By Brian Burke
USGTF Associate Member, Tampa, Florida
We have all been victims to some form of negative self-talk, played golf with someone who beat themselves up verbally during his/her round, or had a student that lashed out at themselves during a lesson. As a golf teaching professional, I have seen about everything from grumbles under their breath to throwing clubs in frustration in learning new techniques. Even some of the best players in the world have been caught on film and fined on the tour for their verbal escapades on the course.
This negative self-talk may seem funny at first to those who witness the show of emotion, but it can lead to a round that spirals out of control, and leaves your playing partners with no plans for you to join them in future outings.
I ask my students a simple question: “Would you tolerate someone talking to you that way?” This simple question can bring attention to what they just did. Sometimes they don’t even notice that they are beating themselves up.
As an instructor, you can work with your students to evaluate their behavior. It is as simple as deciding between two mindsets. Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: The Neuropsychology of Success, in which she divides mindsets into two distinct groups that can be used to overcome the negative tendencies our students may be experiencing.
The two mindsets that Dr. Dweck describes are the fixed and growth mindsets. If individuals are in a fixed mindset, they believe that intelligence is static and not able to change or learn new concepts. It avoids challenges, gets defensive with change, ignores useful negative feedback, and gives very little, if any, effort to overcome obstacles in its way. In the growth mindset, individuals believe knowledge can be developed for new swing ideas and techniques. They embrace change and give their best effort to overcome obstacles. They see criticism as an opportunity to grow to levels that would not be possible alone without outside observations and correction.
Some years ago, I caddied in a local pro-am event and got paired up with a retired corporate-level executive. While hitting balls on the range, we conversed in small talk and I told him about my background, and he notified me that if I saw anything that I could help him out with, he was open to my input (growth mindset).
While he was warming up, I noticed a few things that he was doing well and others that he could make some small corrections to. I made some small alignment and ball-position adjustments that increased his directional control, and he ended the range session hitting the ball very well, with solid contact.
During the round, he started reverting back to his previous alignment and ball positions with negative results. He became frustrated and disgusted with himself. Here he was, playing with a pro and a famous guitar player from a touring band, and he could not even hit the ball in the fairway. This went on for a few holes, and he obviously forgot that I was on his team as his caddie (fixed mindset). I asked him if he would like my input, like on the driving range, and I could tell that he totally zoned out and thought he was on his own. Once he came around, he was very receptive to my input again.
The next hole was a par-3, around 150 yards. As he was lining up, I corrected his alignment, and suggested ball placement where he had it on the driving range when he was striking it so well. He was totally in the growth mindset, listening to every word on the adjustments. As he struck the ball he remained in balance, the ball flight was true, and it stopped three feet from the pin. His eyes lit up, the whole group was clapping, and he was on top of the world. As you could guess, I gained his trust that he could do great things with me on his bag. For the rest of the round, he continued to be open to feedback before each shot to ensure he was set up correctly, to give himself the best possible opportunity to hit a good shot. Now, do you think the outcome would have been the same if he would have remained in a fixed mindset? If he would have thought that he had all the answers? Of course not.
By aligning our students with a growth mindset and positive self-talk, we can move them in a direction for positive change and improvement. Our students are not always going to be the best ballstrikers in the game or wizards of the short game, but as long as they are aware of both mindsets, they can make the choice to go with the one that most suits them to enjoy the game and allows for continuous improvement.