Robbie was in Dubai last week working with the members and professionals of Emirates GC.
Todays new blog post is the first of a new series where I collaborate with friends and colleagues in the world of sports performance. I have had some fascinating discussions over the years with people I admire and respect and I really liked the idea of co writing articles so we could get some of these insights out into the public domain. Im very excited about the project and looking forward to learning so much from it. Ive no doubt you all will too.
Our first co writer today is Dr Bhrett McCabe . Dr. McCabe is one of the leading sports psychologists on the tours, but also works with athletes from a variety of sports. He is the sports psychologist for one of the largest university athletic departments as well as an NBA basketball team. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and former collegiate athlete, having been on two national championship teams during his competitive time.
He owns The MindSide (www.themindside.com) in Birmingham, Alabama, and can be followed on Twitter at @DrBhrettMcCabe and has a great podcast on the Itunes Store – The MindSide Podcast.
The weather has not been kind to us golfers here in Ireland this winter. Lots of rain and wind. I can count on one hand the amount of frosty mornings there has been which is astounding really. There has been very little of the sunny, calm and crisp days that are lovely to play golf in during the winter. But the days are getting longer and the spring is in sight. The golf season wont be long upon us.
No doubt many of you have been working hard on your game over the winter. Working hard in the gym getting in better shape. Making some technical changes with your coach. All positive steps to getting better. The schedule is out for all of the tournaments for the year and its a great time to plan the season ahead. Getting the right schedule can be tricky. I know when I play too much golf especially in the busy summer months that my golf game suffers. Its quite common amongst the top amateur players in Ireland at peak season when there is several tournaments in a row. Mental fatigue mixed with physical tiredness. Now is a great time to introduce some protocols to help prevent mental fatigue in summer.
Before I hand you over to Bhrett here is a couple of things that ive seen the very best players do.
They are not afraid to take a complete break from the game. Shane Lowry and Chris Selfridge have taken a whole month off this winter. They came back refreshed and itching to practice and play. So taking a break from the game even if it is a short break during the season is a great idea and it will freshen you up physically and mentally. You will not lose your swing if you take a week off!
The best players also seem to get their playing schedule exactly right. They never play too many weeks in a row. Its ok to miss a tournament here and there. You cant play in every tournament! Some players feel they have to play in every event where they would be better off picking a good schedule with some nice breaks planned and trusting themselves to perform in the events they play when they are mentally fresh. With that in mind ill pass you over to Dr McCabe who will talk about another factor to consider at this time of year. Willpower.
Willpower – The Key to Success and The Partner to Guilt
Bhrett McCabe, PhD
As a psychologist, I am often approached to help an athlete or client “increase” motivation for an upcoming tournament, task, to lose weight, or get better in the gym. The call is usually the same – it comes from a frustated coach or parent because the player has all the tools to be successful, but under training and pressure, it appears that they are resisting growth. Something in their effort or progress highlights that there may be a motivation problem.
Motivation is a very unique concept. It is different for everyone and to complicate matters more, it is very dependant upon desires, fears, and stress. For instance, it would be easily assumed that every player on the PGA Tour is motivated to play well, but what is the motivation? For some, it is to become number one in the world, to win every tournament they face, and grow their status. For others that were number one, it may be to get back to number one, but the real motivation may be to not slip outside the top 10. They may say number one is their goal, but the truth is that the motivation to not fail may be a larger motivation than the one to succeed. Others may be motivated to try and stay on tour, to gain respect of others, and to try and survive. On the surface, they will have the stock answers of winning tournaments, but motivation is only displayed when the bright lights are off, when no one is watching, and most importantly, when they look in the mirror.
The complete concept of motivation is more than this blog entry, but motivation is very related to a concept of willpower – that internal motivation to do something and stick with it. When was playing, I used to watch teammates finish workouts, finish practice, and go for a run. I was amazed because normally after practice, I was exhausted and the last thing I wanted to do go do more physical training. I would feel really guilty that my teammates were doing more than I was doing, that I did not have the willpower that they did at that moment. While I was doing everything demanded of me, I felt guilty for not having the mental energy, motivations, and passion to do more. I felt that I was lacking willpower.
The truth was that I was not lacking willpower at all. All of my work was done and completed according to plan. I gave full effort at practice, worked my tail off in the gym, attended class, and studied hard. I was simply depleted at night – exhausted from a job well done of effort and commitment. The fact that I was not doing more was not a sign of an absence of willpower, but instead, my tank was empty. What I understand now is that willpower is not a trait but rather a resource.
When I get the calls from the coaches and parents, the first place I examine in those athletes are the demands they are having to face on a daily basis. Their willpower, like all athletes, is a resource that either gets invested in or gets withdrawn from during the day. The goal for all of us is to have enough in the willpower tank to pull on it when needed, but we cannot take withdrawls on empty accounts. There are no willpower credit cards – no Gold Cards, Platnimum memberships, or lines of credit. Willpower is what it is and what you have is what you have. Research has continually demonstrated ways to improve it and grow it, so let’s discuss it.
To maximize your willpower, here are few tips, both from research (I am not including the citations because these are general topics and not specific references) and my experience:
For 2016, look at trying to schedule and monitor your willpower for your success. Be different and do it differently to get better results this year. Remember, your willpower is not a trait your born with, but a skill, resource, and characteristic that you grow.
Many thanks to Dr McCabe for taking the time to contribute to the blog. I hope you all enjoyed it. Next guest on the blog will be Frans Bosch and we will be talking about the golf swing and exercise!
Its 9am on the 26th of December . St Stephens Day here in Ireland. I look out the window and it is absolutely bucketing down. A day in the pub watching a super day of horse racing and sport was on the cards. Then i can hear Bobby’s voice in my head “Well Pro. Get the wets on. Lets go hit a few ” So i got changed and hopped in the car and drove the twenty minutes from Balbriggan to Bettystown. I got the wets on and strolled over to the practice ground in Laytown and Bettystown Golf Club where i learned so much over the years from the great man. It was a cold and wet day but i was able to get a productive couple of hours practice in, despite the inclement conditions. I felt like i had a purpose again. I felt alive.
This is what i used to do all the time. Grind it out. There wasn’t many others out practicing today i thought. I started to remember this is how i used to think. Mentally these type of thoughts would give you little victories in your own mind. All them little victories added up would lead to big victories. The last 15-18 months i have not had many of them small little victories in my own mind. I certainly had not worked as hard on my game as i had in previous years and the results have shown that. Yes I’m busy in work and studying for a masters and I’m very lucky and thankful of that but there was still time to work on my game. It could be too wet or too windy. Some reason not really good enough for me not to go hit a few. As Bobby said “A little soft” . But maybe i just didn’t have a purpose.
I first heard of RJ Browne at the age of 17 from my best friend Ian Griffin who was coached by Bobby in Gormanston College. Ian had a fine game. He hit it long and straight off the tee and hit long irons that would take flags out from 200 yards. Meanwhile i was a 5 handicap and had a golf swing which looked like it was killing snakes in a telephone box. But in my defence i had only been playing for two years and i had learned how to play from Jack Nicklaus books i had loaned from the local library. Not really an ideal long term athletic development plan but that was about to change. Other pupils of Bobbys all seemed to be great ball strikers. Great drivers of the ball and fine exponents of the long irons. I wanted that.
I called Bobby up and booked a lesson. So off i went on foot from my house with the clubs on my back. Golf bags were heavy back then. It was a mile walk from my house to the station. A ten minute train ride from Balbriggan train station to Laytown train station. Then it was a 3 mile walk to the golf club in Bettystown. When i look back at it now i must have been stone cold mad or maybe just one determined young fellow. Many of the walks were in the driving rain and dead into the wind. A great wind for the practice ground in the golf club though!
Bobby and i hit it off from the word go. We shared the same first name and same Initials in our first and second name (RJ) and i loved that. He treated everybody the same no matter who they were but he could sense my enthusiasm and that i was keen to improve and he admired that.
Lessons with Bobby toughened me up. I remember one occasion he noticed that i had not done much work from the previous lesson. I told him i couldn’t practice due to the golf course being closed in Balbriggan. ” No such thing as couldn’t ! Whats wrong with the beach in Balbriggan? Perfect to hit balls off” So i practiced on the hard sand of the beach for many a winters day in Balbriggan. Got me in trouble with some of the locals but i didn’t care. He knew my flat swing at the time would have to get more on plane to strike a ball crisply off the sand. He always said to me that you could always work on your game no matter where or what the conditions were.
After one of our first lessons he left me on the practice ground to hit a few more while he walked back to the pro shop. I think i hit about twenty shots. I was pretty happy. I have it sussed i thought. So i picked up my tightly bunched group of balls and headed in. I got to the shop and he roared ” What are you doing back in here already, Get back out there you couldn’t have it by now” So off i went for another couple of hours. He was drilling a work ethic into me. Which was great because i loved working hard at my game.
Sometimes when we are young we don’t realise the life lessons we are getting at that current time. Lessons were not always plain sailing with Bobby. One morning he was trying to get me to do something with my backswing but i was having trouble understanding what he wanted me to do. He wasn’t happy i could tell. He took a long deep sigh and turned away and off he went walking a full sixty yards towards the fence which separated the practice ground from the beach. I was thinking he had finally lost the plot and i was getting a right jab to the left arm on his return. But he walked the sixty yards back and cool as a cucumber explained it to me in another way which i was able to understand. Looking back there was two lessons in that for me. First of all it woke me up and got me concentrating better. Second of all that walk for him was clearing his head and calming himself down. There has been times myself when coaching when clients are not doing things how id like and sometimes you need a few seconds to gather your thoughts. Taking a walk or a drink of water helps a lot in that regard. Sometimes you need a few moments to clear your head and calm down.
Sadly Bobby passed away yesterday on Christmas Day after fighting with cancer for many years. I will miss him very much. I was lucky enough to spend an hour with him a few weeks ago in the hospital just the two of us having a chat and we both knew we were saying goodbye. He told me he was proud of me with what i had achieved but then gave out to me for not winning more! That was typical of Bobby. He would give you confidence and then challenge you. ” Hold your finish, Look like a golfer. ” Almost every lesson he would say that to me. He thought me how to play the low stinger and called it my million dollar shot. Then he would challenge me to hit low fades and low draws. I had forgotten how to hit that shot until recently but I’m back working hard on it again with another top coach John Kelly.
Its amazing when someone dear to your heart passes away. It really has given me a purpose to work hard at my golf again. As i get older and learn more about life i believe that having a purpose is key to succeeding in something. No matter what it is. I feel i had lost that purpose somewhat in my golf the last couple of years and thats part of life. It happens. But I know that day in the hospital when he was saying goodbye to me that he was also challenging me. “Get back out there and work hard at it! There is plenty more wins in you”
I feel like i have my purpose back again now thanks to my old friend. I hope i can keep it for a good while because when you have a purpose sometimes good things can happen. In my opinion The word “Legend” is thrown out too easy these days. But the great Bobby Browne was a legend of Irish Golf. I will miss our chats and his words of wisdom. But what he did for my golf and for my life i will be forever thankful. Thank you pro.
Before you go on the attack, i love matchplay golf. I have a better matchplay record than strokeplay in Irish Amateur Golf and i would probably have a better chance of winning more championships if they were all matchplay format rather than strokeplay. I won 7 matches to win the South of Ireland in 2009 as well as further appearances in the semis and quarters. I have a pretty good win percentage in matchplay from interprovincials to senior cup. I won five matches to get to the final of the West of Ireland only this year. So before you think I’m writing this due to a dislike for matchplay golf its not the case.
So what is my agenda i hear you ask. Yes i do have one. I have quite a few. I will get my own request out of the way first. In fact its not just my request. I’m speaking for the majority of working amateurs in this country. We would like to be able to play in as many golf tournaments as possible without having to take time off work. Pretty fair request i think. Anyway enough about me and the working amateur golfer for the time being. Lets talk about the up and coming elite players.
Like a lot of you out there i would love to see a lot of these great young talents make it to the European Tour and have a successful professional career. We have all rejoiced at the amazing achievements of Rory, Shane, Graeme, Paul, Darren and Padraig. They are an inspiration and fill us with a great sense of national pride. So what can be done to give the next batch of budding superstars the best possible chance of making it in the professional ranks? In the last few years we have had several of our leading amateurs turn professional yet so far none of them are quite setting the world alight. I have every faith in Kevin Phelan and Alan Dunbar doing the business over the next few years as they are world class players. But is there something that we can do that could help the next batch of leading amateur players? I believe there is. Plus the great thing is, i also feel it can help myself and the working amateur golfers of the country yet also boost the game of golf at grassroots level.
Currently in Ireland 4 of our 6 championships are matchplay events. To put this into reality the English Golf Union has one matchplay tournament The English Amateur Close (where you have to be English).The Scottish Golf Union has one matchplay tournament. The Scottish Amateur Close (yes you have to be a Scot). Of course the biggest one of them all The Amateur Championship is a matchplay event attracting players from all over the world. Without question the preferred format of top amateur golf in the UK and in fact all over Europe is predominately strokeplay championships.
In my opinion changing at least 2 of these matchplay championships into strokeplay is a winner for several parties. Turn them into a 3 day event (36 holes final day) instead of the current standard matchplay event of 5 days.
1. The host club gets 2 more days to earn much needed green fees.
2. The working amateur does not have to take as many days off.
3. The young up and coming elite amateur golfer gets more strokeplay experience (almost all tour events are strokeplay) and also crucially they get to take more rest days in an already cramped playing schedule.
4. More time off for Golfing Union of Ireland officials and volunteers while saving Union expenses at the same time.
Are there any negatives i hear you ask? Well I’m sure the biggest argument against my idea would be tradition. Several decades of matchplay tournament tradition. Well Im sorry guys. Things change. Amateur golf has completely changed in the 18 years that i have being competing. Its not amateur golf in the traditional sense anymore. Its being dominated by professional amateurs. If thats not a change to tradition then i don’t know what is.
I still remember my first two golfing heroes. The first one was a working amateur in his early thirties. Mr Stephen Mc Kenna was the best player in the club when i was starting around 14 years of age. Ill never forget the first shot i seen him play on the first in Balbriggan when he spun a mid iron off the first green. ” Wow” i thought. How did he do that! He was a 2-3 handicapper but we all thought he was God back then. Kids look up to people like that. I have always tried to remember that when i see the juniors in my club and try to help them in any way i can. The second one Mr Ian Griffin was a fellow Balbriggan junior member and also happened to be my best mate. He was ten times the player i was growing up. We travelled to all the boys and youths tournaments together and he drove it a country mile with a Seve Ballesteros like short game. “Griff” played for Leinster at boys and youths level as well as being beaten finalist to G-Mac in the Ulster boys(with yours truly on the bag). He was a different hero to me than Stephen for the simple fact i was busting my backside to try and be as good as him. Both of these guys were a huge part in my development as a player. Without them both in my early golfing years, there is no question i would not have done what I have done so far.
The reason i told you about my first golfing heroes is quite simple. At grassroots level the youngsters of today look up to both the working amateur and the elite amateur. They both serve a purpose and inspire kids to improve their golf. One of my favourite photos of the year was of Dave O Donovan celebrating the winning putt for Muskerry Golf Club in the Barton Shield in September. I was in Cork last week and my friend Stephen Hayes the head professional in Douglas was telling me Davey and his teammates are like players of Manchester United down in the club right now! I love to hear things like that because it means that children are being inspired. It would not be of surprise to hear of some future champions coming out of muskerry in the next 4-5 years.
Pat Finn and his staff at the Golfing Union of Ireland are doing a fantastic job. They are constantly trying to improve the structure of the amateur game and have been extremely progressive over the last few years. The elite players are being sent to tournaments all around the world and are having success. I was lucky enough to be sent to South Africa last year along with seven others and it was no surprise that 4 of the panel occupied the last four spots in the West of Ireland a few weeks later. So they have to be applauded for the work so far but their job is not complete. They have been consistently getting feedback from the players trying to figure out the right formula. Sadly there have been a couple of body blows to the working amateur the last two seasons with the Irish Amateur moving to four days from three and just recently the South of Ireland has been moved back to a Wednesday start from Saturday. It all means more days off work for the working amateur. The South has been moved to attract a better field. Im not sure it will attract the field they are hoping to with these changes. But a 72 hole Strokeplay event on friday , Saturday, Sunday would certainly have.
Working in the area of Strength and Conditioning and Sports Performance i love to see Irish Golfers do well and achieve great things across the world. In my opinion the best way of boosting this going forward is to look after both the working amateur and the elite professional amateur. Changing matchplay tournaments to Strokeplay would be a great start. Every top amateur golfer, working or elite, has a role to play in the future development of golf in this country Every youngster needs someone to look up to. Age or work should not come in the way.
Thoracic mobility. Its pretty important to have if you are a golfer. Or any sport. In fact even if you don’t play sport it is pretty important to have if you want to avoid any horrible neck or back pain. So what is this thoracic area i hear you ask. By definition it is the 12 vertebrae that connect with the ribcage and is located between the lumbar spine(lower back) and the cervical spine(neck). Lack of movement in this area can cause it to stiffen. As we get older it also tends to stiffen. Having a stiff thoracic spine can cause us to look for range of motion in other areas such as the lower back or the neck. So as a golfer, improving your thoracic spine is a no brainer to help you avoid any unnecessary back or neck pain.
When i see a client for the first time i screen them to find out what areas need more mobility. The thoracic spine is a common area of the body that needs more mobility. With my clients i like to work on different planes of motion when working on the thoracic spine. Here are three of my favourite Thoracic mobility exercises.
Thoracic Extension Bends
Reachbacks Elbows Down
ELDOA Thoracic Circles
With the golf season coming to an end i am finding more time to catch up on my reading. I love reading. Its relaxing, educational and it sparks a fire in me to be more productive with myself in everything i do whether its work, education or sports. Currently I’m reading a book called “Start with why” from Simon Sinek. Simon’s passion in life is to inspire people to greater things. Quiet rightly he believes we are all capable of greater things with the correct attitude and application. At some stage we have to take leadership for the things in our lives. Whether its our college course selection, career direction or revamping the process and work ethic to our golf game. One thing that is vital in all decisions is the importance of planning ahead and getting a structured game plan in place. In his book Mr Sinek tells us a story that shows us the importance of getting that plan right from the very beginning.
Japanese Car Makers
A group of executives from An American car company visited Japan to study how the Japanese car company ran their assembly line. It all seemed routine and standard to the American assembly line apart from one process at the end of the line. On the American line they employed someone to tap the edges of the car door with a rubber mallet to ensure the door fitted perfectly on the hinges. Japan had nobody doing this or a machine to do it. On noticing this the American executives asked their Japanese counterparts why wasn’t this done. “We make sure it fits when we design it” was the reply. Japanese car doors last longer and are safer structurally than the American car doors. Why so? It is because they designed the outcome they desired from the start of the process.
Why we should have a fitness plan
We can learn a lot from our Japanese car making friends when it comes to starting a fitness plan. We need to set ourselves a long term goal and have that final goal in mind from the start. Instead of making short cuts and stop gap solutions we can save ourselves time, protect our long term health and save some money with a proper long term plan.
First Steps to your golf fitness plan
August and September is a great time to get your plan together and get a headstart on your 2015 golf season goals. First step is to get a full body screening and assessment which should include a movement screen identifying your mobility and stability weaknesses. These issue’s could be preventing you from getting into technical swing positions that your golf coach wants you to be in. A qualified strength and conditioning coach who is also certified with TPI with a good understanding of the golf swing and the body will ensure there is no stone left unturned.
A body fat measurement is also a good idea so you can monitor your progress over the winter. A leaner golfer equals a more efficient golfer and fat loss with muscle gain should be one of your goals. A leaner golfer will not only have you better physically but mentally too as looking and feeling good will give you a huge psychological boost.
After your initial screening your trainer will be able to design for you a proper periodised plan for the months ahead. I have all my players on a proper structured plan with different phases for the season. Normally i work on normalising players mobility and stability issues at the first phase before moving on to strength, power and then golf specific. This ensures the player is flexible, strong , explosive and dynamic for the start of the 2015 season.
Having a golf fitness plan is one part of the jigsaw. A player should also sit down with his golf coach/psychologist at this time of year for review and reflection of the 2014 season. Discussing your strengths and weaknesses will enable you to come up with a plan to address any issues that need to be worked on. Structuring your plans from the very beginning , just like the Japanese car makers , gives you the best possible chance to make 2015 your most successful season yet. To quote Oliver Wendell Homes ” I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving”