If you are the golf pro you don’t want this to happen.
I worked with a professional golfer at a major resort who had won several major golfing tournaments and then started to choke. So much so that his professional career was in danger of stalling.
The problem was as soon as a crowd gathered to watch he would slice the ball. It got so bad that on one pre-tournament game he got to the ninth hole, saw the crowd and walked off the course and forfeited his position. A sports psychologist suggested he enter less competitive matches to get his mental game back but whenever he tried this strategy his mere appearance drew a crowd. At one point people were simply coming to see if he would choke under pressure!
Now I will admit I know nothing about golf. But I had profiled my client and I could see he was very distracted and filled with loads of self doubt. I created a profiling tool called the Business Leadership Profile (BLP) that shows me exactly what’s going on. It was created so I could coach my life-and-limb, high end compliance clients.
I asked him to walk me through a typical game. We actually went out onto the course back to the last place he choked. At the point I asked him to describe what was going through his mind.
Bill (we’ll call him Bill) described an amazing movie about slicing the ball and people laughing at him. That movie resulted in formidable chatter.
Chatter is different for different people. Some people feel badly – butterflies, sweaty palms – somatic reactions. Some people hear negative self-talk – Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). They say negative things to themselves.
And some people just see (imagine) the worst. They get the full blown Spielberg movies with all the sights, sounds and full blown emotions in stunning high resolution digital technicolour.
Bill had the negative self talk version. It sounded like this.
“Oh my gosh. Look at all those people. I bet they are here to see me miss the shot. I bet they are all here to ridicule me. To see me fail. It’s going to be terrible. I will miss the shot and I can just hear the disappointed reaction. I will hear them tut-tutting and saying, ‘What a shame. What a fool. Why is he even playing?’ The other players are going to say bad things about me. The press will say bad things about me too. This is a disaster.”
At this point I stopped Bill. I asked him to freeze. I noticed that instead of looking at the hole it appeared he was looking at where the crowd would have been standing.
“Bill, do you look at the crowd or the hole when you hit the ball?”
“I’m not sure.”
I asked Bill to tell me about the rules of golf. “If you’re not ready to hit the ball, do you have to hit it?”
“No. You can step back from the ball.”
“So, in fact, if you feel you’re not ready to hit the ball … you can stop … step back … compose yourself … then readdress the ball?”
“Why don’t you do that?”
“It looks bad.”
“To who? And: compared to what? Bill, are you aware of what you are saying to yourself just before you hit the ball?”
“I am now …”
“Bill, what do you feel you need to say or do? What do you need to stop doing, start doing and continue doing?’
Bill decided that he needed to STOP talking negatively to himself. He would step back and wait if he didn’t feel ready to hit the ball. It looked strange to watch. Bill would face a ball then stop and step back. After about five or six ‘step-backs’, he was hitting the ball perfectly.
After a few sessions I suggested Bill go for a few social rounds. Then we entered him into a social tournament. As predicted this drew a small audience. Before the game, Bill rang me.
“I’m not doing it! I’m not competing. It will be a disaster.”
“Bill … get on the damn plane. Get uncomfortable. So what if you splice the ball. Today isn’t about winning it’s about paying attention. It’s about showing up. Forget Franz Klammer!” (Bill’s hero was Olympic Gold Medallist for downhill skiing, Franz Klammer. Klammer’s famous quote is about being there to win, not just show up!)
The ninth revisted
On the ninth hole, a large crowd gathered to see Bill choke. I could see he was tensing up. And struggling. Then a miracle. He froze. Then he stepped back from the ball. Then he looked up at the crowd and said, “Folks, just listening to some negative self talk. Right now it’s all bad, but it will be done in a few seconds.”
Of course the crowd laughed and many applauded. Bill waved his stick stepped up to ball, stood very still and then hit a perfect stroke onto the green half a metre from the hole. The crowd cheered and applauded loudly for some time. Every one likes a come back story.
This story contains just about all the tools we have talked about so far. But the real deal is Bill got uncomfortable from that day on. He won a few minor tournaments and then started winning bigger ones.
OK, YOUR TURN
What do you take from this story, about you?
I have mentioned this before. People immerse in the problem. They focus on the problem because it seems so real. In Bill’s case, he became aware of the self talk and chatter – that inner voice – that little voice that was saying, “You’re going to miss this shot! You’re going to look stupid.”
But how accurate was that commentary or prediction?
Can you think of a situation right now causing you chatter? Do you have a movie running? A disaster movie? It might seem real but is it?
Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com
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© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd