You recently saw one of the biggest tests of self belief you will ever see. Jordan Spieth, just 21 years old, stood alone on the Augusta National practice tee before the final round of the Masters with the opportunity to win golf’s biggest prize and potentially change history.
Spieth was about to make the final walk to the first tee, through crowds of screaming people, and with his own voice reminding him that he was about to play the most important round of golf he’s ever played.
How can a 21 year old pull off something that would make most gag, choke and stumble, and what can you learn from Jordan’s experience to make yourself a better golfer?
One of the key areas I work on with any athlete client (golfers included) is confidence: understanding it and building it. Confidence is a golfer’s bullet-proof vest. It was for Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters and it can be for you.
What is Confidence?
Well, it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions, and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.
You know the feeling of confidence. You’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing. You also know the other feeling. You just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing.
“I’ve Lost My Confidence”
When my phone rings, leading athletes or agents are sometimes on the other end. They or their player has “lost their confidence.” If it’s a golfer, the putter has gone cold and the ball’s not going in, or they can’t take their game from the practice tee to the course. They tell me there is little belief in what they are doing when it counts.
I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in the top professional leagues in the world and have risen to the upper echelon of their profession. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the downward spiral begins from there.
This is where golfers get confused. Confidence requires some understanding, and some work. Sports, like life, are about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/emotional game is like your physical practice. Do the work and it will pay off.
Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?
So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players, helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.
And this perspective can help you.
Great athletes are proactive with their confidence. When Jordan Spieth was walking to the first tee at Augusta before the final round, you can be sure he was reminding himself that he was playing great in 2015. He had built the foundation since he was 12 years old to handle a lead at The Masters on Sunday.
Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many). All the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a golfer. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.
On the other hand…
Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances or difficulties will overcome your successes and support and crack your golf “foundation.” In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures.
I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Golfers also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way — coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.
Does this sound familiar to you?
I see this everyday, even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears. A few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done, there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take responsibility for their confidence.
This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.
Building Your Confidence
It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation. So what can you do to work on your confidence and build it?
Here are a few key ideas that you can use to build the foundation and create belief in your game:
- Preparation. “Build it and it will come.” It is a secure feeling on the first tee. You know you’ve put the work and effort in each part of your game to deal with the shots you’ll need on the course. Make your practice functional, and related to the shots you’ll need on the course or in competition. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
- Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation.”
- Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand versus something you don’t. Jordan Spieth believed in Jordan Spieth’s ability to play Augusta. The results followed.
- Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
- Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the step in place to get there, there will be a sense of security that you are on the right track.
- Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities.
- Focus on your good shots, not the bad ones. Ben Hogan, the greatest ball-striker of all-time, felt he only hit about five or six shots in a round that were great. Ben had many misses and so will you. Focus on your good shots and accept there will be many misses.
- Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.
Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a golfer, but this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life: business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in.
Consider it an investment in your future.
What to look for in a golf instructor: The difference between transformative and transactional coaching
Golf instruction comes in all different styles, methods, and formats. With that said, you would think this would be a good thing due to there being so many different types of people in the world. However, it is my opinion that the lack of standardization within the industry makes it confusing for the athlete to determine what kind of golf instruction they should seek out.
Before we can discuss what may or may not be the best type of instruction for yourself, first we need to know what our options are. Whether we are taking a “broad-spectrum approach” to learning or a more personalized approach, it is important to understand that there are differences to each, and some approaches are going to take longer than others to reach goals.
Welcome to the world of digital golf instruction, where tips from the most famous coaches in the world are a click away. The great thing about the internet and social media for a golfer is there has never been more access to the top minds in the field—and tips and drills are plentiful. With that said, with there being so many choices and differing opinions, it can be very easy to become distracted with the latest tip and can lead to a feeling of being lost.
I would describe “internet coaching”—or YouTube and Instagram surfing—as transactional coaching. You agree to pay, either a monthly fee or provide likes or follows and the professional provides very generalized tips about the golf swing. For athletes that are new to golf or golf instruction, this tends to be the first part of their process.
There are people who prefer a more transactional approach, and there are a ton of people having success working together over the internet with their coach. With that said, for someone who is looking for more of a long-term individualized approach, this may not be the best approach. This broad-spectrum approach also tends to be the slowest in terms of development due to there being a lot of trial and error due to the generalized approach and people having different body types.
Individual Transactional Coaching
Most people who are new to golf instruction will normally seek out their local pro for help. Depending on where you live in the country, what your local pro provides will vary greatly. However, due to it being local and convenient, most golfers will accept this to be the standard golf lesson.
What makes this type of instruction transactional is that there tends to be less long-term planning and it is more of a sick patient-doctor relationship. Lessons are taken when needed and there isn’t any benchmarking or periodization being done. There also tends to be less of a relationship between the coach and player in this type of coaching and it is more of a take it or leave it style to the coaching.
For most recreational or club-level players, this type of coaching works well and is widely available. Assuming that the method or philosophies of the coach align with your body type and goals athletes can have great success with this approach. However, due to less of a relationship, this form of coaching can still take quite some time to reach its goals.
Individual Transformative Coaching
Some people are very lucky, and they live close to a transformative coach, and others, less lucky, have had to search and travel to find a coach that could help them reach their goals. Essentially, when you hire a transformative coach, you are being assigned a golf partner.
Transformative coaching begins with a solid rapport that develops into an all-encompassing relationship centered around helping you become your very best. Technology alone doesn’t make a coach transformative, but it can help when it comes to creating periodization of your development. Benchmarks and goals are agreed upon by both parties and both parties share the responsibility for putting in the work.
Due to transformative coaching tending to have larger goals, the development process tends to take some time, however, the process is more about attainment than achievement. While improved performance is the goal, the periods for both performance and development are defined.
Which One is Right for You?
It really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your development. If you are looking for a quick tip and are just out enjoying the weather with your friends, then maybe finding a drill or two on Instagram to add to your practice might be the ticket. If you are looking to really see some improvement and put together a plan for long-term development, then you are going to have to start looking into what is available in your area and beyond.
Some things to consider when selecting a coach
- Do they use technology?
- What are their qualifications when it comes to teaching?
- Do they make you a priority?
As a golf coach who has access to the most state-of-the-art technology in the industry, I am always going to be biased towards a data-driven approach. That doesn’t mean that you should only consider a golf coach with technology, however, I believe that by having data present, you are able to have a better conversation about the facts with less importance placed on personal preference. Technology also tends to be quite expensive in golf, so be prepared if you go looking for a more high-tech coaching experience, as it is going to cost more than the low-tech alternative.
The general assumption is that if the person you are seeking advice from is a better player than you are, then they know more about the golf swing than you do. This is not always the case, while the better player may understand their swing better than you do yours, that does not make them an expert at your golf swing. That is why it is so important that you consider the qualifications of your coach. Where did they train to coach? Do they have success with all of their players? Do their players develop over a period of time? Do their players get injured? All things to consider.
The most important trait to look for in a transformative coach is that they make you a priority. That is the biggest difference between transactional and transformative coaches, they are with you during the good and bad, and always have your best interest top of mind. Bringing in other experts isn’t that uncommon and continuing education is paramount for the transformative coach, as it is their duty to be able to meet and exceed the needs of every athlete.
The importance of arm structure
How the arms hang at address plays a vital role in the golf swing. Often overlooked, the structure in which we place the arms can dictate one’s swing pattern. As mentioned in the article How Posture influences your swing, if you start in an efficient position, impact is much easier to find making, the golf swing more repeatable and powerful.
To start, I opt to have a player’s trail arm bent and tucked in front of them with angle in the trail wrist. While doing so, the trail shoulder can drop below the lead with a slight bend from the pelvis. This mirrors an efficient impact position.
I always prefer plays to have soft and slightly bent arms. This promotes arm speed in the golf swing. No other sports are played with straight arms, neither should golf.
From this position, it’s easier to get the clubhead traveling first, sequencing the backswing into a dynamic direction of turn.
When a player addresses the ball with straight arms, they will often tilt with their upper body in the backswing. This requires more recovery in the downswing to find their impact position with the body.
A great drill to get the feeling of a soft-bent trail arm is to practice pushing a wall with your trail arm. Start in your golf set-up, placing your trail hand against the wall. You will instinctively start with a bent trail arm.
Practice applying slight pressure to the wall to get the feeling of a pushing motion through impact?. When trying the drill with a straight trail alarm, you will notice the difference between the two? arm structures.
What is ground force in the golf swing?
There is no doubt about it, the guys and gals on tour have found something in the ground—and that something is power and speed. I’m sure by now you have heard of “ground reaction forces”—and I’m not talking about how you “shift your weight” during the golf swing.
Ground force in the golf swing: Pressure and force are not equal
With respect to ground force in the golf swing, it’s important to understand the difference between pressure and force. Pressure is your perception of how your weight is being balanced by the structure, in this case, the human body. Your body has a center of mass which is located roughly one inch behind the belt buckle for men and about one inch lower in women. When we shift (translate and/or torque) the center of mass, we create a pressure shift as the body has to “rebalance” the mass or body. This pressure shift can help us understand some aspects of the golf swing, but when it comes to producing power, force and torque are where it’s at.
Pressure can only be expressed in relation to the mass or weight of the body. Therefore, if you weigh 150 pounds, you can only create 150 pounds of pressure at one time. However, when we direct that mass at a larger object than our mass, all of a sudden that larger mass directs an opposite and equal reactionary force. So now, when a human being “pushes” their legs against the ground and “feels” 150 pounds of pressure, they now get 150 pounds of force directed back towards them from the ground, creating a total of 300 pounds of force that allows them to jump off the ground in this scenario.
If ground reaction forces don’t have anything to do with the “weight shift,” then what do they affect? Everything!
Most people use the same basic ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. However, almost everyone has chocolate chip cookies that taste slightly different. Why is that? That is because people are variable and use the ingredients in different amounts and orders. When we create a golf swing, whether we are aware of it or not, we are using the same basic ingredients as everyone else: lateral force, vertical torque, and vertical force. We use these same three forces every time we move in space, and how much and when we use each force changes the outcome quite a bit.
Welcome to the world of 3D!
Understanding how to adjust the sequencing and magnitude of these forces is critical when it comes to truly owning and understand your golf swing. The good news is that most of our adjustments come before the swing and have to do with how we set up to the ball. For example, if an athlete is having a hard time controlling low point due to having too much lateral force in the golf swing (fats and thins), then we narrow up the stance width to reduce the amount of lateral force that can be produced in the swing. If an athlete is late with their vertical force, then we can square up the lead foot to promote the lead leg straightening sooner and causing the vertical force to happen sooner.
While we all will need to use the ground differently to play our best golf, two things need to happen to use the ground effectively. The forces have to exist in the correct kinetic sequence (lateral, vertical torque, vertical force), and the peaks of those forces need to be created within the correct windows (sequencing).
- Lateral force – Peak occurs between top-of-swing and lead arm at 45 degrees
- Vertical torque – Peak occurs between lead arm being 45 degrees and the lead arm being parallel to the ground.
- Vertical force – Peak occurs between lead arm being parallel to the ground the club shaft being parallel to the ground.
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to remember ground reaction forces are invisible and can only be measured using force plates. With that said, their tends to be apprehension about discussing how we use the ground as most people do not have access to 3D dual force plates. However, using the screening process designed by Mike Adams, Terry Rowles, and the BioSwing Dynamics team, we can determine what the primary forces used for power production are and can align the body in a way to where the athlete can access his/her full potential and deliver the club to the ball in the most effective and efficient way based off their predispositions and anatomy.
In addition to gaining speed, we can help athletes create a better motion for their anatomy. As golfers continue to swing faster, it is imperative that they do so in a manner that doesn’t break down their body and cause injury. If the body is moving how it is designed, and the forces acting on the joints of the body are in the correct sequence and magnitude, not only do we know they are getting the most out of their swing, but we know that it will hold up and not cause an unforeseen injury down the road.
I truly believe that force plates and ground reaction forces will be as common as launch monitors in the near future. Essentially, a launch monitor measures the effect and the force plates measure the cause, so I believe we need both for the full picture. The force plate technology is still very expensive, and there is an educational barrier for people seeking to start measuring ground reaction forces and understanding how to change forces, magnitudes, and sequences, but I’m expecting a paradigm shift soon.
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