by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.
Throughout the years I have received thousands of questions. More than any other question, however, the one I receive most often is, “What exactly do you do for a living?” The answer is simple and complicated at the same time…
I have designed and implement a mental training program to assist student-athletes in reaching their potential on and off the golf course. Students are equipped with a mindset which is supplemented by skills to assist them to maximize their potential through quality practice, self-management, and a mindset of continuous improvement.
It all starts with student-athletes creating a clear and specific mission they would like to achieve. This mission provides purpose and the motivation required to continue learning on a daily basis in order to reach personal short and long-term goals. An individual with a specific purpose will overcome potential obstacles and distractions that may draw attention away from the task at hand. Once the student-athlete creates his or her own mission, and understands the importance of having a purpose for every action, they will begin to engage in quality practice. Quality practice can only be achieved when the student knows what he/she is working on and holds him/herself accountable for it. Hitting balls, chipping, or putting mindlessly (without purpose) does not maximize time and energy; and worse yet, might lead to overuse injuries. The more engaged the practice, the more learning and improvement occurs during that time. Quality practice has two major benefits. First and foremost, it creates increased confidence that will allow the student-athlete to know they have done everything within their power to prepare for competition. The second benefit of quality practice is that it will also allow for balance and quality time off the course. If the student-athlete knows he/she has done everything possible to improve during practice time, there will be no regrets during free time away from the golf course either.
Competition is the time for athletes to showcase their skills and prove their merit. During competition, there are many external distractions and pressures that athletes must learn to manage effectively in order to play to their potential. How an athlete responds to these distractions and pressures has much to do with the mindset they take into competition. There are two distinct mindsets that separate competitors. One of them is an outcome orientation, which is the mindset of an athlete who is more concerned with the end result (scores, rankings, college scholarships, etc.) and how they might appear to other people. This mindset leads to inconsistent performances from athletes who typically perform below their potential. An athlete with a process orientation, on the other hand, is more focused on “playing one shot at a time”. This mindset allows the athlete to focus on him/herself and the appropriate action to take in the present moment to be successful. An athlete with a process orientation tends to maintain a consistent level of effort, regardless of the situation, and typically sees more consistent outcomes as a result.
Finally, following competition it is imperative for athletes to engage in active rest. This is the time for the student-athlete to take a step back and give an honest assessment of his/her own tournament performance and training leading up to the event. An effective evaluation includes strengths that emerged to continue developing; limitations that exist that may be holding the individual back from reaching their potential; and most importantly, an updated plan to create the next mission to move forward and continue improving with renewed purpose and energy.
Hopefully this piece clarifies, rather than complicates the question of what I do and how I work to assist my student-athletes on a daily basis. Just as I encourage my athletes to evaluate themselves on a regular basis to reach their potential, I attempt to do the same for myself. This is my philosophy today. Only time and introspection will tell if this answer will be the same down the road.