One of the most famous sayings in American football history was a statement originated by UCLA Bruins coach, Henry Sanders, and made famous by Vince Lombardi in 1959 in his opening talk on the first day of the Green Bay Packers' training camp:
"Winning isn't everything; it is the only thing!"
We must keep in mind that these teams were made up of athletes from eighteen years old and above who had already built and brought their skills to this higher level. But what about the young junior golfer who would like to be a winner?
Winning is important in the growth of any athlete and it is a subject worthy of attention. I don't mind talking about winning as long as it happens at the right time of a child's development as this philosophy can quite possibly harm a young golfer's growth. When there is so much pressure on the child to "win", the entire attitude and environment of his learning condition can change to a very unmanageable level of stress and anxiety.
A point of thought … a player doesn't win because he is told to win. If that were true then we could easily end up with sudden-death play-offs that would take years! Just because a child is pushed to win doesn't mean they will win. The child simply does not need this kind of pressure when they are developing their skills.
I would much rather that the child thought, "How good can I really be?"
It is this type of thinking that creates a mental, emotional and physical environment where one can approach confidence-building through a purposeful intent using gradient steps and measureable standards. This, along with a relaxed and fun atmosphere, will have a far greater effect on the child's development.
Another way to look at this is the fact that "winning" is an effect. It is an effect of being really good at something at the right time. We can easily see this as a process of building the skills that will give you the ability to believe in who you are and what you can do.
You can best achieve this by knowing what skills are required and how to go about managing their development. This is a process not a command.
Building a belief system…
The categories of trust, knowledge, management and confidence are the nucleus of our belief system. As I don't want to get into too much of the details concerning the studies made at what medical centres, universities and of all the references available, the following is a brief description of what it takes to build belief in oneself.
Trust comes first, and it is a learning condition we experience in the first year of our lives when we learn how to differentiate between trust and mistrust. Everyone goes through it and it teaches us how we will trust, how much and in what way we will trust for the rest of our lives. I mention this because the word trust is not used correctly when talking about golf. For example, "… all you have to do is trust your swing and your game will be great." This simply isn't true. Trust is completely different from belief and we must make that distinction. Trust, then, becomes a decision: trust yourself to commit, trust the knowledge, trust the instructor and trust the feedback you receive from your experiences.
Acquiring Accurate Knowledge is second. The more accurate the knowledge means the more precise you can be, but the process is like sculpting something out of clay: we start at a beginning and go as far as the potential can handle.
Third is the Management of Skill Development. Here is where this unique process requires a certain level of responsibility. The more committed a child is to this process the more full his learning experience will be. This is the period of learning where the child experiences the knowing, the understanding and the feel of the knowledge being applied.
During this period it is important to note the parents' role. Their job is to nurture the process with understanding and love. Although sharing with your child is important the parent must not assume the responsibility for their child's learning. This is the child's experience alone. The parent should ask questions that would facilitate the learning rather than telling them what you think they should do. The parent and home is a source of love and support and a place to rest between learning sessions. This is a very powerful responsibility that helps nurture the learning process.
The fourth ingredient is Confidence and is a by-product of the first three ingredients. Confidence is an amazing thing because it is self-perpetuating. Confidence builds on itself and the first three ingredients bring about its truth. Confidence is experiential and can be measured in its growth.
In summary, the above short definitions of trust, knowledge, management and confidence can build a strong belief in a child and his or her golf game. It all starts with trusting to commit to the process leading to knowledge, skill and in turn producing great confidence.
So let us avoid too much pressure of having to win. Let us instead create a path of self-discovery that allows children to learn to believe in themselves and reach their own potential.
And when they reach the stage of being as good as they can be then maybe the saying will be, "Club selection isn't everything; it's the only thing."
Mike "Spike" Collier
Director of Golf
Three-Generation Golf Academy
Chiang Mai, Thailand