Rehearsing for Excellence
As the golf ball sliced toward the woods, his face grimaced in disgust. He slammed his club on the ground, muttered something under his breath, and shook his head. His walk down the fairway was a physical display of failure - head and shoulders slouched and feet dragging as if his clubs and the world had let him down again.
I have seen this many times watching talented junior golfers and high school golfers. It is not their swings or athleticism that is letting them down, it is their inability to deal with their mental and emotional game. Golf is a complex mind/body art and when the mind gets disturbed, the body often follows suit. The good news is that golf is just slow enough that it becomes the ideal sport to learn about the mind/body/emotion connection.
So when I was asked to work with our local high school golf team, a well-coached state-championship contender, I knew where I could contribute. I asked the kids about their pre-shot ritual, a precise, individualized, step-by-step procedure that prepares them for the proper set-up of stance and alignment to maximize swing potential and minimize thought distraction (like a baseball player's pre-swing ritual in the batter's box). The pre-shot ritual is repeatable time after time, and these kids, like all good players, each had one.
Then I let them in on a secret that most golfers do not know - that they needed a post-shot ritual as well. Whether they knew it or not, they had already had this and for some of them, their post bad shot rituals were deteriorating their games.
I asked them to act out their post bad shot rituals. Some threw or dropped their club, others swung it viciously in disgust, one let fly a four-letter word. Weak physiology ruled and emotions of anger and humiliation dictated their next actions. They could easily see how this ritual could negatively affect the next shot. They knew they needed to create and practice a new post bad shot ritual, one that supported their goals and their values.
In the game of golf, as in life, we are going to have some bad shots. This is our opportunity. We can create a post-event ritual ourselves. We can get centered, by aligning the body so it is balanced and powerful rather than weak and slouched. We can focus on our breathing to bring us back to the present moment. From center, we can feel and observe the emotion, like witnessing a passing rainstorm, rather than 'act out of it.' Next, we can learn from the situation; what did I actually do and how could I do it differently? See and rehearse the possibility of an excellent 'swing' and result for the next time. And finally look to the mystery - it's now a new opportunity to discover and to play fully, with aliveness and awareness.
When our world doesn't show up as we expect, and anger, resentment, jealousy, or sadness flood our bodies, we need our own conscious practice. Create yours, practice it daily, and watch your 'game' improve!