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!

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