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Watch the Ball Please

Have you ever gotten frustrated in the midst of playing a sport and found yourself yelling at yourself and calling yourself names?

Geof Cheek

Hopefully, you only did it inside your head, and not out-loud and at the top of your voice's volume. I think there's a cure. I suspect we can almost all use some help in doing this differently. Let me share the cure with you in the sport where I see it needed most often, that being golf. But first, let me tell you how I learned it. Several years ago I had a job at a mental health center. At lunch, those who had some time would eat quickly and adjourn to the basement to play doubles ping-pong. As you imagine four people involved in the game, partners alternately having to strike the ball, and perhaps six to ten people watching the game and waiting to have their turn, add in an occasional "damn" or "shit" when a ball or shot was missed.

And imagine that once in a while someone would get more angry with him or herself and say something to themselves like "you suck" or "you asshole" or other self-critical and demeaning remarks. I used to joke that we played ping-pong to see "who's the better person." I meant it as a joke, but as with many jokes there was a small grain of truth in it.

Imagine mental health counselors, who spent some time each day teaching people to be more self-accepting, less self-critical and encouraging them to have self-esteem, openly criticizing and swearing at themselves in front of their colleagues.

It's at least ironic, and I still find it funny, in spite of the fact that I had occasionally been one of the counselors doing the self-critical swearing at myself. But there was one of the counselors who was "the better person," Jerry. When Jerry missed a shot, instead of muttering expletives or self-criticism, Jerry would simply say to himself "watch the ball, please." He said it in a calm and kind sounding voice. He was gentle with himself and (as I later understood) gave himself the exact instructions he needed. More specifically he was giving his unconscious mind the instructions "it" needed to perform. Jerry was also the best ping-pong player in the mental health center. I've come to believe that his self-talk and his skill were not only connected, but that his self-talk produced and maintained his greater skill in playing the game. So let's discuss golf. There are two parts to what I want you to learn, what you do before the golf shot and what you do after. But this blog will only discuss what you do after the shot.

I’ve borrowed some of this from James Sieckmann’s great book,

Your Short Game Solution, especially chapter eight “Wedging it with the Mind of a Champion.” So, in golf, after the shot I’m prescribing: When you’ve hit a bad shot...

Maintain a self-accepting emotional state, like acceptance, interest and curiosity.

Describe what you need to do differently (the positive act - not what you did wrong) to yourself in objective (sensory specific) terms.

Take a practice swing doing the positive action you’ve described to yourself. When you’ve hit a good shot...

Celebrate the good shot emotionally as you watch it, saying to yourself something like “Great!” “Wow!” or “I like it!”

Repeat the swing you just made, paying attention to the internal sensations of your body moving in that way, and say to yourself something like “that’s it” or “just like that.” Now I suspect that the largest group of readers are those of you thinking to yourself “when I hit a bad shot, I just get mad, so how am I supposed to ‘maintain a self-accepting emotional state?”

I sympathize with you. Creating and maintaining the emotional state we want to have is not something that most humans on this planet have learned to do. Many people would believe that if someone can do this, they must have been born with the talent. Or that anyone who can do this must have spent years practicing. This last idea is close to the truth.

Learning to be in the emotional state you wish to be in does take practice. It can be learned with the least amount of practice when a person is coached in the most efficient strategy to learn to do it. The second largest group of readers are probably saying “when I hit a bad shot, I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, how am I supposed to ‘objectively describe it.”

This is more easily learned by consulting with a PGA teacher or reading articles on:

swing errors, divot shape, position and direction and ball flights produced by different types of swings. There are also a few golfers who will have difficulty calling any shot a “good shot.” If you are one of them, I suspect you are aware of it. Your strategy to get better, i.e. not being satisfied with anything less than a perfect shot has run amok.

Besides prescribing Bob Rotella’s book Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, I want you to lighten up. If you find yourself expecting perfection in most of the area’s of your life, not getting it, and consequently being frustrated, we need to talk.

If this is your style or personality and you don’t call me, call some life coach, counselor or therapist, get help, and learn how you can enjoy your life more! Believe me I’m saying this with the most compassionate intent, to help you stop suffering. So, if you have an interest in pursuing any of the ideas in this blog, give me a call or e-mail. Until I hear from you, I’m going to go play. I’ll be remembering the feeling I had when I was a kid and was learning to play. I’m going to recreate that joyous curiosity that I would have in wondering, and then seeing, how I could hit the ball. And I’m going to enjoy the wonder and excitement of the ball flying through the air. Wow!

Geof Cheek. 843-216-6363

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