Today, I was scheduled to recruit in North Texas, but my player's plans changed, so I have some bonus time on my hands and I get to do some writing! Here is the question I've been pondering for quite some time: Why is it that perfectionists get better by leaps and bounds in the game of golf and then hit a wall? I've seen it happen, I've coached a few through it, but I never really got to the core of the problem. I think I have now. As with all I know, I learn it from someone else, whether it's a book, a great teacher or from one of my students. I'm smart in that I pay attention and put 2 + 2, but I'm not as smart as most of the folks I listen to or learn from. I'm saying that, because I want you to understand how today's epiphany came about.
Here is a list of what's bouncing around in my head right now:
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker
Two golf books that both told me one big message: Look at data and don't take anything for granted! Better Faster by Corey Lundberg and Matt Wilson, High Performance Golf by Henry Brunton
A seminar by James Sieckmann and finally, Lynn Marriott's and Pia Nilsson's new book, Be a Player.
The epiphany I had is, perfectionists are always focused on self and not on other controllables. When it comes to golf, that means they rarely make the obvious adjustments.
We had a junior camp this weekend with seven good, young players. I noticed from them what I often notice with my own players; they perform a skill well, but with a poor result and fail to make any notable adjustments. In fact, given 5 balls and a pitch shot to hit, they will often put all 5 shots in the same area of the green without getting the shots any closer to the hole. This weekend, I questioned the players about what adjustments they could make and where their awareness was while performing the tasks. Each player missed the most obvious adjustments over and over. When leaving a shot short, none said to grab less loft. Instead, they made the task about how they performed instead of the tool in their hand. We were lucky to have an LPGA player assisting us this week. Casey Grice was one of our teachers and added so much to our camp. When asked what she would change, she almost always went with an outside factor, such as club choice or aim point. Granted, she admitted to also being a perfectionist and learning much of this the hard way over the years. In my experience, a lot of players never learn and that might be the difference between earning a tour card or ending a career earlier than anticipated.
If you're a perfectionist, you can choose what you want to perfect. The most common subject in your brain is probably you and what you're doing. What if you changed the subject to the ball? Tomorrow when you go practice or play, pay attention to it's flight, bounces, spin, trajectory, roll and pay even closer attention to it's final resting place. While watching the junior golfers yesterday, I noticed some didn't even watch their pitch shots roll out. That is a red flag that they are mainly concerned about what they are doing and not concerned enough about the ball. Their inward attention discounts green firmness, winds, grain, landing spot and spin. One of my favorite coaching reminders to my players is, "Make sure you spend your time outside yourself today instead of being inside yourself." They know that I mean to pay attention to what's happening and not get stuck in their own heads. If you do that, you can stay aware of what's happening and give yourself the best chance to make the proper adjustment.
Here are some scenarios you might recognize:
You warm up on the range and you don't feel great. It might be that chicken salad sandwich you ate. Who knows. What you do know is, you aren't hitting it as strong as normal. Do you walk to the first tee and vow to use one more club all day or swing harder? Simple choice. Which would serve you best? Probably vowing to use one more club, because you could keep your rhythm. Which would most perfectionists choose? Swing hard, because my 7 iron is supposed to go 150! The words "supposed to" are very important to perfectionists.
You are working on chipping on a 3-tiered green. The first five shots you hit don't make it to the third tier. Do you hit it harder? Do you move it back in your stance? Do you change your landing point? Do you go get less loft? Do you try to hit it better? Are you even paying attention to where it stops? The first four choices are actual adjustments. The last two aren't and while they might seem funny to read on paper, they happen a lot. Of the first four choices, the first two are you-related and the second two aren't. The very simplest adjustment would probably be to choose less loft, but when we work with our players, that is often not considered. Our goal as coaches is to get our players to make the simplest adjustment first and to consider outside factors first.
You are on the 18th hole and tied for the lead. The wind is behind you, the hole is back and you're pumped up! You have a stock 8 iron to the hole. What do you pull? If you are aware of the conditions, the hole location, your tendencies and your current state, you'll probably pull a 9 iron and still get it close. If not, you'll pull the 8, fly the green and later complain about how you hit an 8 iron 15 yards farther than you thought you could. Perfectionists like to focus on the facts as though they dictate actions. However, all facts are wrapped in layers of context. Decisions on the golf course are all situational and dependent on more than yardage.
There are a hundred more examples possible, but you get the idea. Perfectionists read Grit by Duckworth and focus on these types of quotes: "as much as talent counts, effort counts twice." Funny enough, Angela Duckworth also wrote this in her book Grit: "giving up on lower-level goals is not only forgivable, it's sometimes absolutely necessary." You won't find a lot of people putting that quote on twitter. Perfectionists think that more effort is the answer. Instead of switching to a 9 iron, they just need to hit that 60 degree wedge better! If you place your focus on what you're doing, how you are doing it and how well you are doing it, you have the triple crown of inner focus. If you decided to change your focus to what the goal is, what the ball does in relationship to that goal and what had the greatest effect on the ball, you will have adjusted your thought process to sometimes include what you do, but often it will focus on green firmness, club selection, wind or spin. In other words, you will begin to give your own actions less power and consider all factors that might affect the ball.
While we are talking about the power of more effort, let's talk about the power of positive thinking. In our culture, we teach kids that success is the goal and positive thinking is a key to reaching success. That puts my perfectionist golfer next to the green hitting 10 chips to the same area of the green (not by the target) instead of watching one, adjusting, watching the second, adjusting again, etc. She thinks if she does better with her chipping motion, tries a little harder and thinks more clearly, she will be successful. She comes to this conclusion from us, her coaches, her teachers, her parents and her peers. She's heard from us that she needs to stay positive, be persistent and resilient, yet she hasn't been taught to be aware and make good adjustments. Thank you Pia and Lynn for writing a book (Be a Player) that I can hand out to my players about this very subject. It helps me teach it and it helps me learn it better, too! Kids are taught form instead of function. They are over-focused on what they do and only somewhat focused on what the ball does. I hear them talk about other players with funny swings a lot and then I remind them that the funny swing just beat them. Give me five players with funny swings and a focus on the ball and the hole and we will go win championships!
When I ask our campers what they want to do better with their mental games, I hear them tell me things like "get out of my own head" and "quit comparing myself to everyone else". Yet, we aren't teaching them to be aware and focus on the outside factors that lead to controlling ball flight and roll. We don't celebrate their uniqueness or creativity. We compare them to others constantly. Why in the world do these kids follow us when what we are offering them isn't what they want? If we are going to grow the game, let's grow champions, too! Let's all do a better job of paying attention to function instead of form. Let's accelerate our junior golfer's learning and efficiency by pointing out what the balls are doing far more than we point out what they are doing! Let's give them what they ask for!
Heidi Grant Halvorson is a leading researcher in goal setting and success. Here is a 25 minute video about this type of mindset. It is valuable when you have the time to watch it!
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