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.


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