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  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.

Enthusiasm or Dread

We had a great camp with 10 junior girls this past weekend.  We focused our time on how to practice, how to prepare for competition, how to ...