I’ve always been interested in sport, particularly golf, obviously, but generally all sport. And what has really grabbed my attention since I became a coach some 25 years ago is how to teach all the stuff you cannot see. Technique is important, of course, but the practice grounds of this world are full of players with great swings who can’t make a score. They haven’t learned how to PLAY the game; they’ve learned the art of swinging the club and hitting the ball, not necessarily the art of managing themselves and their emotions. Adaptability is key to cope with the ever-changing and ever-shifting conditions present internally and externally during any peak performance. As Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott put it so succinctly in their wonderful book, Be A Player, you must learn to become a Master of Variability.
For a wee while I have been laying some grounding in this respect with one young player I mentor, Rory McDonald-O’Brien, from the delightfully welcoming Lilleshall Golf Club in Shropshire. Rory is training hard in the gym and on the range but my goal with Rory now is to have as much of our learning as possible taking place ON the golf course, not in a bay or on the practice ground. We can borrow skills and learn from all sorts of sports and quite honestly the information often comes under the heading of “blindingly obvious” when pointed out to you – but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.
Rory was facing a big task last Monday at the Open Regional Qualifying. He was one of more than a thousand players at 13 different venues trying to secure one of the precious 140 spots available at Final Open Qualifying. He teed it up at Kedleston Park with 89 other hopefuls, most of them professionals, chasing 11 available spots. Four players broke par and seven more got through after having shot one over. Rory shot three over. Not bad for a 14-year old trying out his developing management skills at that level for the first time.
One of my favourite mantras is, “Go inside yourself to play well.” By that I mean hone in on all of your senses and feel what is going on when you swing and play well. Awareness is the key word here. What is actually happening when you have a great day out on the course? How do you feel inside (calm, excited, alert, passive)? How do you see things (sharp detail or soft focus)? Do you hear everything your partners say or have you tuned them out? Are you chatty or silent? There are no right or wrong answers here. You must explore and learn what works for you.
I suggest you write down all the things that you feel are present when you play well. Then you will come up with your own template for success and it is up to you to recreate these conditions when you go out on the course. It doesn’t mean you’ll play well every time, of course, but you must learn to build the platform from which peak performance is possible. I’m fairly confident technical thoughts won’t figure much on your list, if at all. You may have a sense of something at a particular point of the swing but you certainly won’t be giving yourself a list of do this/don’t do that instructions.
A final note for all coaches and teachers out there. Try something new, something you know nothing about and have no experience of. That’s what Patricia and I did last weekend when we went on a motorbiking taster course.
It was great fun but also a great lesson for me who supposedly has some expertise in imparting golfing knowledge and skill. It’s so important to understand what a total beginner feels like and we can only do that by putting ourselves in that arena now and again. We enjoyed it so much we’re going to do more of it. What completely new thing would you have a go at, given the chance?