Posts Tagged 'mental game'

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.

 

 

 

 

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Contagious Courage

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by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Courage. Those who have it seem to thrive, endure and consistently separate themselves from the rest of the population in powerful and meaningful ways. It allows individuals to adapt, evolve and continue pursuing fresh, meaningful opportunities – all characteristics of our most inspiring leaders, performers and admired role models. Courage may be the most important attribute for success in today’s ever-changing world. So…is it possible to increase courage? Can courage be maintained and nourished to enhance performance and catapult one’s self to achieve feats once deemed unattainable? The answer to both of these questions is – YES.
While courage can be fostered and maintained throughout a lifetime; it’s not a common nor easy path to endure. There is a reason why few are able to sustain it. We are wired to survive; and playing it safe is a fundamental key to survival. For those looking to do more than just survive, those looking to thrive instead, are encouraged to make a mindful choice to pursue the following guidelines. These keys will maximize one’s trajectory moving forward and provide every opportunity to strengthen courage, enhance confidence and nudge an individual toward leading a more powerful and fulfilling life.

1) Courage begets courage. Yes…it takes a miniscule particle of courage to start an unbridled chain reaction. Start small and momentum will slowly build. Take a minimal calculated risk in an otherwise mundane, everyday activity. Gauge how it makes you feel. If a hint of adrenaline and positive emotion came your way, you might be onto something.

2) Own your emotions. An elevated heart rate, increased perspiration and shaking hands are the tell-tale signs of anxiety. They are also signs of excitement. Believe it or not, you decide how to view your physical sensations. Perception of anxiety causes hesitation, over-thinking and undue delay; while interpreting those same physical cues as excitement leads to eagerness, positive energy and enjoyment. How physical feelings are interpreted dictates emotion…and emotion guides the choice to surge ahead, find another path or abort the mission completely. Courage seems to find a way to nudge forward with purpose, especially in the face of challenge and discomfort.

3) Recharge. In terms of energy, we are wired  much the same as a mobile device. Our battery has a limited capacity to perform before it needs a recharge. Courageous acts take their toll and it’s difficult to take on further challenges when feeling depleted and fragile. Dedicate personal time to sleep, stretch, breathe and connect with others. Soak in your favorite sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Find recharge techniques that work for you in order to produce even greater and more purposeful efforts moving forward.

4) Environment matters. Do those around you tend to be supportive or harsh following setbacks? The human experience causes us to cue off of each other’s energy more than we realize or often care to admit. Environment may actually be the most important key to enhancing or diminishing courage. When those around us possess a mindset which is harsh, critical or inflexible our choices toward future action are negatively affected as well. The opportunity to approach risks, especially appropriate ones, becomes less enjoyable as subtle tension bubbles below the surface. These distractions often appear at critical moments when courage and focus on the task at hand are needed most. The wandering thought of the possible critique and retribution to follow a mistake can magnify a slight bobble into a seemingly tumultuous, career-ending blunder. On the other hand, when those around us encourage stretching limits for growth and see personal experiences as learning opportunities (regardless of the result), confidence and courage are consistently fostered. Those same “critical” moments don’t feel as critical anymore, allowing skills and ability to emerge in abundance, leading to more desired and consistent results.

Courage is a highly desirable and potentially contagious attribute. Take the first step, own your emotions, recharge and surround yourself with those who support what you stand for. Courage comes from a willingness to fail from time to time. That willingness is the same thread that leads to consistent, enduring and courageous successes that last a lifetime.

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 http://www.juniorgolfparents.com/2014/01/29/junior-golf-development-tips/

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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