Posts Tagged 'competition'

Skill + Time = Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

It’s quite obvious that player development is based on building skill over time. The more an individual works at something, the more skills are developed. As skills are passionately pursued throughout a significant timeframe, expert performance appears.  Yet, it can be difficult to maintain this perspective on a daily basis – especially around tournament time. As competition nears, other ideas seem to bubble to the surface:

How many points is this tournament worth?   Who is in the field?  What’s the winning score going to be?

Although these thoughts are exciting to consider, they also tend to become a distraction to performance. The more distractions that arise against the player development mindset, the less attention an individual has to focus on the task at hand; and distracted is not a mindset which is synonymous with success.

Throughout training:IMG_20141007_085300583

Golfers don’t practice making birdies, they practice making smooth swings.

Golfers don’t practice shooting 4-under par, they practice staying target focused.

Golfers don’t practice getting recruited by a college or turning pro, they practice patience.

If distracting ideas start taking over (make birdie, shoot 4-under, get recruited) especially around tournament time, unreliable results are likely to follow. Discussions based on short-sighted results breed a mindset linked to distracted performance, frustration, lackluster effort and potential  burnout.

Parents, coaches and athletes who reinforce a player development mindset (Skill + Time = Results) seek long-term growth and build healthy competitors as a result. These individuals see competition as an opportunity to exhibit skills (smooth swings, target focus and patience) and test personal limits. When skills continue to remain a top priority throughout training and competition, consistent results unfold. As individuals consistently take part in dialogue filled with themes of player development, birdies happen, scores drop and barriers continue to be broken.

This post was originally created for & can also be found at


The United States Open Championship – “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

There will be no defenders moving throughout the course. There is no physical contact allowed between competitors, much less the need for a cut man to monitor lacerations and bleeding throughout the round. Yet this week’s United States Open Championship at Pinehurst No. 2 will certainly feel like a battlefield which tests its competitors from start to finish. Michael Buffer (you know, the “Let’s get ready to rumble” ringside boxing announcer) should be making his trademark announcement on the first tee to set the stage for this emotional competition.

US Open

Although many believe the mental game is all about staying calm and positive, players who expect to exhibit these characteristics for 72-holes (plus an additional 18+ in an playoff situation) under exhilarating U.S. Open Championship conditions are kidding themselves. Cognitive science shows that competitors would be better served to start anticipating scenarios of how to manage and embrace some of golf’s worst-case scenarios, rather than hoping to calmly cruise through this brutal test of golf with their ball settling close to the hole all week. The truth is that motivation will slowly deteriorate as the reality of strenuous competition collides with a calm and positive dream-world. Carol Dweck’s revolutionary work supports this point (–GxDLD&sig=fSZrzW3JiUDBH_vMTEVhyjHm9RY#v=onepage&q=challenge%20mindset&f=false) and is a must-read for athletes, students, coaches, parents and leaders of any kind.

Listen closely to player interviews throughout the week. Do the weekend leaders talk about the calm, simple dream-shots they hit; or is there a more passionate dialogue, filled with the thrills of navigating tight situations on one of golf’s largest stages? Confidence and sustainable motivation come from embracing moments of uncertainty and gutting out the tough stuff. As the rest of us settle comfortably into the couch to watch the action on television, consider the emotion and uncertainty involved in competing effectively in one of golf’s largest and most difficult environments. Take note and start preparing effectively for your next “U.S. Open-like” experience.

Create Olympic Environments – All Year Long

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Although the Olympic Games are meant for elite athletes and only come along once every four years, there is much we can learn and utilize from the spirit of the Games in our everyday lives to further performance in all levels and domains. As the modern Olympics began to take shape in the early 20th century, Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee. He proclaimed its core beliefs as, “the important thing is not winning but taking part. What counts in life is not the victory but the struggle; the essential thing is not to conquer but to fight well”. In other words, competition is healthy. Great rivals and competitors push each other to their limits. This type of competition allows individuals and teams to discover each others’ true potential. Yet, this is only done when the environment frames competition and development appropriately, much the way the Olympic Games have been staged.


Competition run amok can start to look very different. When winning and looking superior becomes the sole motivator, temptation to cheat, harm and take inappropriate action may become the unfortunate result. A scoreboard focus minimizes the ability to compete effectively, causing frustration and angst to overtake more helpful emotions of excitement and inspiration on the playing field.


What messages are more actively promoted within your environment?

1) Struggle effectively and maximize effort…that’s what will lead us to success. We need great rivals to make us stronger!


2) Just get the win. The opponent is in the way of our success!

What would happen if you and your team are more motivated by option #1 for the next 5-10 years? Where will you likely be? Now ask yourself the same for option #2.

Environment matters – It shapes us, motivates us and carries us down the path of life. Our environments create the foundation for the decisions we make, especially in times of high stress and uncertainty. Choose and create Olympic environments whenever possible. We will all be better off in the long run!

The Players Amateur: A look “inside” the competition

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Players Am

The Players Amateur will take place this week at the beautiful and challenging Berkeley Hall Club in Bluffton, SC. The following article was written for the members of the club and will be published in an upcoming edition of the Berkeley Hall Experience newsletter. Although many who read this will be unable to attend the tremendous annual golf event, hopefully the message will prove useful nonetheless…

The mental game can be a mystery since it’s safely hidden within the mind of every competitor. Without the opportunity to engage in personal and revealing conversations with those competitors, one might never know what it takes to become a champion from the inside out. Actions reveal part of the story, so spectators of the Players Amateur at Berkeley Hall can gain some valuable insight into the mental game of the world’s top amateurs.

The three main components of a strong mental game include…

  1. Engage in Every Shot: Although golf is known to be a difficult sport from a mental perspective, it can be handled much more successfully by managing attention for spurts of 10 – 15 seconds at a time. Unlike other sports which demand consistent attention throughout the entire contest, golf can be a far less taxing endeavor by establishing priorities of picking a target or shot shape and keeping that image in mind for a few seconds leading up to execution.
  2. Accept the Result: Once the club has impacted the ball, the golfer gives up all control over the result. Players who appreciate and understand the art of acceptance tend to manage themselves and their emotions more effectively than those who brood over lost strokes and missed opportunities.
  3. Relax/Recharge Between Action: Effort, energy and attention is a limited resource. It’s not possible to stay completely engaged in any activity for 4+ hours, much less an activity as complicated as golf. Just the same as a smart-phone requires a recharge after consistent use, the human mind and body needs balance as well. Finding this balance over the course of a 72-hole competition can assist in the pressure-packed closing stretch of a competition.

Gain some valuable insight into your own mental game by watching this year’s Players Amateur contestants compete for a spot in the 2014 Verizon Heritage. Watch (and ask if the opportunity arises) your favorite players how they manage these 3 key components to a strong mental game.

If you have any questions about this topic or other areas of the mental game, please feel free to reach out to Matt…

Twitter: @MentalCoachMatt

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