Posts Tagged 'golf'

Mindset of the Leader

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

British Open Golf

It was unraveling before his eyes. Or was it? Jordan Spieth put on a tremendous display of discipline, courage and tenacity when it mattered most at Royal Birkdale in Sunday’s final round of The Open Championship.

Spieth started the final round with a three-shot lead on his nearest competitor and a distant six from the rest of the field. It was his tournament to win. It was also his tournament to lose. Sleeping on the lead can be an uncomfortable endeavor. After all, he was no longer the hunter; he was the hunted – at least this is how it can feel at times.

It’s common sense to appreciate that eyes and attention have a tendency to find their way to the nearest competitor, in this case the rear-view mirror. We also know this is no way to surge forward with clarity. We’ll get back to this in a bit…

Fast forward to the 13th hole, where Spieth finds himself taking an unplayable lie while losing his once cushy lead in the process. Yet, this is the moment when he stepped up like many champions before him and many will continue to do after. His attention was immediately brought to the challenge directly in front of him. It was time to bear down, settle in and get after it. No longer on the defensive, he was on the attack once again and his skills emerged. Spieth went 5-under par on the next 4 holes and closed out the tournament in style.

From a mental perspective, it’s no surprise it worked out this way. Spieth is a gritty competitor, thriving on challenge. Like many great performers, he competes his best when being the hunter. So, the question becomes…

With a lead, how do you remain the hunter when there is nothing in front to surge toward?

A lead is not something to protect, unless you want to lose it. A lead is something to build upon. Attack targets and stay assertive. The most important piece is this – it may sound counterintuitive, yet let it sink in for a moment. Be willing to mess up. Yes, mess up. Being OK with messing up leads to taking appropriate risks, remaining assertive, accepting you might lose a bit of ground, and actually gives emotional freedom to continue surging forward with courage, confidence and conviction. Lean on this mindset to stack the odds in your favor of maintaining and possibly building the lead rather than nervously “protecting it” and likely watching it disappear.

Not many have an opportunity to be in this position on a daily basis, yet keep this in the back of your mind…it may come in handy someday, when you least expect it.






Are You Willing to Miss?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

You are walking up the 18th fairway, all-square in a highly anticipated match. Your partner is out of the hole, putting the outcome of the contest squarely on your shoulders. Your spectacular approach shot finishes 4-feet from the cup, leaving a bit of a downhill left-to-right slider to navigate for birdie. Your opponents hole out for a par, meaning this putt can secure the win and bragging rights amongst the group. Your heart starts to race and hands begin to quiver as you realize all eyes are on you.

The big question is, “Are you willing to miss it”?

Your first instinct might be to say “No, I’m not willing to miss…I really want to make this putt”.

Ryder Cup - Day Two Foursomes

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Of course you want to make it, however, take a deeper look at the willing to miss part. If your partner were to utter, “Don’t miss this one”, would that make you feel more confident, secure and ready to put your best stroke on the ball? Probably not! Being UNwilling to miss actually adds unnecessary pressure, tension and acts as a distraction to the performance. It’s not that you want to miss, yet a willingness to do so actually normalizes the situation. It makes the performance a bit more relaxing and frees your body and mind to perform the task assertively, to the best of your ability.

Next time you find yourself in a “clutch” situation and you want your best skills to emerge, be a little more willing to miss and enjoy what unfolds as a result.


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.

The Masters and Mastery


Azelea’s are in bloom. Bubba’s got a bit of a lead. It’s time for championship weekend at The Masters. Who will wear the green jacket on Sunday ought to be anybody’s guess. There’s a lot of golf to be played and early prognostication is a fool’s mission.

The key to getting and staying on the top of the leaderboard may lie in the tournament name itself… a mastery focus will help the knees knock a bit less and focus to stay true. This is old news, but remains tough for even the most seasoned competitor to remember.

The competitor that carries a mastery-oriented mindset into the weekend will:

  • Keep his eyes on his own scorecard – for mastery goals are self-referenced.
  • Have a mind’s eye that allows him to see shots most creatively – mastery motivation leads to curiosity.
  • Will recover well after a lipout or poor club selection – willingness to learn is at the cornerstone of this mindset.
  • He will be filled with positive emotion when in the middle of a shifting leaderboard on Sunday – a mastery-orientation feels the excitement of challenge, but does not fear it.

None of this is new news, but important to be reminded of time and time again. Success at The Masters will be all about a mastery mindset.

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

Why I Love MMA

I’m a somewhat skinny guy, who doesn’t like blood, and is in really no hurry to get into any physical confrontations… so you would be as surprised as me to realize that I really appreciate mixed martial arts (MMA) combat.  Appreciate may be a bit of an understatement, a handful of years ago I joined a UFC training camp/team and recently have collaborated on some scholarly work on the sport.  It is fair to say, I have gone from a healthy skeptic of the sport to, in some small way, part of the sport.

This morning I was pondering why I seem to love MMA.  It occurred to me when I read an article about lag putting on the PGA Tour’s website.  I think Coach Immelman’s reflections are spot on.  In particular, “Strive for crisp contact and good speed control.”  What sticks in my craw is the term “lag putting.”  It strikes me that this is a term that is simply so ingrained in the culture of golf it distracts from player growth and development.

Sporting cultures can be so myopic, that growth and development is impeded.  When I spent time developing the sport psychology curriculum at the International Tennis Academy USA at the turn of the century this was made clear to me.  Players such as Roddick, Fish, and their peers trained and battled day in and day out on sun drenched Florida tennis courts.  Right next to the Delray courts was the Bucky Dent Baseball Academy.  At this time, the off-season home of Pudge Rodriguez.  I asked the tennis coaches about the baseball academy (which I drove by multiple times a day) and they did not even know it existed.  This was a surprise… the replica Green Monster about 250 yards away from the tennis courts was kind of tough to miss.  But if your world is tennis, why would baseball matter to you?  Like if you are a golfer, of course you debate and mediate upon lag putting – who wouldn’t?

A few years ago, I was privileged to eaves drop on a casual discussion among UFC contenders and coaches.  One fighter and former All-American wrestler was showing off a take-down that was one of his go to moves in college.  A couple of Brazilian Jiujitsu specialists watched in awe and excitedly thought about opportunities to add it to the MMA game.  After a few moments and some discussion, the move was nixed from the MMA repertoire (good for wrestling, but exposed the head a bit too much to punches in MMA).  Nonetheless, this interaction was terrific.  Walk into a collegiate wrestling room.  Travel to a Gracie Jiujitsu gym.  Watch Muay Thai training.  Experience a musty boxing gym.  All combat sports, but different routines, rituals, and cultures.  Yet in MMA these cultures not only collide, but seek one another out for growth and learning.

MMA competitors cannot afford to be myopic.  This is what I love about MMA.  Some sporting cultures forget that dynamic thinking and training about athletics exist beyond their well-worn playbooks and wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation.  Looking outside to other sports takes the restrictor plate off of performance.

Golfers need to take more time on drills and in a mindset that develops vivid feel for the speed of a putt.  Just do not say the goal is to develop “L” word.  Such quality practice leads to good putts, no other term is needed.  Sometimes leaving the culturally created terms behind, put great player development ahead.

  • What sport do you need to take a pilgrimage (intellectual and/or physical) to in order to boost your player development?
  • What well worn terms or concepts in your sporting life do you use mindlessly?  Consider if they confine, constrict, and add little value.  If so, it’s likely time to let go of them.

Open your mind to a melting pot of sporting wisdom and enjoy it all.

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