Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Suffering Inherent in the Game of Golf

Golf is a tough game.  Anyone who has to post a score in public understands this fact.  It is one of the few places that doesn't hand out participation ribbons to kids.  Poor play results in high scores.  Great play results in low scores.  There is no fluking a golf score.

This week, a player played beautiful golf for 52 holes of a 54 hole event.  On the 53rd hole, the wheels came off and the player made a big number which resulted in losing the event.  By this time of the event, people watching were talking about the beauty of the play and the inevitability of the win.  A friend called me to lament that player's pain and suffering.  My answer to her seemed cold when I said, "that's golf."

The golf course played tough for the entire 54 holes and many other great players in the field had made big numbers previously.  Their mistakes didn't happen as close to the end, but had the same effect; the mistakes kept them from winning.  Where the mistake is made really doesn't matter, but what does matter is the player's reaction and action going forward.  After the round, a player's responsibility is to look at what happened and why.  What was lacking, what could have been avoided, what can be done next time?  The goal is to be better the next time you reach the 53rd hole.  How can you bring resolve and readiness into it instead of bad memories?  The answer is to face up to what happened without emotion.  That might take a bit of time, but at some point, that is the next step.  How you respond to suffering is determined by your values.  Your values are like muscles for life.  They power you and keep you strong no matter what happens.  Developing your values is more important than developing your tee shots.  Strong values will hold you up when your tee shot goes astray and you have to score from the deep rough.

If at every step of your golf career or life you can step back from suffering and lean on what's important to you, you'll be okay.  It might be faith or family.  It might simply be resilience or the ability to learn.  You create and tell your story through your actions and reactions and the basis of your story comes from what you value.  Life doesn't end with disappointment or failure.  It goes on.  Golf as a reflection of life is the same.

The values we teach our players can't be based on comparisons, trophies won or image.  We have to dig deep and build a foundation based on respect for the process and the game, the ability to be at peace as a person, the knowledge that our preparation was enough, the camaraderie and friendships that we build and the ways that competition challenges us and our values so we can continue to grow.  The thing about golf is you never really "have it".  That's how golf reflects life the most to me.  Every day, you simply do your best and at the end lay your head on your pillow to get up and do it again.  As coaches and parents, we have to let our players know that their best is enough and that the effort put forth was well worth it.  If we do, there will be a time to shine.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Nod to PXG

Yesterday, we spent the day in the practice area at Trinity Forest Golf Club.  That isn't unusual, but what we did all day was a bit unusual.  PXG flew Joel Kribel in to work with the Women's Golf Team and get our returning athletes fitted for new PXG clubs.  He was awesome and meticulous in getting the right equipment into our players' hands.  That also might not seem unusual, but in all my years of coaching women's golf, it's an honor my teams haven't been afforded prior to now.  I'm very impressed with the commitment that Bob Parsons is making to women's golf and I want to thank him for serving us in the same way he is serving our men's team.  We plan to honor his support by playing great golf with his clubs!

Today, our men's team returners will go through their fittings and order their new equipment.  In my 25 years of coaching, I've seen this happen a lot.  I've been on the range when other major equipment brands sent their guy out to get the men's team equipped while we watched from the other end of the range.  It was an absolute joy to take part in this activity this year.  Thanks Mr. Parsons!

My first job in golf was in 1975 pulling carts out and scrubbing the floor of the bar at Bunker Hill Muni in my hometown.  I joined the PGA in 1983 and when I went to School 1 as it used to be called, I was one of 2 women in a room of 100 guys.  I've never really worried about what I was getting and what I wasn't getting as a female in the business.  Instead, I worked hard and focused on doing a great job.  If you want to shine as a minority in an industry, you can't spend time on what isn't happening.  As a coach of collegiate women, I've done the same.  While it would've been great for us to get all that the guys have gotten over the years, we've consistently gotten more.  We've gotten a better budget, better access to great facilities and better gear.  My goal has been to fight for more for my team since day one and we've made progress at both programs I've headed.  If I would have spent time focusing on what I didn't have, what wasn't happening or comparing our programs to others, we wouldn't have grown.  That lesson was taught to me early as a female in the golf profession.  No one can take away your great attitude, your hard work or your achievements, so staying focused on those things will bring results.

Now, Dave Von Ins and I are lucky enough to team with Jason Enloe and Chris Parra on our men's side, who are true team players.  They make sure we are included and equal in all that happens in SMU Golf, as does the Chair of the Payne Stewart Cup, Ron Spears.  Add to their inclusiveness our new relationship with PXG, who've honored our team and other women's teams around the country with equal treatment and respect.  Thank you Bob Parsons for setting the bar high in the industry in so many ways!  SMU Women's Golf greatly appreciates it!  Now, let's go make some birdies!






Thursday, May 11, 2017

Regionals Breakdown

After returning from NCAA Regionals last night, my mind was working on what seemed to be a lot of upsets occurring.  For that reason, I sat down today and plugged in a bunch of numbers.  Here are some of my unscientific conclusions after doing so.

  • We have a great deal of parity in NCAA Women's Golf
    • Of the 24 top ranked teams in the nation, only 13 will be competing at NCAA's
      • That means that 37% of the top seeded teams didn't advance
        • Does that bring up questions of the validity of our rankings?
        • Does course set up and weather at regionals differ greatly from regular season play?
    • The average ranking of the 24 teams at NCAA's is 21
    • The median ranking of the 24 teams at NCAA's is 17
    • Nine teams ranked from 24 to 50 made it to the NCAA Finals
  • The parity doesn't extend past the top 50
    • Only two teams ranked over 50 finished in the top halves of the four regional fields
    • One team ranked over 50 qualified
      • That team had a mid-year addition. That lead to an average of 27.5 shots better in the spring than the fall per tournament.  
        • One player can make a difference in women's golf
        • 9 shots a round points to more than one player making a difference
  • Rankings seem most valid in the Big Ten
    • 83% of the ranked teams at Regionals made it through to the finals.
  • Rankings seem least valid in Non-power 5 schools and SEC
    • Only 27% of the ranked Non-power 5 schools made it through to the finals
    • Only 38% of the ranked SEC schools made it through to the finals.
  • The NCAA did a decent job of splitting up the schools
    • The lowest median ranking of teams was in Lubbock at 28
    • The highest median ranking of teams was in Columbus with 24
      • Columbus had one fewer top 50 team than the other three regional sites
    • The other two regional sites both had median rankings of 26
    • The average ranking (28) of the teams advancing  from Athens was actually higher than the average ranking (27) of the ranked teams not advancing.
      • This anomaly is due to both the rise of Michigan State and the fall of Wake Forest
      • It is still a remarkable fact!
  • Five of the 12 individual qualifiers were ranked outside the top 100 players in the nation
  • Four of the 12 individual qualifiers were playing as individuals at the regional tournament

Here's the link to my spreadsheet with breakdowns that I chose to include.  Make your own conclusions and feel free to comment.  Some final points: In the "old days", we used to sit in a room and look at the data and put teams into fields based on the information we had.  If that had happened this year, would the rankings be more valid?  Michigan State, Wake Forest, Clemson and Washington all had remarkably different spring seasons than their fall seasons.  When a committee made the choices instead of a horseshoe placement by ranking, this would have been taken into account.  The horseshoe by ranking also doesn't seem to allow for regional considerations, which made for some very expensive travel for many teams.

It's hard to know what to think of all of this, but I do know that all but 24 teams are ending their seasons a few weeks earlier than they would have liked.  When you love your team as much as we did ours this year, that makes it a painful ending.  At the end of the year, every shot counts.  It is a cliche, but it is the truest one ever.  Most of the time, if your team simply plays to it's average, you will advance.  However, the end of the year comes with a tough academic schedule (finals), the need for good team chemistry and the need for healthy players.  Our goal for next year will be to fight for each shot from day one so that is the habit instead of something we talk about in post-season.  That is a mindset goal that the best teams have, along with the goal of getting better each day.  When you have great people and players to coach, you want that extra few weeks to spend with them; learning, competing and laughing.



Sunday, April 23, 2017

What is Coachable?

I recently told my team that I greatly appreciated their coachability.  Later in the day, one of my freshmen asked me what coachable means.  That's a great question and the answers might lead to some good goals for young players.

To me, coachable means open-minded.  You listen to what is being said and see if you can use it to get better.  You understand that better every day won't happen without change.  Your coaching staff is on your side and the goal is to score better.  That means you have ability to consider new things, work on positive changes and commit to agreed upon game plans.

Coachability isn't trying to please your coaches.  You need to consider what is being said and adopt what works for you and filter out what doesn't work.  If your goal is to please, you will lose this filter and lose yourself and your game.  Coachability means a dialogue and talking through what's working and what isn't with your coaches.



Are you coachable?  If your most common phrase is, "yea, but....." then probably not.  If you take constructive criticism personally, probably not.  If you think you know more about how to play golf than your coaches, I'd guess no.



You probably are coachable if you ask for help, especially on your weaknesses.  If you see your skill set as something that can get better, you're most likely coachable.  If you are able to talk with your coaches after a round and figure out what was good and what needs to be better, you are coachable.

Things that I've seen hurt coachability over the years is a fixed mindset instead of a learner's mindset.  If you think your skills are set or your mindset is a done deal, there is no reason to listen to anyone about change.  Statements such as, "I need to get angry and get it out" are what lead to that fixed mindset.  The opposite would be, "How can I learn to behave after a bad shot or a bad hole that would help me on the next shot?"  This one example is the essence of coachability.



Another thing that hurts coachability is the dependence on one voice.  The best players in the world are always seeking an edge and they'll look anywhere to find it.  They have the ability spoken of earlier in this blog of filtering out what won't help them, but they constantly seek  what will and put it into play.  They talk with other pros about how to hit shots, they watch how others choose to strategize and they grab putters out of each other's bags.  They've learned to coach themselves and part of that skill is being open to new things.  So, if your pro or parent won't allow you to listen to anyone else, that dependence might hurt your progress and coachability.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to coachability is a lack of confidence.  If you're only as good as your last shot and dependent upon results to bolster your ego, you'll see your game as delicate and change as scary.  The ability to strike out on the road to better means you have to give up a skill that isn't great.  However, that skill is what you know and what you've worked to develop and how you've done things to get this far.  Unless you're confident in yourself to learn a better skill, giving up that old skill won't happen.


Coachability is about interdependence, which is strongest when you are first independent.  As a coach, I've seen players all along this scale and I understand that when players aren't independent, they must first find it to become coachable.  When they arrive at school dependent upon others or without their own filter, they must first develop that to then move to interdependence or as I call it, coachability.   This is important to understand in this world of strong parenting, early instruction and a glut of information.



Our goal as parents, teachers and coaches needs to be to teach and lead players to independence so they can then go on to build relationships that are interdependent.  Without the ability to know themselves and understand their games, players won't be able to filter what will be helpful and what is unhelpful.  I know this blog is about golf, but as I write this, I thank God that my parents did this for me in all walks of my life.  They raised me with trust in my decisions and helped me be independent and confident.  Thank you Mom and Dad.  Godspeed.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Regular Season Wrap Up

We played last weekend at ASU and that was a wrap for our regular season events this year.  It was a good year.  Each year, I tell the team to set their own legacy.  The season belongs to them and how they handle it will mean something for many years.  It will produce records, great days, rough days, rain delays, friendships and memories galore!  Memories of funny lines, great meals, early mornings and sleepy rides home from tournaments.  Of course, the golf is a big part of our lives, but the moments surrounding the golf are as important.  The seven young ladies on this team made a great year for themselves, both on and off the course.  They worked hard and improved daily.  They were coachable and open to learning every day.  They were positive and loving to each other.  They were patient with me and worked to do what Dave and I asked of them.  They built a great year day by day.

Coaching is what I love.  It's made easier and more joyful when everyone on the team is on the same page and wants the same things.  Thank you Linds, KP, Celli, B, Faithy, Kenz and APRP for giving us all you have.  Thank you Dave for being the best assistant in the business.  Thank you to my administrators for being strong leaders who value people more than wins. We have a great team!

With that being said, we hope to go rip it up in our last three events!  #ponyup #family #love




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Work on Your Pre-Shot Routine

Our job in coaching is to help our players access their best stuff at the most important times.  Whether that means a five footer to win on the first playoff hole or 54 holes of focused golf, the path to consistency and excellent play often comes down to a player's ability to have routines to rely on.  The word routine signals an act that is regular or typical.  In the world of golf, there is very little that is typical.  Even if you hit the same club off of your club's first tee every time you play, you won't face the exact same wind, turf conditions, temperature, body readiness or mindset twice.  Golf is a game of unique shots, situations and conditions.  That's what makes your routine so important.  It's your home base and within your control.

What does your pre-shot routine need to do for you?  It needs to condense all the information you gathered leading up to it and simplify it into a vision of what you will do with your golf ball with your shot.  In a perfect world, it will give you quiet confidence, centeredness, readiness and a connection to your vision.  That seems like a lot to ask of your routine, but there have been studies backing up the positive effects of a good routine.  Check out this study if you have some time.  It's a qualitative study and relies on interviews, so there are a lot of good quotes within it and at the end, some good suggestions for working on a routine.

Here's what we worked on this week at practice.  I asked each player what she was doing within her routine.  With some players, we talked multiple times to allow them to inventory what was happening.  This allowed for thoughtfulness and searching.  The team I have is very open to change if it leads to better performance, but I have to lead them, not change them.  If a pre-shot routine is going to work under great pressure, the player has to be completely in charge of it and in tune with its benefits.  After asking players about their routines, I videoed them with my iphone and then showed them the video.  I also timed each routine a few times to assure it was well within the 40 seconds that is our goal and that the time was consistent.  Players like to play with rhythm, which is tough in a game that often has long waits on the tee box.  A routine gives the player back their rhythm.  Then we talked about Joan Vickers Quiet Eyes study and compared their video with that ideology.  Here's a quick article explaining her science.    Most of the players were surprised at their lack of time given to target looks and the quickness of their eye movements.  They were also honest about their inconsistency of what they thought about behind the ball.  Many were still in the information gathering stages or they hadn't committed completely to the shot as they started their routine. We talked through the importance of doing those two acts prior to the beginning of the routine. A few of the players were focused on mechanics or what they didn't want to do.  We talked about making sure there was outward focus instead of only inward and we also talked about positivity.  We worked on visualization, flow, rhythm and breathing.

It was a great practice and the players figured out a lot about what they want to do with the moments before their shots.  Most felt more connected with their targets afterwards and a few felt like they could see it, feel it, trust it as Dr. Cook would say.  We even learned that too much inward focus was leading one player to aim poorly, but as soon as she focused more on the shot she wanted and saw it, she began to aim much better.  Find someone who can help you with your routine, but make sure it's your routine and not someone else's ideas.  Figure out a way to go through your checklist of important things to hit a great shot.  For some it's balance, visualization and clarity.  For others it's focus on target.  For some it's just doing the same thing over and over until it feels like a security blanket in tough times.

To wrap it up, here are a bunch of youtube videos of pro's routines and some describing them.  You'll hear words such as aim, exact. trust, consistent, target, etc as they talk through what they do.


Tiger talks about how he does it.  It's not about visualizing the shot; it's about feeling it.  Remember, everyone is different, so find your own way.  This is a great video. He talks about being in the zone as a blackout.  Clear, uncluttered, allowing, feeling, entrenched in the moment, subconscious, sanctuary, calmer, slows down, weird, enthralled, quiet, mentally prepared, out of his way, training takes over, let it happen are all descriptions he uses.  

Here is Tiger talking about his routine later in his career.  





Jordan Spieth talks about feeling the type of shot he wants to hit and then seeing it before stepping in.


Annika was a quick player and always knew she wouldn't be stroked if put on the clock in a slow group.




Annika had the opportunity to work with Pia Nilsson when she coached the Swedish team and then remained with her throughout her career.  Pia and Lynn Marriott teach the Think Box Play Box concept.  Here she talks about it with training aids denoting the two areas.  Remember, this is one time you don't want to think outside the box!



Nick Faldo thinks of his routine as a chance to rehearse the shot he wants.  This is in tune with how actors prepare for roles.  They put themselves in the situation many times prior to actually performing.


Sandra Palmer won 19 times on tour.  Her routine is simple and straightforward.


Lee Westwood


Justin Rose is very specific and measured in his routine.  For him, that leads to trust. 




Brad Faxon was one of the best putters.  He believes in a quick routine to remain instinctual.  I like it!

 Steve Stricker's pre shot in a tournament and then Stricker explains how he stays tension-free with his routine.  

Here's Jordan Spieth's routine in a tournament.  He doesn't take a practice stroke, which I also like.  He sees it.  As Tiger talked above that he feels things, he wouldn't be the type of player to skip practice swings. What's right for you?  




Just for fun!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Team Golf & Battling Perfectionism

Do you want to play on tour someday?  If you answered yes, make sure you say it often, because it's a really tough journey and your commitment to the goal needs to be remembered at all times, especially the tough times.  Over the years, I've seen a lot of discussion about whether or not college golf helps or hurts your chances of success on tour.  As a college coach, I see tremendous benefits of playing college/team golf, but only if you want to be on a team.  Being on a team means putting the team first.  What does that look like in golf?  Simple, it means doing the best you can with what you have 100% of the time.  And learning that simple lesson will serve you very well on tour!

That's the way the ball bounces.  Golf is so full of bad bounces that we have our own phrase for it, "rub of the green".  It is significant that our phrase covers what is unpredictable or accidental.  Yet, these bounces cause anger, frustration and disappointment.  To play the game with freedom, you must understand what is within your control and embrace the nature of the game and it's quirkiness.

Perfectionists often excel in golf, especially at an early age.  Here are some of the adjectives used to describe perfectionists:  obsessive, detail-oriented, specific, rigid, relentless, total, technical, exact, painstaking, intense, driven, etc.  You get the idea.  All of these are traits that help young players excel at golf.  They can spend hours and hours perfecting their swing.  They can obsess over hand positions and putting strokes.  They can figure out how to be exact with their wedges.  In golf, there are a thousand details in every round and perfectionists love it.  The problem is, golf is not a game of perfect.  That fact was even the title of a best-selling book by sports psychologist Bob Rotella.  If you haven't read it, pick it up!

Golf is played best when there is a sense of freedom and flow.  The best in the game were at their best at the most important times.  When they needed a big drive, they hit them.  When they needed a long putt to drop, they dropped them.  They weren't crippled by tightness.  They didn't steer the drives.  They didn't leave the putts short trying to be perfect.  The greats stayed loose!

Back to the idea of team golf.  If you want to help your team, you have to learn to play with freedom.  You have to give up on a perfect score or perfect shots and simply do your best. Most players best isn't perfect often or ever.  Can you and will you put the team first?  Will you do the very best you can with what you have for 18 holes?  Will you have a great attitude about what's going on?  Can you accept your mistakes and let them go?  Can you grind out a score for your team  on a tough day?  Can you have body language that is uplifting to your teammate who's a fairway away from you?  Can you follow a game plan?  Can you simply get a putt for par when you're out of position and put away the "go for broke" attitude?  Can you run a putt 6 feet past the hole and forgive yourself so you can focus on the putt for par?  Can you remember that you're not perfect and the perfect round of golf probably doesn't exist?  Can you leave most of the traits of a perfectionist behind and become an athlete who competes?

What if instead of life, Mr. Hopkins said golf.  Your preparation gives you readiness, but not a score.  You have to work for that each time you tee it up.  Expectations will hold you back.  Acceptance will help you.  Most young players are caught up in their expectations and aren't accepting of what happens when they play.  Reverse it to score better.

So, young players are faced with a paradox.  The very skills that helped them rise to the top now seem to be holding them back.  They dwell on mistakes and that takes them out of being in the moment.  They try to get shots back even though there is no such thing.  Once a shot is on the card, it's on the card.  They try to make up for mistakes, which generally means they get aggressive and make more mistakes.  They focus on what isn't happening for them instead of what is or what can be.  They get caught up in minutia missing the big picture important to the game.  They are hard on themselves and get stuck in negative self-talk.  The bottom line is, they have a tough time accepting the past and moving on.  If they were still on the range, they would simply drag that next ball over and work on perfect again, but on the golf course, you play each shot, perfect or not.

If you want to understand the importance of body language, check out this video.  

Team golf is the perfect opportunity to work through these tendencies.  You have a coach who reminds you to let it go, have good body language and do what you can with what you have.  You have teammates who show you what it looks like to play athletic golf vs. perfect golf.  You have a reason to move on and be good to yourself.  You have a limited window to figure this out.

If you're like me, you aren't a perfectionist in all aspects of your life.  Yes, as I write this, my house is super messy!  So, if we can pick and choose what we want to be perfect, how about you adopt perfectionism in different ways the next time you tee it up.  You can choose to have a perfect attitude.  It would be a goal that was something like this:  Today, I'll do my very best on every shot.  After the shot, I'll accept whatever result I get and relax between shots.  When I get to the next shot I'll do my very best again.  Or, you can decide to have a perfect pre-shot routine.  It would be something like this:  Today, I will see it, feel it, trust it before every shot.  If I don't, I'll step off and find it.  Or, you can decide to have great self-talk.  That would look like this:  Today, I will talk to myself in positive ways.  I'll focus on opportunities and find what is good.  If my mind goes to places that aren't positive, I'll interrupt it with my self-talk and remember to breath.  Or, you can decide to be as prepared as possible for every shot you hit.  That would look like this:  Today, I'll keep my head up to see the big picture.  I'll know my yardage to the hole and to my landing spot.  I'll know what a good target is for each shot.  I'll club for good shots, but not club for perfect shots.  I'll read my greens with the big picture first and then look for more subtle breaks.  I'll give every chip and putt a chance by giving it good speed and seeing the high side at the end.


Nancy Lopez is the consummate pro in my opinion.  She played beautiful golf with a golf swing that was perfect for only her.  She smiled and played to the fans, understanding that pro golf was entertainment and not all about her.  She won 48 times on tour and 3 majors.  She was a role model for how to be a pro!


Do you get the idea?  If you're a perfectionist, you don't need to stop being one, but you do need to choose where to put your focus.  Over the years, I've learned that many players focus beautifully for the entire 18 holes, but they don't choose the right places for their focus.  They focus on their mistakes, their problems and what they don't want.  Take your focus and put it on things that will help your score, not hurt it.  Focus on your pre-shot routine, focus on your body language, focus on your position on the golf course, focus on your self-talk and focus on the shot at hand.  Do the very best you can with these things and if you aren't perfect, simply start over.  No one is keeping score on these things but you!

If you want to be a pro golfer and one who stays out on tour for a long time, this is the skill set you need.  When I think of what a pro golfer is, this is what I picture.  I picture a player who is ready for the shot, has her head up, smiles at the fans, does her best and makes the lowest score possible no matter where her ball lies.  If you want to be a team player, it will be a perfect preparation to a long career on tour.


The epitome of doing what you can with what you have.  




Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Caused Your Success?

As a golf coach, the goal is to help my players find their best selves on the course.  Each player is completely different, but all I've coached need the same ingredients; just differing amounts at different times.  Here's a list of the ingredients that we teach, coach, monitor, encourage and celebrate.  These are roughly in my order of importance for scoring well, but separated into physical, mental and emotional areas.

Physical:

  1. Ball flight control (where it starts, how it spins)
  2. Speed control on the greens
  3. Hitting it on intented line with the putter
  4. Hitting the ball solidly in all areas of the game
  5. Ability to control landing area, spin and trajectory within 50 yards
  6. Distance control with wedges
  7. Power
  8. Distance and trajectory control with irons
  9. Reading greens
  10. Ability to shape shots when needed (trouble shots, high winds)
  11. Fitness, stability and stamina
Mental:
  1. The ability to focus on what's important for scoring
  2. Setting a mindset that supports consistent success
  3. Forming a strategy for the golf course
  4. Decisiveness
  5. Flow (Staying in the moment, sticking with process)
Emotional:
  1. Positivism
  2. Resilience
  3. Recognition of state
  4. Acceptance
  5. Play to play your best, not to avoid mistakes
  6. Patience
  7. Trust/Belief in self
As I said, no two players need exactly the same combination to be successful, but any weaknesses in this list need to be addressed to assure improvement for all players.  When players start to see success, they are often not clear on what skill allowed them to break through.  For this reason, players often go up and down like a yoyo until they do figure it out.  This picture is probably a good depiction of a young player learning to put scores together in tournament play.  


Hank Haney recently tweeted about this very process:
Start at the bottom of the tweets to see that he is talking about the very same process.  As a coach, we build and strengthen the links in the chain.  Sometimes, the links in the chain are strong, but still not producing good scores.  An example would be a player who is a good ball striker, but doesn't play to a smart game plan.  When they are taught to manage the golf course and stick to the plan for a round, they often come away with the idea that they hit it well, not that they managed their games well.  This is what will lead to that squiggly line above.  They take the idea away that they hit it well and then let go of their game plan the next round and the score goes back up.  Improvement in skills doesn't necessarily lead to improved scoring.  One of our players recently added length/power to her game, but had a hard time in tournament play trusting her new yardages.  The process of scoring isn't directly reliant upon skills, but the combination of putting the skills to use.  

The very best way to approach this puzzle as a young player is to keep statistics and keep a journal.  Here is a screenshot of one of our player's scoring stats.  



As a coach, I'm looking at overall numbers, trends and red flags.  This player has positive trends in some key areas.  The bottom line is her scoring is improving.  She's making more birdies and cutting down on bogies and doubles.  Her par 3's and 4's were very good at the last event, but her par 5's suffered.  We will make sure to talk about the improvements and the success and explore what lead to it.  We will talk about 5s in terms of position off tee, position of lay up or if going for it, choice of target and finally, mindset.  The reason these are the factors we choose to look at is based on her success in other areas, which indicates to me it probably isn't a physical problem, but instead a strategy or mindset problem.  Her ball striking is solid, as is her putting. 

The reason that we couple this with journaling is, there are other factors that don't show up in the stats, such as weather conditions or length of course.  Also, many things change from day to day within a player.  This player needs to write down what her mindset was prior to each round, if she had a sound game plan, whether or not she stuck to the plan, what was good in her game and what caused her to lose shots.  It would also be good to note what challenges she faced and how she dealt with them.  We also talk about flow, resilience and patience every time we play.

The better you get as a player at separating your ego from your game, the quicker you'll improve.  Journaling is a great way to make this step.  You can set aside the emotions of a bad hole or a poor round by simply stating the facts of the round, like detectives do on television police dramas.  Every thing you do on the course is based on your skills.  The skill of having a game plan and following it is something you need to learn.  The skill of playing with patience and acceptance is something you need to learn.  Young players seem to think that you either have it or you don't, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  All you do on the golf course is based on skills.   After a tough day, you might be emotional (angry, sad, disappointed, etc), but those emotions will only help you if the pain of them causes you to reflect on the learning needed to move on and move up. Journaling will help you focus on what happened during the day to cause success or failure.  What did you set out to do?  What did you do well?  What could have done better?  What challenges tripped you up?  What weren't you prepared for?  Did you have the proper equipment?  What shots do you need to improve?  What did you do in warmup?  What did you eat and drink?  What was great?  Finally, what are you going to do before your next practice and tournament round?  What adjustments can you make to improve?  What did you learn?  When you make the big time and walk into a press conference, this skill will serve you well.  You can answer the questions about your 3 putt as though it's factual and not allow it to cause you disappointment all over again!



It's really tough to know exactly what causes your success, but consistency in your approach and reflection on both good and bad days will help you figure it out.  Keep stats, keep a journal and keep a great attitude!  Good luck with the process.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Teaching Independence

This week, one of our freshmen, Ana Paula, had her first under par round as a Mustang.  It isn't that remarkable since she's a very skilled player.  What was good to see was the process of her realizing her potential.  It's something that I'd like to share, because it is instructional, but also, because I want her to remember it.

Ana Paula Ramirez


The average score for the field on day one was 73.21.  Ana Paula shot a 79.  If you stood on the range prior to the round, you'd see a player with a beautiful swing and plenty of power.  If you watched her warm up on the putting green, you'd see a smooth, rhythmic stroke.  In other words, Ana Paula matched the model college player.  In fact, most of the 96 players in the field match that model if you simply look at their skills.  And therein lies the problem.  Many college golfers believe that developing your physical skills is the answer to scoring and of course, it is a component, but only a fraction of the whole.  The ability to put your skills to the task of scoring is a different process than developing them in the first place.  In other words, you have to learn to play the game.

Ana Paula is a very bright person.  She is organized, accountable and driven.  She does what she needs to do in life to be successful.  You might say that she is a perfectionist.  In her mind, her game was reliant upon her physical skills and her goal was to control those skills.  On Day 2, Dave, my co coach, walked with Ana Paula.  He started on her fourth hole after she made three bogies.  She played the next 15 holes in +1 and more importantly, she learned a lot.  She learned to focus on a target and to make choosing it a simple process.  She learned to relax in between shots instead of grinding on what was wrong.  She learned to match what she had to what the course offered instead of forcing shots that created bad misses.  Ana Paula learned that worrying about her physical skills wasn't something she needed to do on the golf course.  She also learned that she didn't need to be perfect to score well.  Finally, she learned that her game was enough to create a good score.  That lead to a 71 on day three when the average score went up to 74.43.  Better yet, she did it by herself.  Dave had taught her well on day two.

AP hits it on #13 tee at Eagle Creek GC


Our goal as coaches is to create independent players.  We will always help when needed, but our goal is to prepare the players for a tournament and then cut them loose to perform and be themselves.  Dave is a great caddy and an even better coach.  When he spends time with a player on the golf course, he leads them, but he doesn't control them.  He empowers them to make decisions and carry out the actions needed.  The difference between having him walk with Ana Paula was very simple and quite clear to her.  She was able to stay on task, keep the task simple and focus only on what was needed to hit the shot at hand.  The difference between that and the 79 was remarkable in its simplicity.  The 79 wasn't about the task at hand.  Instead it was about making a controlled, perfect swing that would produce a shot that needed to be precise.  Then it was about making up for a mistake by pressing.  Then it was about worrying about what was happening.  Then it was about analyzing the bad shots and figuring out what needed to be changed with the swing.  Then it was about getting so caught up in making the putt that she forgot the speed needed during the stroke.  You get the idea.  We've all been there, right?

Sherpas help climbers across the Khumbu Ice Falls from SummitClimb.com  Sherpas are guides who lead shoulder to shoulder.  That's a perfect model for golf coaches.


Our hope as coaches is that Ana Paula hangs onto the lessons learned and builds on them going forward.  The thing is, the path isn't level and often you go uphill for a stretch and then downhill a little.  Each time you rise, you get closer to finding your own personal summit.  What Dave did for Ana Paula is a bit of guiding, but she summits on her own.  In fact, the idea of guiding players is very close to what Josh Linkner described as what good Sherpas do on climbs to Everest in this article.  Check it out!

We recognize that good skills are the foundation of a good golf game, but that applying those skills takes a completely different set of skills.  Our goal as coaches is to teach our players to match what they have to what they face in any environment or situation.  It's fun to see the light bulb go on and the scores go down.  Good players make coaches look good and good coaches make players look good.  Our goal is to have independent players, but a great team is interdependent and there's plenty of success to go around.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Confidence Comes From Adversity

Our first qualifying round was tough.  We played the short course and it was firm and fast.  The small greens are hard to hold down wind and the ball seems to pick up speed as it rolls off the turtle back greens.  As a coach, it was just what I wanted to see.  I don't want to see my team fail necessarily, but I do want to see them work hard to figure out how to score in tough conditions.  I've long used the example of pilot training as a comparison for playing golf in tough conditions.  When you board your next flight, do you want pilots who were trained on blue sky days with perfect equipment and no challenges?  They will be confident and calm as they fly.  However, what happens when they get a bird strike, an equipment failure or horrible storms?  Will the confidence they built on blue sky days matter?  I'd prefer to fly with pilots who've spent countless hours sweating in the simulator figuring out how to safely get a plane on the ground with things going wrong.  I want a pilot who's been shaken, white faced and shouting out commands and learned from that experience.  Confidence doesn't come from ease; it comes from overcoming adversity and I doubt any pilot would necessarily call it confidence.  They would just call it experience.



Watching our qualifying yesterday was enjoyable even though I saw many mistakes, because I also saw positive body language, consistent focus and the desire to do the best on each shot.  I didn't see head hanging, anger, disgust, sadness, lethargy, rushing or give up.  If the team continues to play with good attitudes in tough conditions, they will figure out how to score better.  They will figure out how to work on the things that were missing, such as distance control in the wind, picking smart targets and using the ground on chips to firm surfaces.  We made qualifying even tougher by doubling the scores on the first three holes.  Our goal at practice isn't to build confidence.  It is to build strong golfers.



Here is a list of what I hope my players learn from adversity:
1.  Stay calm.  Panic is the enemy.  It effects you physically and mentally.  Your breathing quickens and becomes less effective.  Your heart races and your mind races.  Your thoughts go to possibilities and outcomes instead of staying with the process.  Instead, stay with your pre-shot routine.  Breathe deeply.  Take things one act at a time.  Focus on a small thing that needs to be done well and do it.
2.  Stick with the game plan.  Don't become more aggressive and go for it.  Don't become tentative and play it safe.  Instead, stick with the plan of choosing the best target for each shot and committing to it.
3.  Keep perspective.  If it's tough for you, it's probably tough for everyone.  Learning to save one shot here or there will often be the difference in tough conditions.  Players who lose their perspective often lose a lot of shots because they lose their fight.
4.  Win the attitude contest.  Decide to have the body language of a champion.  Find positive things to say to yourself.  Lift your playing partners' spirits.  Smile and find humor in a positive way.
5.  When you leave the course, sit and think about how you could have done things differently to prepare, play or adjust better.  The best in every sport prepare for adversity and are the quickest to adjust for what they face in competition.



Friday, January 20, 2017

Winning is Rare

Winning is rare in golf.  Justin Thomas just won three of his first five starts this year.  Let's put that into perspective.  Last year, only two guys won three times and they were one and two in Fedex points; Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.  If you look back at the last few years on either the PGA or LPGA tours, you'll find that the leading money winners win only 15-20% of their starts.

Unlike other sports, such as tennis, basketball or football where there is a clear winner and loser at the end of the day, golf has one winner and this week at La Quinta, CA there will be 155 losers.  If you're one of the 155 players who don't hold the trophy and the huge check at the end of the week, how do you evaluate your play?  As a pro, it's pretty easy.  You make the cut and get paid or you don't.  Every guy you beat allows you to get paid more.  Every guy you allow to beat you cuts into your pay.  The idea that every shot you hit is important is very clear.  The first tee shot of the tournament counts the same as the final putt tapped in.

If you're a junior or college golfer, this idea is sometimes a bit more cloudy.  In a junior tournament, a bad shot, a big hole or a rough round will hurt your finish and keep you from winning.  Does it really matter if you finish 20th or 30th?  How hard to you grind to climb the leader board with no hope of winning?  How much does it matter if you beat that guy who was two shots ahead of you going into the final round?  Does one shot matter in the big picture?  YES!

The mental habits you form as a junior are the same ones you'll carry with you to the college game and onto the tour.  Giving up on your prospects after a disappointment means you're clearly in the past.  The ability to give your best to each shot you face is the simplest goal in the game and one of the toughest to accomplish.  If you're in the past beating yourself up for the snowman you took on the par 5 back there, you've left the competitive mode and you're now in mourning over what isn't happening.  Competitors are players who learn to accept their past, focus on what is in front of them and do what they can with what they have.  The sooner you think of yourself as a competitor instead of a golfer, the better off you'll be as a player.

Justin Thomas wins reflect not only his physical game right now, but also his focus and competitiveness.  He doesn't lead in birdies or bogey avoidance.  He's had 32 bogies so far this year, so his game doesn't reflect perfection.  However, his lack of perfection isn't what defines his play so far.  Instead, it's his ability to stay the course.  He didn't relax after a win.  He didn't play more aggressively when in the lead.  He didn't protect his lead in the final round last week, but instead shot 65.  He simply did his best with every shot he faced.

Winning is rare, but you'll get much closer to accomplishing it if you simply do that one thing.  Let go of results on the golf course.  Forget about analyzing your day, your problems or your missed shots!  Turn your brain off and play!  See it, feel it and hit it.  Be visual, athletic, rhythmic, positive and most of all compete!  Give that next shot all you have.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Positive Parenting & Mentoring

Are you a parent or a mentor of a junior golfer?  If so, are you a proponent of the P words of positive, patience and process?  If so, congratulations!  You're on track to lead your junior to finding his or her best on the golf course and in life.  And isn't that our goal?  Allowing our kids to FIND their way and to be their best selves?

Why am I writing this today?  I talk to so many parents who wonder if they're doing the right things or too little.  Most are probably trying to do too much.  Think of yourself as a leader and mentor instead of a golf dad or golf mom.  How is that different?  As a leader or mentor, you want to model good behavior, build a trusting relationship and offer solutions to problems.  Poor golf parents model poor behavior/body language, rely on power instead of trust and point out problems without coming up with a process that leads to solutions.  Good golf parents model patience, allow love to be the reason for what they do and find positives in what's happening along with some solutions for problems.  Some days, the only solution needed might be an ice cream cone!

Being a strong leader for your junior golfer is your job as a parent or mentor.  Let's look at the things that make a good leader.  Here is a blog from one of my favorite experts, Jon Gordon.  In it, he talks about E words.  Those are encourage and empower.  As a coach, those two words need to be a part of every conversation I have with my players.  Telling them what to do is a must as a coach, but encouraging them to give full effort while doing it is also a must.  Empowering them to find their own ways, strengths, talents and individual focus is also a big part of helping them be their best.

What does being a good golf parent look like?  It entails support.  Support means doing what you can, but not all you can.  In other words, it's ok to make them clean their clubs, make their own pb&j sandwiches and show up to the first tee on time.  Don't build their reliance on you, but instead their independence.  We all know that support also means financial means.  Give your kid a budget for tournaments and make sure they know that playing in California is expensive compared to driving down the road to San Antonio.  Allow them to make tough choices and understand that the money isn't limitless.  Speaking of money, don't throw the amount you're spending in their face on a bad day.  Keep the reasons for what you're doing based on love.  Love of the child, love of competition, love of the game and love for the process.  Putting a price on their score or effort points out that you've lost the motivation of love.

Good golf parents work hard on communication.  They keep the 3 P words in mind as they stay positive, show patience and focus on the process of learning vs. the results of the day.  They give honest feedback, but balance it with encouragement.  They empower their child to be better at strategy and decision making by allowing them to make mistakes and then offering alternatives for next time. They stay constructive and offer tools to use or they find experts who can.  They hold their child accountable for attitude and they teach acceptance.  They know that a game is never as good as the lowest score or as bad as the highest scores, but the idea is to work to have more and more good days.

If you're a parent, look at your conversations after a round of golf.  Do you focus on what your child didn't do?  Do you focus on mistakes?  Do you compare her to others?  Do you have a list of problems to be addressed?  Does her play make you angry?  Do you point out where she is deficient?  After years of coaching, I can tell you that these conversations weigh heavily on kids.  They don't want to call their folks after a bad round.  They will complain of the "broken record" of their parent's admonishments for not being smarter or not putting better.  Instead of listening, they tune out or get defensive.  I've watched these conversations happen after rounds for 25 years and seen the tears rolling or the phone held away from the ear.  I know you don't want to be that parent.

There are a lot of great parents out there, too.  They watch their child play and then they listen to what their child thinks about what happened.  These parents work to find positives or simply focus on tomorrow being another day.  They don't link their child's play with rewards or punishments, but instead let the game provide those motivations.  They don't compare their child to others or beat them up for a loss.  They are positive, patient and focus on the process.  Their kids have no problem calling them at the end of a day and come away feeling better about themselves.

So, where are you on a scale of good to bad as a golf parent?  Do you ask questions of your child and accept the answers?  Do you rely on and trust the help of the experts you hire to teach your child?  Do you keep the criticism constructive and minimal and balance it with praise?  Do you offer solutions and tools to rely on?  Do you know what you don't know?  Do you work on building a trusting relationship?  Here is a great piece of writing outlining the relationship Annika Sorenstam had with her mentor Pia Nilsson.  The entire article is telling, because it speaks of the trust needed to be a mentor, the honesty and constructiveness of the feedback offered and how it was received and finally, it focused on the uniqueness of Annika.  When I was a young coach, I was lucky to have many opportunities to learn from Pia and what she was doing with the Swedish team.  I bristled at some of the advice she gave to me, but soon came to understand it and implement it.  She was the first person who taught me personally what it meant to be a positive coach.

Remember, very few golfers will play in college and of them, very few will turn pro.  Golf and the process of playing at a high level offer so many wonderful life lessons.  Don't squander them by making your relationship with your golfer a confrontational one instead of a cooperative one.  If your kid is good, she might be the expert in the room!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Moving From a Goal to a Vision

On Monday, I was cruising through my twitter feed and saw a lot of publicity about Odell Beckham's partying prior to the playoff game against Green Bay.  If I were Odell's coach, what would I think? What would I do?  How angry would I be at his choices?  Would I take any action?

All of us in the coaching profession have had to confront what a player has done on a day off or on off time.  In the player's mind, that is his time and it's his decision how to spend it.  In the coach's mind, all time is either spent productively or unproductively.  That isn't to say that all time is spent working, but that an athlete always has a vision of who he is and what he wants.  Here is what Angela Duckworth wrote in Grit about pitcher Tom Seaver:  "Pitching determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I'm awake.  It determines how I spend my life when I'm not pitching.  I pet dogs with my left hand....I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies."  This is what we want on our teams, but the reality is, those athletes are rare.

So, back to the question of "how do I handle this athlete?"  I'd ask him, what's your vision for yourself?  Does it involve who you want to become as a man, a husband, a father?  Does it involve your entire career as a player?  Does it include your purpose and what you want to accomplish off the field?  Can I help you find your vision?  Can I help you begin to live in a way that supports that vision?  Can you live your life with that vision in mind?  Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympics as a swimmer.  Here is a quote from him about his feat.


This quote signals that his success is reliant upon his character, his work ethic, his choices and his limits. He also famously said that he was trying to live up to the responsibilities of his dream.  That is the key!  He understood that his vision of success was reliant upon his motivation and his self-discipline. Swimming was the sport, but his achievements were about his capabilities as a person.  It's easy to say you want to be the best in the world, but doing what needs to be done to be that guy is a whole other story.  The vision has to be constant. It has to be what you think of when you wake up in the morning to push you through the pain you'll face to achieve it.  And yes, having a vision that requires you to give your best and most is painful.  

Pain is what leads you to adjust.  If you can accept defeat or failure with no pain, there would be no reason to make adjustments or work harder or smarter.  Pain is what guides you to solve the problem that keeps you from achieving your vision.  The pain of staying home on a Saturday night so you can give your all to a practice on Sunday morning might not seem like worthwhile pain when you're experiencing it, but it's just the type of pain that the greatest understand they need to suffer to work toward their vision.  How you play in the game is usually reliant upon how you prepared in practice.  How you practice is often reliant upon how you rested, fueled yourself and planned for it.  What that means is, how you spend your day off or any time off is a reflection of what you visualize achieving. Odell has probably had goals in his life to get to where he is now.  He is a very good receiver in the NFL.  He has been paid.  He gets to do things many of us envy. Perhaps that is what he wants.  He could, however, find a deeper purpose and a vision of who he will be in 25 years. He could aspire to do what Jerry Rice did. 

There's more to this than just the game or your legacy as an athlete.  Your vision can go beyond that. I love how Dabo Swinney challenged his team AFTER they won the National Championship game this week. Here is Jon Gordon's tweet about it.  Jon was in the locker room listening.  Dabo is a leader who found a way to get his guys to share his vision that Clemson could be the best and then act in ways that supported that vision.  However, Dabo clearly wants more.  He simply wants his guys to be the best they can be in life, too!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Goal to Win

It's that great time of year when we look forward with our wishes and dreams.  We look at where we stand and where we want to stand in six months.  We've prepared to prepare by reading, practicing and talking about the process.  We've been told to burn our goals and choose one word.  We've heard about having a big goal and small goals to reach along the way.  We've been told that outcome goals are bad and process goals are good.  It feels like goal-setting is akin to nutrition.  What is good for you is constantly changing and argued, with all of us on our own to figure out who to listen to and what works best for us individually.

We've looked at the greats, such as Tiger Woods, put their goals on their walls as young kids.  Here's an interesting article about Tiger and his goals.  We've also heard of the goals of players such as Lorena Ochoa, who wanted to be the best in the world and retire early enough to raise a family.  Here is an article about Lorena's entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame

The one thing that's clear to me is that the best in the world had that goal and worked hard to accomplish it.  This lead me to think about what is meant by outcome goals, goals we can effect or reach and goals that are silly.  As a coach, it's long bothered me to hear people say that we don't need or want outcome goals.  Being the best in the world is clearly an outcome goal.  Without the goal, would Tiger or Lorena have worked as hard as they did?  Would they have learned as effectively?  Would they have allowed coaching?  Would they have adjusted their games, attitudes or strategies to rise to the next level of expertise?  No, they wanted the biggest gold ring in professional golf and they had a big reach to grab it.  They did what it took to reach their goals.

Some outcome goals are silly.  Let's say you go to your high school graduation and hear a great speech from the commencement speaker.  You go home, search youtube and hear more and more great speeches from great people.  You then set the goal to be a great commencement speaker some day.  You've set an outcome goal.  It is certainly one that is achievable, but doesn't it miss the point of the example of these speakers?  They've been chosen to talk, because they've been leaders, innovators, creators or successful in some walk of life.  There probably isn't one of them who set out to be a commencement speaker.  It was an outcome that came from their success in other fields.  Setting this outcome goal is probably silly.  Instead, a goal might be to learn and succeed in life in a way to be a meaningful mentor to others.  That's an outcome goal that accomplishes the same thing as becoming a commencement speaker, but focuses on the "why" of being that speaker.

What is your why?  Do you have a purpose for your goals?  Is your outcome goal based on the achievement or the recognition of the achievement?  Will your outcome goal allow you to explore your capabilities?  Will it lead to success as you define it or are you working to please others and their standards?  The trick in your choice of an outcome goal is in choosing it based on what you want to achieve, not what others want.  If it stretches you to be your absolute best, it will come with plenty of failures, setbacks, obstacles and disappointments.  In order to persevere through all of this, your goal needs to be completely yours.  You'll also need to figure out your why.  Sometimes the why comes later, so don't worry if you don't have a purpose when the goal is set.  It might present itself later, but look for it as you go.

The reality is, if you want to be number one, you have to first think of yourself as that player.  Here's a glimpse into that mindset from Patrick Reed.    He was roundly criticized for his statements, but his goal was obvious.  It's easier to talk about it after it's happened than before, but the mindset has to precede the occurrence.  His comparison to others is probably not needed, but that's another thing the greats do.  They work to pick off the best.  When Tiger spent 14 years as the best player in the world, every young gun coming up dreamed of knocking him off that pedestal.  If you want to be the best, you have to first beat the best.

What outcome goals are silly for you?  The answer is, anything you can't control.  It's tough to set the goal of being named to the All America team, because it's a vote.  However, you can have the goal of winning multiple times, averaging better than par and beating the best in the country when you face them.  Those goals if reached would make it pretty tough to leave you off the All America team. They're within your control.  If you say winning is beyond your control, you are disputing your ability to hone your game to the point that allows it to score on any course and rise to the occasion under pressure.  You can't play defense in golf, so you can't control what others do, but you can make the goal to be the best and then work tirelessly to do it no matter what obstacles you face.  Whether or not that's the answer to what you need or want is up to you, but it is rare that a player gets to the number one spot in the world without aiming for it.  Check out this interview with In Bee Park. 

It's an interesting article, because in it, In Bee talks of the balance of performance goals and intrinsic goals, such as her happiness.  Even though she won six times, including three majors in one year, she wasn't happy because she had set her goals too high and hadn't reached them.  It taught her to balance her outcome goals with her goal of happiness to find a balance in her life.  Since giving this interview, In Bee won three more majors including the British that she spoke of wanting to win in the interview.  She also stated in the interview that her goal for winning majors was infinity, because why place a limit?

Her interview points out that outcome goals may not satisfy your needs as a person and learning to balance outcome goals with process goals is needed.  While popular performance coaches tell you that outcome goals are bad for you, the greatest players in the world set just those goals and work to achieve them.  We can learn from the best and adjust for our individual goals accordingly.  Being afraid of outcome goals might mean being afraid of reaching them or putting in the effort needed to reach them.  The best simply don't court that fear.  Here's an article from this week about Jason Day's goals for 2107.   He wants to win, win majors and be number one for the entire year.  I don't hear any fear in his goals.  He's striving and stretching.  He's finding new things to challenge himself.  Along with the outcome goals, he has a goal of remaining healthy.  His outcome goals will be effected by this goal more than the goals of his competitors.  He has chosen to focus on something that he works to control.

It's time for us to set the goal of winning, winning majors and seeking the number one spot in college golf.  Without that aim, can we expect to work hard enough to be that team?  Without that aim, will we learn what we need to to be the best?  Without that aim, will the obstacles we face overwhelm us?  Without that aim, will we make the adjustments that are needed to perform better than any other team?  My thought is aim high.  Choose an outcome goal that requires the most of everyone on the team.  Work to achieve the outcome while also setting intrinsic goals that keep you balanced.  There isn't a thing wrong with setting goals unless you consider disappointment when they aren't reached to be debilitating.  I find disappointment a spur that moves me to better coaching, better recruiting, better learning, better adjustments, better leading and better scoring.  Better every day is what I believe.  Winning it all is our goal.