Another letter from the DOC – February 2009

Yesterday I spent the afternoon talking. There is really nothing new, different or exciting in this, other than the fact that I spoke to people that I don’t normally see every day. Luckily the people that I met are of the kind that I could spend days with locked up in a cottage somewhere and still I am sure we would not run out of things to talk about. The first person was a world known and respected coach, originally in another sport but now more and more interested in golf. The other was a sport psychologist with connections to players whose years and victories on tour add up to some pretty impressive numbers. It is not too wild a guess that our conversations came to circle around things like coaching, personal development and athletes’ ability to plan, action and review their individual programmes.

We spoke about things like the role of the coach in golf and compared it with the coach role in other sports. It is incredibly interesting how players in golf are left to their own devices, or perhaps more specifically they keep to their own devices in trying to work out what to do and when to do it in order to improve. In most other sports there is a whole team of people that sit down and analyse the performance to then carefully plan the type of intervention that is needed to both build on what was good and raise the bar for what was not yet perfect. In golf this is the player’s job. And is he or she doing a good job?

One of the coaches that I met has just gotten involved with a professional player. This player has been through it all. Junior golf, college golf, playing for England and now he is on one of the professional tours. When my chatting partner compared this golfer’s habits with what would have been a pretty average standard of a plan and review process in his other sport I think you can guess which way it leaned. And if I think of all the players that I have come across in coaching golf over the years there are very few that are anywhere near this process of systematic plan and review thinking. Golf is very much about going to the golf course to “practice” or “hit some balls”.

And then I thought about what business or work life is like. I wonder how many people come to work in the morning and really have a clear picture of what they should do? How much time do we actually spend on helping people become good managers of themselves? Do our schools help our children develop this skill? Would it make a difference to the economy if people had the chance to become their own best coaches? I think so! When I worked in Sweden I produced a player’s handbook, the “54 Calendar” (excuse the Swedish) in something like a Filofax format which was meant to be the players’ bible. It is small enough to fit in the bag and therefore it can always accompany the player. It has some important theory on planning, preparation and practice together with a large number of drills and skills tests as well as a calendar where players can plan their season and keep track of their development. I know that when Clive Woodward coached the England Rugby Team they had exactly the same thing there. And that was in a team sport! I wonder how many companies have something like this to help their employees perform? Having said all this I am absolutely convinced that it is not the how you do it that matters. I have come across players that probably have not written down one single thing in their entire career and yet they are sharp as a knife when it comes to knowing what to do to improve. Stick a binder in their hands and that could be the end of that. The thing that do matters is that we find a way that can help us become as good as we can be. Unfortunately though, a lot of us seem to fumble in the dark.

Best regards, Peter

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

– Tom Robbins

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