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.  

Age and Coaching

Age and coaching get better with each passing season.  I know it might be hard to believe that age gets better, but for me, it does.  It has...