Updated: Jun 25, 2021
I see this all the time: the intention, the effort, the understanding, the change and then the lack of application in the live situation on the golf course. The more I think about this situation, the more I am curious to watch people play sports and to perform in order to figure out what is really going on.
I've been looking for some sort of scientific study that associates fear with performance, and of course you can find details and studies about performance anxiety and how that affects musicians, public speaking, group social structures and the like, but we often don't see much about the reasons why there is so much fear in golf - It may also explain why alcohol and golf often times go well together; but, does it need to be so difficult to change and why do we allow fear to block our ability to improve?
I've been thinking about this blog post for the last few weeks, I've been watching some students as they warm up and as they play on course. Some students can implement change, some students struggle to overcome that change and make lasting improvement. I have watched intently and looked for body language cues to help me make some assumptions. I have realized there is one primary method to overcome this fear. The only way to overcome is force.
I know that sounds so draconian but sometimes the only way to overcome a situation is to continually force yourself to do it. This is where things get interesting!
I can remember the 5 seconds before I was thrown from a plane with a small South African, a parachute, and a harness separating me from death. The sound of the person that jumped before me screaming as she was sucked out the door from 15 thousand feet was like listening to a military jet fly past you at near mach speed (real fast and violent).
It was terrifying but there was no turning back. In hind sight, that little scream switched something in my head: it told me what to expect and it told me I HAVE TO DO IT, there is no other way out. The experience of skydiving was moderate compared to nerves standing on the first tee surrounding by my teammates watching me hit the first drive. The golf nerves were 100 times worse. It sounds ridiculous but it isn't when you think about it.
Fear of performance and fear of a situation are two different things. It's the fear of the things we believe we have control over that is so hard to accept and that is because humans love to think we can control things. We sit and mull over what happened after its over and how we should have and could have done x,y,z.
Sit and listen to golfers post round. You will hear a few things: I should have hit that 2 footer on 9 to halve the hole, I could have chipped better, I should have used my 3 wood instead of my driver today. It is funny, because the round is over and we should not let it affect our future performance, but it does. Why, because we want to control a bad outcome - which is a ridiculous mind frame to attempt to improve. It is fear based, not curious based.
So what can we do about it - how can we turn a situation of force to make us improve. The answer is simple: Stubborn Conviction of Belief & Repetition.
The solution lies in those much younger than most of us. Let's look at our kids and apply it to our golf game. Toddlers, Small Kids & "Immature" young adults generally seem like they lack fear. Their fear response is no different it is just masked by an unwavering belief that they can be like an adult and that they can do everything an adult can and that they are the masters of their own universe. They are also stubborn in their conviction and they have no issue with failure or with repeating something again and again until they get their way or make improvement necessary to live.
There is a lesson here believe it or not. The lesson is that you should treat your golf game as an amateur like a kid. Assess your game in relation to a specific stage of child:
1) Beginner - Toddler
2) Mid Handicapper - Tween
3) Elite Amateur - Teen or Young Adult
What do toddlers do? They spill drinks, they mis-handle food, they hurt themselves and they cry, whine and are stubborn. They continue this behavior until they improve. Imagine how incredible they are considering they have 0 language skills but learn to communicate and stop acting like a toddler when they improve their language to an adequate level. Most importantly, they inherently know they will success and they never stop trying. The only way they learn is by force, remember they have no way out. The only way out is through the door of that airplane like I did when Sky diving. It's the only way that works.
When you take a lesson, you have to force the change. Your practice sessions should not be at full speed. A toddler doesn't learn how to run before it can walk and balance. You should not be thinking about anything else than forcing that change. Even if you go and play golf and hit every shot 100 yards in the correct way, you will be moving toward the next stage so much faster than succumbing to fear and just reverting back to you old swing ways.
Admission of being a toddler is key. Golfers already love to self-deprecate and sometimes a bit of honesty with other golfers shifts people's minds to treating that golfer like a toddler: with a compassion and an understanding. When people know you are out their on the course to improve, then they are apt to try to help. See a small child in need anywhere, what is the first instinct of all humans: to help.
The same is with golf - and you should make it a point to enlist the help of others as you move from toddler to tween. This will immediately remove the fear of failure and allow humour and fun to enter the equation rather than shame and disappointment.
Being a Toddler in your Professional Life
This doesn't just apply to golf. This applies to our professional lives. It's okay to be a toddler again and to ask people for help, regardless of the level you sit in your professional career.
You'd be very surprised at the response you will get from colleagues when you admit you are learning and that you would love some help and feedback as to how you are doing with your new skills. Telling someone you are like a toddler triggers this help mechanism. Again, in comes the humour and fun, out goes the fear and resistance.
You need to be stubborn about this acceptance at the fault and you'll see how fast you can learn and develop - this is at any age.
Mid Handicapper - Tween
This is where most golfers sit. It's also often why it is much easier to teach a beginner than it is to correct a mid handicapper. The reason here is that the resistance to change is much higher and the golfer themselves are more prone to fear. Don't we all remember the joys of going to a pool as a tween with all of that insecurity and uncertainty at our image, capabilities or other characteristic - which is so important at the time, but so meaningless in the grand scheme of things? I can see everyone smiling and laughing when they read that.
The Tween in Golf
This is where we need to make the most help and the most impact. The base line skills are developed, and if developed properly should lead way to easy enough change. It takes persistence and stubborn belief that you will succeed; but, the ability to overcome the fear of being a tween golfer.
So let's take a trip back and remember what we did as a tween in order to overcome our fears. This is undoubtedly the hardest time in life both in reality or as a golf skill level. We need persistence more than anything, and we need the same type of understanding that we will fail. If you need to go back to toddler and relearn a golf skill to make learning in the tween stages easier, then I fully support that choice.
When we were learning how to perform better, what was the number one "failsafe" at removing the fear of performance as a tween? It was practice.
Everything we did/do was in relation to practice. In school we had to learn and practice with homework, we had to apply what we learned in class to apply it to a real world scenario in order to fully understand it. And most of all and most important, we unknowingly helped and taught our peers.
It is the desire to want to teach someone else that allows a full understanding. When I say teach, I don't mean in the practical sense, I mean to help work through the problem with someone else. To apply your views to the subject, to apply your understandings to the world. That's why late tweens and early teens are always so idealistic and outspoken in the world. Just remember our old friend Greta Thunberg. You'll get the idea.
The first step to improving is learning and understanding the concept. Sit, think about the golf swing. How does the club need to move to strike the ball properly? What factors contribute to a mishit, how can I practice to improve. How can I discuss these ideas with my coach or friends and find a way to make sense in our own golf swing? This persistent understanding of how to hit the ball, is the single most important factor in improving at the mid handicap stage. We have to know what we want to do, understand the method of improving, and then practice it again and again until it becomes easy. That's what we did when we were a tween and how we progressed with the confidence of a teen.
The Tween in Business
The same applies for business: remember you must understanding all angles before you can formulate an action plan. The best advice I have ever received when moving upwards in my professional career in business, was to first come in and understand the situation. To listen first and to treat yourself like a toddler that doesn't know anything about the environment which they find themselves. This investigation period should last a few months.
First we acquire the knowledge and understanding of the situation, and then we can decide what to practice in order to improve the outcome. Oh - and we need some stubborn persistence as our colleagues likely won't understand why you are doing what you are doing, or will be naturally resistant and fearful of change. Sound familiar?
This is a highlight of life as things really start to come together nicely. We are full of ambition, full of future aspirations and ready to conquer the world. The same happens to golfers, when they crack the code. But this is where we need to be the most careful. Poor mechanics and the inability to get as low as we can handicap wise can see some life long stalling of the game.
I have the positive opinion that most people can easily play into single figure handicaps with some swing re-modelling, a few short game technique sessions and a full practice regime. This is only a matter of time and effort and is not beyond the limit of 90% of individuals physical capabilities. I am serious when I say this and can provide some mathematics behind it. (I will outline in another blog).
The problem however is how low can you actually go. This is highly dependent upon the two previous steps and in order to get down to scratch it may require some regression to a previous step. This is also an area where a small fix here and there is quite easy to implement and the golfer should not be too reluctant to make that change or be able to make that change, provided they haven't played golf with some catastrophic swing error for this long.
Be like a Teen in Golf
If you're already in the lower handicap area, then it is best to be open to a small change here and there and to continue your journey into understanding the theory behind the swing, why the golf ball behaves as it does, and how the club and club fitting affects the on course performance. (Another blog about this later). It is so important to try to master the fine nuances of the game and to find yourself an older mentor to help you along the way. This is your last step before you get out there on your own and it is so important to have proper mentoring on the game at this stage if you really want to get to a low low handicap or no handicap at all.
Be a Teen in Business
Surely most of us are proficient at what we do, but to really take it to that next level some small tweaks to behavior and actions will have a massive impact. It shocks me beyond belief that people don't use a calendar, they don't plan the month ahead financially, they don't share their calendar with those in their team or their spouses. This is such an easy thing to do to have a massive impact on the professional world. Sometimes just being reliable is the next step needed to really become a top professional, and those tools are free.
Look up to the behaviors of those above you, and of those that you respect, and understand what makes them more efficient, more effective or less stressed and fearful in life. It may be that they have been through many scenarios in life and know deep down that there real skill is finding solutions to problems no matter what the circumstances. It's at this point that the little things will make a big impact. Go in search for them and choice which path you will take toward betterment.
Be Fearless to Fail and Open the Mind to Learn and You'll be able to do it on the Course in No Time! Here's to lower and lower scores.