In golf, there are the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Not only do the ‘haves’ possess the required skill set to excel on the course, they also have the secret ingredient that truly separates them from their less-successful counterparts: self-belief.
This topic came up as we were recently discussing the results of some of our competitive clients. It seemed we kept coming back to this commonality in describing our students who were experiencing the most success. Obviously, they perform well because they are all highly skilled, but the players that seem to have an unwavering belief in their abilities– keep achieving— sometimes even beyond the level that their current skills would predict.
We love the queued up clip below of the current World Number 1 communicating an amazing sense of belief in himself and his abilities.
“They had no chance.”
“Who’s playing for second place?”
This steadfast outlook on his ability to perform manifests itself in a few key characteristics:
- a willingness to take on meaningful challenges
- a propensity to exert maximum effort in training
- a persistence in the face of setbacks
These traits allow the self believers to navigate the ups and downs of golf and better manage the stress inherent within competitive golf. Psychologist and motivation expert, Albert Bandura, referred to this belief as Self Efficacy. Here is how he describes performers with high self efficacy:
Alternatively, we sometimes encounter highly skilled and technically proficient players who lack this Self Efficacy. They approach competition with anxiety rather than the exhilaration. These are the players who, despite having robust skills, aren’t able to parlay them into maximum output. How often do you see a player approach their performance with trepidation and expectations that are not in alignment with what they are capable of? Why is that?
It may seem obvious, but so much effort is spent on refining skill and technique that it’s easy to omit this essential component to performance from our lesson plans. And sometimes it’s worse than merely omitting— sometimes we prepare for an event in a way that inhibits self-efficacy and belief. Spending too much time on technique in our interactions leading up to an event rarely fuels a belief in their skills ‘as-is’. Instead, this approach may allow for a bit of doubt to creep in as the performer wonders what iteration of their mechanics will show up when it counts. This is a really difficult roadblock to avoid, especially if performance wanes in the lead up to an event.
So how can we build belief?
One of the most difficult things to do, as coaches, is to persuade a performer to believe more in their abilities. And that’s because players need something more tangible– to see it, not just hear it. They need proof. While we certainly try to build it and protect it through how we communicate— ultimately that belief has to be earned.
In our experience, the best source of Self Belief is the memory of previous accomplishments. To that end, we work closely with players to build a success inventory – a storage box of instances that demonstrate to the player, that they are capable to excelling in a variety of situations.
Think of an athlete who struggles to perform. If we know the person well, and know what they need to be successful, we can get pretty creative in creating situations where these accomplishments can be earned – and their memory bank can get filled.
Through reflection, we found a very common pattern – the occasions in which the people we work with reported the most confidence and performed best in events, closely matched the time in which we presented them with tasks aligned most closely with the ‘Build Efficacy’ quadrant of our Task Design Matrix.
These tasks – ‘Moments of Mastery’ – allowed the athletes to train in similar-to-play conditions under achievable outcome demands.
In looking closer at the anatomy of a Moment of Mastery, our end goal is to craft a task that creates assurance for the athlete– once complete, they know their skill is on-point and ready. We want them to be able to recognize a situation and refer back to the training they have completed and know, with great certainty, that their skill set is more than capable of producing the outcomes that they want – and need – in that circumstance. This performance state serves as a stark contrast to the uncommitted, uncertain performer who just isn’t sure if they can pull a certain shot off. If that’s the perceived belief, they SHOULD be nervous and anxious!
Although it sounds simple, there is an art to it. Knowing how hard the task needs to be to get them engaged and exerting effort while also keeping the difficulty at a level that is likely to produce a successful performance is quite difficult, as it is often a moving target and a very thin line to walk. However, it is the means by which this ‘swagger’ is earned, and it is something that expert coaches are able to do with practice and careful planning.
This is obviously made more difficult when the player attempts to create a Moment of Mastery with a technique that isn’t producing the desired results. That’s when, as coaches, we have to scale difficulty and possibly even put certain aspects of technique in isolation, so the performer can mentally ‘check the box’ and move on. While this ‘isolation’ technique may not align with how a player best learns in the long-term– it’s worth doing at times if we know it will have a positive effect on their perceived competence. For an example of successful players training his way, visit the putting green of any tour event Mon-Tue and witness players going through their technique checks with any number of training aids in a noticeably superficial environment.
On these occasions, we prefer a stable, unrepresentative setting despite the stigma that often comes with these ‘blocked practice’ activities. If, in that moment, it will help an athlete believe in themselves more, we won’t hesitate to go there. Even if it’s a bit manufactured and unrepresentative– skill acquisition science be damned!
CREATING MOMENTS OF MASTERY
There are two things that we need to be aware of when designing Moments of Mastery.
- The goal is to boost a player’s perception of their ability to be successful under the gun.
- The boost comes from them being able witness their success in the first person, repeatedly.
With those action items in mind, we need to provide a task that has three distinct characteristics:
- Low to moderate relative difficulty.
- A like-golf environment.
These three aspects of the training task – difficulty, instability, and time on task – work together to create an environment that has the potential to inspire motivation and perception of one’s abilities as it offers the possibility for the performer to be successful, in similar-to-play situations, often. Provided the outcome standard that governs success is in alignment with their skill set, these tasks serve as a catalyst to the creation of confidence. Here is an example:
In this instance, the athlete received certainty that what he is training, he is able to recall when he needs it and that the outcomes are very good. Again, it sounds very simple, but the more we can create these moments, the more moments of success they have in the memory bank to reference during competition.
In addition to providing opportunities to see success, we can further promote their sense of ‘I-Can-Do-It-ness’ by keeping track of their performance. Logging skills assessments or statistics, can show tangible proof of progress against early versions of themselves. What will happen to the athlete in the screencast after we point out a drill that at one time seemed very difficult, but now they complete with ease? This is another great source for self-belief— it’s a great way to promote their sense of ‘I-Can-Do-It-ness.’
While we don’t claim to be sports psychologists– we realize that our interactions need to impact performance state in equal measure to skill. Exploring the motivational and psychological underpinnings of how we coach and train should be a priority for all coaches. Luckily there are experts in golf like Pia Nilsson, Lynn Marriott, Dr. Bhrett McCabe, and Dr. Rick Jensen who share their insights generously.
If you feel researching this topic could improve your coaching– our friend Cordie Walker is putting on the Unlocking Performance Virtual Summit. Some of the brightest minds in golf, including the ones listed above, will be sharing their thoughts. We would highly recommend checking it out!
Another great source is James Sieckmann’s new book, Your Putting Solution. Not only does he cover the technical components of putting in comprehensive detail, but the second half of the book is essentially a master class in how to coach, build belief, and train more effectively.
And after you check out those great resources, we hope you’ll engage us in further investigating this topic in the comment section. What activities do you use to create similar ‘Moments of Mastery’? Describe a task that you use that seems to evoke a strong sense of ‘I can do it’ from your students. We would love to compile a database that we can all learn from and use in our coaching.