“Whether you think you can,
or you think you can’t– you’re right.”
– Henry Ford
There is no debate that the man quoted above is certainly one of the more influential men in America’s history. As athletes we can all take something away from this quote above. If we tell ourselves we can, there is always a chance. If we tell ourselves we can’t, then why even try? The following paragraphs will hopefully get you all to take a hard look at how you talk to yourselves during a practice session, a round of golf, and maybe even just life in general.
We all have a voice in our head, right? We have that someone who whispers to us as we stand over a shot, “Mmmm, I don’t know about that line… maybe just a little more to the left…” or “Be careful! There is water left, out of bounds right… maybe just a nice smooth swing? No, a hard aggressive one.” That’s the voice of tentativeness and must be replaced by other messages. Tentativeness is the enemy of a quality approach to nearly anything. We want to be decisive and committed over our shot. If we are hitting a shot that we KNOW is risky and maybe we shouldn’t be doing it, the mission is to either commit 100% or to back off and get a different club or select a different shot. There can be no middle ground; all shots should be hit with that decisive commitment.
We all know the truth of the oft quoted expression, “The most important distance in golf is the inches between your ears.” Our minds must be active participants in planning and imagining each shot, so the job is not to quiet the voices, but control them rather than being controlled by them. We need to make the voices nicer. When I talk to students about this, I give them this scenario. Let’s do this exercise together. I want you to really THINK about what you say to yourself during a round of golf. Exactly what you say, word for word. After you hit a bad shot do you say, “Well that wasn’t very f*#@ing good; it was dumba**?!” or do you say “Ah, I really could have rotated a bit better that time, but I am close to what I am trying to do.” Chances are if I polled the audience here, I would end up with a LOT more of the first voice than the second. If that is true for you, then to play your best golf, you must take active control of your self-talk. Here is how to start. Imagine that voice inside your head, that nasty, down talking, negative, judgmental voice… was a real person sitting next to you in the cart. How long would you ride with that person? Ten minutes? Five? One? Again, chances are you would NOT put up with them for very long. So don’t put up with the lack of decisiveness and commitment, and the negative self-talk, that prevent you from playing your best golf. Change it.
Just like anything, change requires practice. It is going to be hard to just wake up one day and say, “Today I am going to be more kind to me!” You can do this, but again it will be difficult if you approach your mistakes judgmentally. Hitting a bad shot does not make one a bad golfer. Making an unwise decision does not make one stupid. Currently I work with a student who is undergoing some pretty serious swing changes as a result of an injury. He was an excellent player before the injury, and will be again once the swing changes take hold. In the meantime however, he is struggling mentally and emotionally with the poor shots. He hits a bad shot on the range and says, “Well that sucked!” Of course it did. It obviously sucked. Now how do we reframe that analysis so that we are more likely to learn from it? How about “That wasn’t what I wanted. BUT I did pause a little better at the top, and turned through better… I just gave up a little at the ball. I am going to be more committed to the next one.” When one is analyzing his shot, it is far better to be descriptive rather than judgmental. And so on. It sounds a little Pollyanna, but this is really a huge step to game improvement for most players. Every time I catch this student saying something negative, I force him to reframe it. It will help not only his physical progress, but his mental progress as well.
Think hard about this article. Only YOU are in your head. If you aren’t on your side, who will be? Athletes, as one of you I understand that we like to be “realistic” and sometimes hard on ourselves. I am by no means telling you to only look on the bright side, to ignore your flaws and not try to improve them. What I am saying is that you have to talk, and think, about it differently. Instead of saying “Man, I drove the ball crappy today, I really have to tighten that up,” say “I didn’t drive it like I wanted today, but I am working on XYZ that is really going to help that going forward. I just need to keep working.” A big part of these positive thoughts is having a good coach to support you in them. If you KNOW you are working on the right thing, you know you CAN get there; then staying positive will help you get there much, much faster.
I have a tough one for you this week! Go out and play 9 holes. On each shot you hit I want you to give yourself a score of 1-5 (5 being the best, 1 the worst), and grade yourself in the following categories: Commitment to the shot, Execution of the shot, and attitude after the shot. The goal here is to be committed to every shot, and then HAPPILY accept the result. No matter what happens on the shot you have to try to score a 5 in Attitude after the shot. If you really commit to this drill, I would bet you that you will see some interesting results in your golf game.