing that one moment could have so much impact, but it does.

I told you that you couldn't train yourself to have one thought or reaction, but that doesn't mean you can't plan for what you want to happen.  Planning and training are also different.  Planning means you'll be proactive and decide prior to your round the responses you'll generate.  Training means you're reactive to stimuli, not proactive.  It simply doesn't work over time, because you're always susceptible to results.  Being proactive acknowledges your responsibility to choose and makes you the master of your attitude.

The best part of having the power to choose your response is, you can play to your strengths.  While we can't see what goes on in player's heads, we can watch their actions after shots and get an idea of what their plan for their responses is prior to play.  Older tour players are so practiced at it that they fall naturally into it and maintain positive attitudes with more ease than younger players who haven't taken full control of their ability to choose their responses.  Can you picture Matt Kuchar smiling after a bad shot?  His smile relieves his pressure and lightens the moment.  Can you picture Stacy Lewis tighten her lips and squint her eyes after a poor shot?  Her face might be showing us that she is getting more focused and determined.

Let's look at responses by great players as examples for a plan.
Many great players toss their putter in the air after a missed putt.  Could this possibly be significant of letting go of the putt?  It seems to me to be more than a coincidence.

Think of the energy you get from a fist pump.  It seems like Tiger was the master of the fist pump, but many great players have anchored good shots using some physical move.  Here's Lorena Ochoa with two great responses to a shot; fist pump and a smile!

Speaking of Tiger, he seemed to be a bit more reactive on the course than planned with his responses.  He had big highs and low lows.  His incredible record seems to back up his actions, but could he have been even better if he stuck to positive responses?

If you watch a lot of golf, you will see both proactive approaches and reactive responses.  A player looking at the sky after a shot or bad break could be saying a quick prayer for strength or admonishing the golf gods for their unfairness.  We can only guess by observing, but we want our responses to give us energy and focus for the next shot.  We very often watch players slowly lose their energy like a balloon losing air.  Their body language gets droopy, their heads drop and their facial features bend down.  Athletes maintaining their energy keep their shoulders back, their faces either happy or neutral and a little jump in their step. Great players have learned to rely on their plans, whether to laugh with the gallery or say a little prayer for strength after a poor result.  The result doesn't dictate the response, the player does!

Michelle Wie is lamenting something.  It could be her stroke, a bad hop, a lip out or some other result.  If you don't have a plan for your responses on the course, you are often playing a "wait and see" game of deciding how you'll putt by how the first few holes go.  Those are the players who call themselves streaky.  Players who are at the top of the leaderboard most weeks aren't streaky and aren't looking for results to make their days.  They plan ahead.

No one smiled more than Nancy Lopez.  This quote from her might give us a peek into why she smiled.  She talked to herself in a positive way instead of listening to the negative voices in her head. She had a plan for herself.  

Here are some more images of golfers.  You can quickly figure out which players had a plan for shots and which ones also had plans for their responses to their shots.  

Imagine we followed you around and took a picture of your responses to your shots.  Would your body look strong?  Look at the images above and the posture of the players.  Which look energetic and strong?  Can you fold those things into your plan?  Look at the players' faces.  Can you see joy, strength, stress, frustration, hope?  Look in the mirror and practice the face that helps you respond with focus, calm, energy or strength.  Remember, this is your plan, so you can present yourself with who you want to be.  It might be as simple as picturing yourself at your favorite place when you don't like what happened.  That little plan might be enough to keep you calm.  After reading this, spend a little time deciding on your responses in your next round and then remind yourself on each tee box to stick to your plan, just as you do with your physical game plan.  Happy Golfing!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Speed Control

This summer, two of the tournaments I attended for recruiting featured mixed pairings.  I was able to watch both boys and girls compete.  One thing that I noticed was, the boys were much better at holing putts between 5 and 15 feet.  The girls were at the same level as the boys from 5 and in and were also at the same level on long putts.  This is not a scientific observation, merely my thoughts as I watched all of the players and the differences I noticed.  It doesn't have much to do with the gender of the player, but with the skill set.  After noting it at the Stacy Lewis in Arkansas, I noticed the same could be said for some of the players who made it far in match play at the Girl's US Junior.  They also possessed the skill.  However, the vast majority of the players at the Girl's US Junior were about the same as the players at the Stacy Lewis.  They weren't very good at controlling their speed on putts that are between 5 and 15 feet.

If players can control their speed on longer putts and lag the ball well, then they do possess the skills needed to control their speed at other lengths.  That means that the differences are probably in effective practice, mindset and understanding the importance of speed control at all lengths of putts.

Here's a link to an article about Jordan Spieth's preparation for a round.  He works on getting putts past the hole, but within 3 feet.  He prepares for his round by working on his speed control.

After you read that, go watch this video on Jordan's skill set at controlling his speed on putts.

Before we go any further in this discussion, I want to talk about some offshoots at being poor in controlling your speed from 5 to 15 feet.  When you miss putts from that range, you start thinking you might have a flaw in your stroke, so you begin to work on your mechanics during practice or even during competition.  If you aren't getting accurate feedback as to why you're missing putts, you should know that mechanics isn't always the reason.  The second problem that arises from players with poor speed control is, they think they are poor green readers.  After walking with two of my players last spring on back to back days, I realized that they read putts quite well, but they weren't very skilled at delivering the ball to the hole at the speed that matched their read.  You cannot be a great green reader if you can't deliver the ball to the hole at the correct speed.

The concept of getting the ball to be slowing down around the hole is pretty easy to understand when you're 45 feet away from the hole.  You know you want to give it a chance, but the odds aren't great that you'll drop the ball in the hole.  So, you balance the idea of giving it a chance with keeping it close to the hole.  Most good players think 1' to 2' feet is an acceptable second putt from 45'.  Why then, isn't that an acceptable distance for a 2nd putt from 10 feet?  So many times I watch young players' putts lose steam and fall off the line when they are a foot or two from the hole.  They end up just low of the front edge or perhaps a bit past on the low side.  The read was probably perfect, but the speed of the putt ran out prior to the hole.  Other players I've watched get really jacked about having a ten footer for birdie and they hit their putt 3' to 4'' past the hole.  The ball holds it's line beautifully, but the line doesn't match the putt the player envisioned.

The boys I watched at the Stacy Lewis and the Wyndham Cup were very good at hitting putts that would be 1' to 2' past the hole when they were within that distance of 5' to 15'.  Their putts didn't run out of steam and break off before they got to the hole.  Nor did their putts motor past to stop 3 feet past.  These boys controlled their speed at 5', 10', 15', 20' and on and on.  That is probably one of the skills that has allowed these boys to be the highest ranked players of their age groups.

This week, I've heard from two of my players about speed.  One wrote to tell me she had a ton of birdie putts stop a roll short.  Another told me she lipped out so many putts.  Then today, I worked with one of my students who was rolling it great, but making nothing.  I decided the golf gods were clearly telling me to get busy and come up with a drill that helped players with this skill.  Here you go.

Speed Control Challenge:
1. Put a tee down at 10 feet.
2. Read the putt and decide on the aim point.
3. Put an aim stick down on the aim point you chose.
4. Place a golf ball 1 foot behind the hole; another 2 feet behind the hole and a third 3 feet behind the hole.  If the putt is left to right, place them in the middle of the cup on the line the ball would enter the hole or each slightly more right.  If the putt is right to left, place them in the middle of the cup as the ball would enter or slightly more left.

5. Using the aiming stick you placed when you read the putt, putt 3 balls that finish at the first ball if they don't go in the hole.  Did your aim work for that speed?  Did the balls hold their line?  Were you able to hit 3 balls at that speed?  Now do the same thing, but if the balls don't drop in the hole, they should end at the second ball that is 2' past the hole.  Once again, ask yourself the same three questions:  Did your aim work for that speed?  Did the balls hold their line?  Were you able to hit 3 balls at that speed?  Now finish by hitting 3 balls at the speed that puts them at the 3rd ball or 3 feet past the hole.  Ask yourself the same 3 questions.

6. If you continued to use the aim stick on all putts, how did the different speeds affect your putt's chances to drop in the hole?  Go through the same challenge, but this time, adjust your aim for each speed.

7.  Decide which speed is best for the hole holding the ball.  In other words, a putt that is traveling 3 feet past will go in only if it hits the cup right in the middle, while a putt hit at the speed to be a foot past will catch the hole toward the edges, not just in the center.

8.  Finally, after you decide which distance past is your optimal distance (probably between 1' and 2'), lay an aiming stick down behind the hole and make sure that all putts would be there if they didn't fall into the hole.

This video of Jess working on hitting putts that go 1 foot past if not in clearly shows the edge grabbing this putt.  If this putt were traveling at a higher rate of speed, she would probably have lipped the putt out.  On days that you are lipping it out, were you hitting them too firmly to catch the hole or too slow to hold their lines?

This might make sense to do with a tee in the ground instead of using the hole.  With a tee, you will get good feedback on speed on almost every putt.  However, I think it's important that you understand the role the speed has on both holding your line and on catching a piece of the hole and dropping in.  By using the cup, you're keeping it real.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A New Season Ahead

I love the changing seasons.  When I was young, my favorite time showed up with the deep, blue skies of October.  The reds and oranges of the leaves and the crisp air would signal that I would soon get to ski and skate.  Then, winter would slowly go away and golf would be right around the corner.  It was always exciting and I looked forward to all four seasons.  Now, my changing seasons mean the cycles of coaching and they excite me just as much.  I greatly needed a rest and a recharge this summer, but I'm ready to go now.  As I do each year, I looked closely at what I failed to do well last year and also what went well.  That process always leads to adjustments for the upcoming year.  The trick for me is to commit to what is needed and keep it in plain sight to remind myself not to fall into my habits of old.

Coaching is a unique profession.  You can take the job whichever direction you want to go.  You can make competition your purpose or focus on education.  You can value relationships or structure.  You can make recruiting the most important factor of your success or development of players.  Your job is created by your philosophy and work ethic.  It is also a job that can be reinvented with each new year and each team.  Once you find what works best, you have a blueprint for your culture and your program.

Our blueprint is pretty well set after over 20 years of coaching.  David has added so much good energy and good ideas to our culture and has helped shape us in new ways.  Constant learning and adjusting has also helped us grow.  I look forward to the fall now, not for the weather as much as for the fun we will have getting started on another year.

This year, the team is reading The Energy Bus prior to arriving on campus.  We will use the ideas in Jon Gordon's book to help us build a culture that we want to sustain in good times and bad.  Gordon is a big believer in character + talent = strong team.  I agree!  From the outside looking in, others might not understand our recruiting process, but from the inside looking out, it's clear.  We want players who love golf.  We want players who love their teammates.  We want players who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  We want players who will work tirelessly toward their goals.  We want players who aren't afraid to set high goals and hold themselves to a high standard daily.  We want players who excel in the classroom and the community as well as on the course.

Those are the people about to join us for the upcoming year and you can understand why I'm ready to get started.  Coaching is always easier when you haven't posted a score yet.  It is always great when it's simply about the sport.  However, real coaching starts when the scores are high or when the golf is the simplest thing in the player's life instead of the hardest.  In other words, coaching is about the person in front of you and all of her successes and failures; not just the ones on the golf course.  It's about love, support and positivism when it seems like you should be offering a kick in the butt and a harsh word.  It's also about offering harsh words when called for and asking for more; always more.

It's time for the last weeks of preparation before the freshmen start arriving and my head is whirling with what I want to do and the tone I want to set.  Luckily, there are people like Jon Gordon who help me get the ducks in a row and remind me what's important.  The work is piled up after 10 days of vacation, but it will get done in good time and I will be ready on the first day of classes.  I can't wait!


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