Let kids play for fun


Let kids play for fun

There has been a lot of talk recently in this country about youth sport and in particular Sport New Zealand’s approach to this topic.

In a nutshell they are suggesting that youth sport be about ensuring a quality experience for all involved, irrespective of their level and supporting our young people to play multiple sports while avoiding early sepcialisation.

There are other aspects as well and I firmly believe it is a great initiative from Sport New Zealand, despite all the negative feedback that launched on social media after the press release (click here if you want to know more).

Now it has to be said that I have no formal education in this area, I do have some practical knowledge having worked for New Zealand Golf as national coach over the last 10 or so years in varying capacity. so these thoughts are simply my opinions, from my observations.

Some of the issues talked about in early specialisation revolve around the body, both in injury awareness/prevention and motor skill acquisition, with research suggesting that those who play a variety of sports will prosper due to increased exposure to a variety of movements therefore enhancing their ability to organise their body and complete the task.

Again I agree with this and with my own experience have seen this first hand with a number of talented sportspeople, both adults and kids who adapt to golf quicker than those who have not played other sports.

However, I have also seen some pretty good players who have only ever played golf and not sampled other sports who have also excelled, so there is no hard and fast rule and we need to be aware of the survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias is essentially using Tiger Woods as the model of how to bring up a champion athlete. There could have been 1000 people who were brought up like this, who never made it to the same level, but as they don’t have the profile we don’t hear of them. Therefore we can be fooled into thinking that Tigers way must be the recipe for success, despite the other 999 who didn’t make it following the same recipe.

My thinking is that I would love everyone to play golf for life, the biggest tragedy is the junior golfer who won everything in their age group but no longer plays the game, and I don’t think golf has the monopoly on this issue.

If I go back to the motor skill development of playing multiple sports being beneficial to golf I think there is another point that is often overlooked and that is the cognitive learning that is also going on while playing other sports. Every sport has a problem that needs to be solved. whether that be to get the ball in the hole or goal, or over the try line and we need to learn to solve these problem's, in fact we need to learn to learn and any sports field could be a great place to do this.

The reason I say could is that it is not always a great place to learn. I know a number of people who think children need to learn to win and lose and this approach of Sport NZ is making us a country of softies and I couldn’t agree less.

We don’t need to learn to win or lose, we need to have a solid set of values that underpin our behaviour and enjoy the challenge that comes with competing, while at the same time appreciating that you might win and you might lose and this is not a reflection of your worth as an person or as the parent of the athlete.

I believe we need to allow our kids to fall in love with sport, whether they play 1 sport or 10 different sports and celebrate this as this is what will foster their learning and growth, not some vigorous periodized plan at 12 years old so you can peak for the National Under 13 Title.

Geoff Ogilvy, one of the best golfers on the planet, recently said in a podcast he would play on Christmas day if he was allowed, not because he wanted to get better, but because he just loved playing!

If you are motivated by playing the game and growing your love of it over winning trophies, you will likely have an attitude where you are willing to try new things and perhaps fail. You will probably also have an attitude where you want to train and practice because you love the mastery of the skill and testing yourself and these attitudes will likely lead to increased skill and enjoyment.

A stark contrast in my opinion to the young player who has been brought up to think winning is important and is often too scared to try anything in case they lose, they play within themselves which robs them of some of the best learning opportunities for their sport but also life.

Life isn’t about winning or losing and kids don’t need to learn this, I would love a nation of kids who love to move, love to play sport and compete and love the to develop their own skills, both motor skills and cognitive skills. This mindset is (in my opinion) what we should be teaching our youth, not striving for a plastic trophy or empty cup, lets instill a desire for mastery of their craft while growing their love of it.


The North Star

The North Star

I am not a massive fan of goals, or at least not the normal narrative around them and believe that often they can do more harm than good. Then can illicit behaviours that are not desirable, particularly if they become all consuming for whoever is trying to achieve them.

I was brought up with the ‘SMART’ goal, which on the surface makes sense, but I am not sure if it stuck so well because it worked or the acronym was clever. Then there was ‘The Secret’, make a vision board with your dream house, car, boat etc on it and hey presto, if you think/believe enough you will create it….not so sure about that either.

If we look at goals as having an end in mind or an outcome, then I think we are doing ourselves a disservice and have potential to take short cuts, cheat and not enjoy the journey. You often hear people comment that they thought achieving their goal would have felt different., if anything it can often be a little underwhelming.

Alan Watts the philosopher has the following passage which I think sums up goals beautifully “The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music also it is fulfilled in each moment of its course. You do not play a sonata in order to reach its final chord, and if the meaning of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales

I like the North Start analogy, the North Star guides us, we know we will never get there as it is 430 light years away, nor do we ever want to get there but it can guide us in the direction we wish to go.

We use the north star to guide us and then our values underpin our behaviours on a daily basis. This way we can chase mastery and get lost in the moment, enjoy the journey and stop looking for the next short cut that will get us up the summit.


Its All Your Fault'[]

Its All Your Fault'[]

“It’s all your fault”, not something I like to hear or acknowledge if I am completely honest, but this was my lesson a few weeks ago. The delivery wasn’t as brutal that, in fact it came through self discovery, courtesy of two horses, Cosak and Turbo

This journey was part of leadership training at a fantastic facility Lead the Way hosted by Andrew and Sam Froggatt and one that I would highly recommend.

I have to admit it was pretty confronting, I haven’t had too much to do with horses, apart from the occasional punt at the races, but I certainly haven’t tried to lead them around an obstacle course of any type. There was also the small element of not wanting to look like an idiot in front of your peers, or in this case, coaches from other sports around New Zealand, who at this point in time I didn’t know very well.

Over the course of 2 days we had to spend time training, or at least attempting to train, these horses to do a variety of tasks, some easier than others and some seemingly impossible! As I write that there is a certain irony as I realise we weren't training the horses to do anything, we were the ones who were getting trained.

The thing is, I knew the horse could do it and had no doubt done it 100 times before, but it stood stubbornly looking at me and resisting any attempt I made to get it over the obstacle. Turbo was looking at me and he knew that I had no idea…. and I knew that he knew and that made it worse.

To add a little more pressure Andrew and Sam would video us doing these tasks and we would then critique ourselves and be critiqued by our peers at various times through out the day, before getting back into the arena to have another go.

The huge learning for me came from the non verbals that were picked up by the video and of course by Turbo and Cosak who could tell exactly how I was feeling and would manipulate me like seasoned professionals.

It got me thinking how this effects us in our everyday life, what signals we are sending out and what narrative we are telling ourselves. On day one the stories generally started with “My horse wouldn’t…” however by the second day that narrative had changed to “I am struggling to…” and “I need to….”

You see, we all got to the point where we realised it wasn’t the horse who had the problem, it was us, and we needed to find a solution to suit the horse, not force the horse to like our solution. There is a saying about that isn’t there, you can lead a horse to water….

As coaches or leaders it is easy to think that our way is the right way and those who don’t get it have the problem. However after undergoing this experience it has made me reflect on my coaching (and parenting) and allowed me to look at not only what I am saying, but how I am saying it, and if the message isn’t getting through I need to take the blame, its my fault, not theirs.

Luckily my wife doesn’t read my blogs or this admission could have dire consequences!

Golf & Maths

Golf & Maths

Last weekend I was in out of town working with a representative Golf Team and I posed a maths question to them, it was simply 154+259. The age of the audience, typical with rep teams across the country nowadays, ranged from 14 - 22 and the first one I asked said “413”

“Perfect” I said “How did you work that out?”

“Well, I added 150 with 250 and that gave me 400 then I added 9 plus 4 which gave me 13, so 413”

“Great", anyone do it differently?”

“Yip, I did said one young man, I added 150 with 260 which gave me 410 then I added 4 and subtracted 1, to get 413”

Awesome, I then asked one of the parents in the room how they worked it out and the response was perfect and to me sums up how I was taught maths and also golf.

“I did 9+4 is 3 carry the 1, 5+5 is 10 plus the 1 is 1 carry the 1 and 2+1 is 3 plus the carried 1 is 4 so 413”

That is exactly right and exactly how I was taught (See Mr Mowat I was listening!) and it is also how my generation were taught to play golf, “you grip it like this, you stand like this, you swing like this…”

My swing was videoed ad nauseum and each and everyday I was told what I was doing wrong, despite that fact that on some of those days I was getting the answer (hitting the ball close to the hole) right!

I am not saying this is wrong as I am okay at both maths and golf but i believe it is very limiting in its potential and I believe that the younger generation are on to a good thing with the way they learn and we can learn a lot from them.

So how does this relate to golf? well, in golf the answer is to get the ball in to the hole in as few a shots as possible and there are a multitude of ways to achieve this, as seen by the amazing weird and wonderful swings that there are on tour nowadays, all of which get the job done. Just like the above maths example showed, there are a number of ways to get to that answer, all of them right.

There are no doubt easier ways to get to some of these answers and more repeatable ways, but the guy who scribbles all over the page with seemingly no structure buts gets the answer correct even with a few mistakes along the way, might be more effective than the guy who writes perfectly in each and every box and works through his process, with no mistakes to get the answer.

In my head the player who owns and understands what they do and how they do it, has a distinct advantage over the player who has to look to the teacher or coach every time something doesn’t work ( I know this from experience!). In fact the player with the perfect process and lovely looking swing often hits it their best on the driving range, where everything is sterile and lacks golf context. The other player, the one who doesn’t look perfect all the time, but understands their swing, they can probably play in most conditions of various lies and don’t stress when things go pear shaped.

So what is the lesson here that we can take out of this? Well, first and foremost the golf swing isn’t the answer, the answer is hitting it closer to the hole and yes an efficient golf swing will help but it is only a piece of the puzzle. Secondly try things out, experiment, you are the expert of you and don’t get bogged down by all these things that people say we “should” do, find out what works for you and refine that!

Getting a golf lesson may include tweaking an aspect of your swing but hopefully this is to help you get to the answer is hitting it closer more often, not making it look better on a camera. By the way those three in the picture all get to the answer in a very different way, but often get the right answer!

There is another connection with maths I will make but I will save that for the next blog…

New Years Resolutions.... Yeah, nah


New Years Resolutions.... Yeah, nah

Yes it is that time of the year again, where people ask if you have any goals for the new year or they may even volunteer their own... unprompted.

Research would suggest that these resolutions don't hold up and in fact is a bit of an oxymoron that they are called resolutions, as they are often the complete opposite of resolute!

I don't have anything against trying to improve and challenge ourselves, we should all be doing that, but I don't think we should wait until the new year to give it a crack, this should be an ongoing work in progress.

The way I see it, the problem with goals is when you achieve them it can (not always) feel empty, we are often left a little underwhelmed when we achieve the goal and on reflection can be a little disappointed that the journey is over, despite the fact that we didn't always enjoy the journey. 

The philosopher Alan Watts said "In music one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that were so the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord; because that’s the end!” Later adding ....”we are supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”

I love this as a concept particularly in relation to golf, it is not the end result that we want, ideally we would enjoy the whole round, every shot and challenge that you face on the course is a shot that you are not likely to face ever again.

I am not saying don't set goals, I try to use them myself but I think you want your goals to become your habits and part of what you do. My wife goes to the gym everyday because she loves it, she loves everything about it and doesn't need to set goals, to her it is like listening to a great song, there is no crashing chord to finish, but just an appreciation of the whole challenge and that is why she is a whole lot fitter than I am.

So if you have some goals this year around improving your golf, try not to think of them as having a finite ending by placing a limitation on it, but it's jut something that you do and enjoy the journey, like a good piece of music.

That is my plan with the gym, I know there will be ups and downs in it and that is okay, I am not going to attach a goal, a timeline, or an outcome to it, but instead I am just going to enjoy the pain and hurt that comes with it... For those that know my wife don't tell her about this as she will just roll her eyes and say "oh yeah I have heard it all before".... but this time I mean it!

Happy New Year!


My Favourite Major

My Favourite Major

July marks one of my favourite times of the year, I got married in July... but that's not it, July is when we find out the "champion golfer of the year" and that really excites me!

In 2013 I was caddying for Mark Brown at The Open Qualifying at Kingston Heath in Melbourne when he played the most beautiful round of golf you could ever hope to see. He shot 62 to take the course record by one shot, previously set by two guys by the names of Tiger Woods and Adam Scott!

The first thing he said after he picked the ball out of the hole was, "book your tickets to Scotland mate". 

So I got to see this event up close and personal, inside the ropes where all the action happened as I walked the fairways of Muirfield on Brownies bag. My love affair with "The Open Championship" just grew stronger, each day I would head to the course well before Brownie just to soak it all in, hopefully one day I will get back.

Anyway I digress, the diverse nature of the  majors is one of the things that makes golf so special, no other sport I can think of has such dramatic environmental changes across its flagship events. You could argue Tennis gets pretty close with the different surfaces that they play their majors on but the physical dimensions of a tennis court are the same. The football world cup is on at the moment and while I am not arguing with the popularity of the beautiful game, a goal is surely the same size everywhere and the pitch dimensions must be similar. 

But if you look at golf's majors Augusta is played at what has to be as close to heaven on earth for a golfer, everything is perfectly manicured, not one blade of grass is out of place, the sand is the whitest of white and even the water hazards look inviting to a golfer.

Then the US Open which we witnessed last month and over par wins it, the course is set up to beat you up, and provide the most brutal challenge of them all. I am not necessarily a massive fan of this major but in terms of diversity it is perfect, providing a different set of challenges to test the players. The USPGA Championship is also a major and that is essentially what is now probably as close to mainstream golf as any of the majors and while it probably has the strongest field of all the majors is often seen as the poor cousin to the other three.

So that leaves The Open (please don't refer to it as "The British Open", this is only okay when you are intentionally winding someone up from the UK). The Open has another diverse set of skills, played on a traditional links course where the elements play a huge roll in the outcome. You cant just fly your ball next to the flag and expect it to stop, you have to allow you ball to land on the rock hard ground and roll over the many contours and hopefully come to rest somewhere near the target, that is if the wind didn't take control of it on the way.

To win an Open Championship you have to master not only the elements and the golf course but also yourself, because I can tell you for certain that over the course of 72 holes you will face adversity and it will seem unfair but that is what makes this major such a special one.

I remember walking down the 72nd hole with Brownie at Muirfield and commenting on how hard the golf course was and that as a result it was a bit of a lottery . He looked at the leaderboard and said "Mate if it was a lottery those guys wouldn't be up the top, they are just that good". He was right the leaderboard after 54 holes looked like this:

  • 1. Lee Westwood
  • 2 Tiger Woods & Hunter Mahan
  • 4 Adam Scott
  • 5 Henrick Stenson & Zach Johnson
  • 9 Phil Mickelson

Brownie was right, these guys are that good, at the time only Woods had won an Open out of that group in the top 5, but since then we have seen Adam Scott, Zach Johnson and Henrick Stenson all collect the claret jug, and Phil Mickelson won that day in 2013.

I am not sure who will win as I am terrible at that but I must admit I would love to see Tiger Woods in contention again.


Ego & Par

Ego & Par

Two of the biggest issues we face in our game are ego and Par.

Let me start with Par, it offers nothing, other than creating expectation and putting undue pressure on ourselves.

We have a par 5 at my home course which is about 430m long, however during the Carrus Tauranga Open it is turned in to a par 4, and boy does this change my mindset. Standing on the tee when it is a par 5 I am thinking to myself "Sweet I should make birdie here", though when it is a par 4 that mindset changes to "This is a hard par 4 I might make bogey". The hole however is the same length and the same hole so surely the score is the score.

The other thing that par does is it conjures up is unwritten rules or beliefs about how a hole should be played. Imagine yourself on the hardest par 3 on your course, now most of us try to hit it on to the green in one shot (because that is what we're meant to do) even if that means the ball is coming in like a bullet and actually has no chance of stopping on the green.

Now imagine that you decided to give yourself two shots to get on that green, instead of hitting a 3 iron that you find really hard to hit, you hit a 7 iron and leave yourself with an easy chip on to the green which you would potentially leave yourself with an easier putt for 3 and if you miss that probably a stress free 4.

This is where I can hear you say "but that is not how you are meant to play" and this takes me back to title of the blog (ego) and my earlier statement of the unwritten rules.

The game is actually lowest score wins, not who did it the proper way and what even is the proper way? If we took a step back from all the expectations about how the game "should be played" and reflected on our own game we might find that we are not giving ourselves the best chance to shoot the lowest score.

Next time you go out for a casual round, or if you are really brave in a round where it counts I challenge you to have a go at this. Stop thinking about par and just think with my handicap how many shots could I take to get on the green and then play with that one goal.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised about how many shots you might save and how much you will enjoy your stress free round.

Good luck

Aim Away From The Flag

Aim Away From The Flag

I want you to consider this next time you play; knowing where the flag is can be more of trouble than it is worth. We are all fascinated now with knowing how far on the pin is and we use measuring devices to work it out and give us the exact distance, but you know what I reckon it makes it worse.

Well, in fact, I will temper that a little bit by saying if you aim to the opposite side of the green to where the flag is you will most likely play better. So knowing where it is can help, as long as you use it as a warning sign and a reminder to hit away from it.

Consider this statistic, PGA Tour players hit their 7 iron to about 27 feet on average. So next time you see a flag I want you to draw a circle around it and see if you have 27 feet in every direction. If you don't aim to a place on the green where you do, I will give you a tip here, usually that is the middle of the green.

When you are playing there are two things to consider firstly; is there any trouble that you need to avoid in that 27 feet around the flag, like a bunker and secondly (and I say this with the deepest respect) but you probably don't hit your 7 iron as good as a PGA Tour Player does so you may need a bigger buffer zone. Oh and from 100 yards they average about 18 feet, yes 18 feet so even with a wedge they still don't hit it that close!

Now the comment I usually hear after that is "I have no idea where my ball goes anyway so I may as well aim at the flag", Wrong answer! You should actually aim further from the flag, your miss hit will be the one that goes close to the flag and believe it or not but this is often the case with PGA Tour Players, if you don't believe me you need to watch this clip of Hideki Matsuyama here

His ball hits the flag and if you watched his reaction you would have thought he hit the worst shot of his career, but he is smart enough to know that the flag was a "no go" but, he gave himself enough room so that if he hit a poor shot he would be okay. I love that clip it says so much about the importance of having a strategy.

Golf is hard and we don't need to make it any harder, so next time you go out to play try this, look at the flag and aim in the opposite part of the green. Trust me on this one it will be a stress free round of golf and you will have a better score too!



Who Cares Who Wins?

Who Cares Who Wins?

I had the coolest time last weekend, I went to the mountain with my family, and to put it in context my relationship with skiing is troubled at best, I am not great at it, I don’t like being cold and to be honest I’m not great with speed either, especially when that speed is down a mountain on two thin blades with no skill.

Anyway, I was chatting with a guy who I coach a couple of days later, who is into heli skiing. Which, to the best of my knowledge, is when you take a helicopter to the top of a mountain and ski down some pretty extreme slopes, which you can imagine with my skiing skill (or lack thereof) doesn’t sound like fun.
However, when he spoke about it his face lit up, his smile was wide and uncontrollable and he couldn’t find the words to explain it to do it justice. So I asked him “what is the point?” “If there are 3 of you who jump out of the helicopter do you race to the bottom, is it the one who does the best trick, how do you decide who wins, what is the point?”

Well there was no real answer, it wasn’t a race, it wasn’t a competition, you just do what you do and enjoy every moment!

Boom. There it is, that is the secret to life!

All those people who think we should show kids that winning and losing is important as it is a part of life, bollocks! To me heli skiing is where it is at, go through life expressing yourself, enjoy and live every moment, it doesn’t matter if you are in to skiing, golf, or rugby, if you can express yourself fully with blatant disregard for outcome you will be successful, win or lose!

Let’s look at golf for a minute and try to imagine how pure golf would be with no score in mind, imagine, just for a moment, if every shot was an opportunity to express yourself like an artist. To take it one step further let’s use the mountain as a comparison, when you go skiing there is no set time, no set speed, no start line, or finish, you simply ski. Well lets say that golf wasn’t 18 or 9 holes, there was no expectations around hitting fairways and greens, you simply just saw what was in front of you and unleashed.

Imagine pre shot just trying to be as pure in that moment as you could, your one purpose was fully engage in the shot, to be pure in the moment.

Again I think of golfers that I watch who hit a shot below expectation, they usually mutter expletives to themselves and occasionally bang a club on the ground, I never saw this on the mountain, I saw some pretty spectacular falls and usually what ensued was a moment of reflection, or a laugh, almost the complete opposite of golfers!

A skier in the café after the day of skiing talks about the cool things they did and if they do mention the massive falls they mention it with pride and happiness, now I challenge you to go in to a golf clubhouse and listen to the chat, the poor shots or failures are certainly not spoken about with the pride that the skiers display.

The next time I go out and play golf I am going to try to be as pure as I can, enjoy every shot like a skier would enjoy every turn. The best thing about golf though is the worse you are the more shots you have so you actually get to do it more, it’s a win, win. That will be as close to I get as heli skiing, but if my face lights up like my mates did when I talk about golf then I am winning!


What Makes Jordan Spieth So Good?!

What Makes Jordan Spieth So Good?!

The Open is a pretty special event, my earliest memories of golf are getting up in the early hours of the morning to watch the British Open in front of the fire (well it was actually a heater) with my dad. I remember even then, before I was a golfer, there was something special about links golf, watching the players work their way around the course with precision in often terrible conditions.

There are a few differences in the modern game however, the ball has made a difference for sure and part of me would love it to go back to the old days where you truly had to work the ball and manage the flight, but the other part of me says shut up and stop living in the past. No one likes listening to whining old buggers bang on about how it was in their day and how the players were much more skilled... blah blah blah.

Anyway when listening to people talk about the Open and in particular Jordan Spieth there were two themes that came out, his mental toughness, which I agree with and also how he didn't hit it very good but holed everything... that I am not so sure about.

Lets not forget these guys are playing a hard sport, on a tough golf course in tough conditions and this particular guy shot four rounds in the 60's, he cant be hitting it too poorly. I also need to point out that I am not a massive fan of Spieth, I don't dislike him but he certainly isn't my favourite player, anyway I decided to have a little look at some of the stats on the website.

So in greens in regulation he was T3rd and tied with my favourite ball striker; last year's Open Champion Henrik Stenson. He was T2nd in most birdies and T1st for eagles, again your striking has to be pretty good to achieve this. Ah yes but to top these categories he could be just holing putts I hear you say? Total Putts on its own is not a great measure (the stats they have on offer are not great) but he was T16th in this stat, Kucher, McIlroy and Dustin Johnson all had fewer putts than Spieth in the event.

As I said the stats on the Open site are not great so I decided to have a look on the USPGA Tour stats page to see what his year looks like and in particular how he putts.

So just quickly this is how he ranks on the PGA Tour after the British Open: Putts inside 5 feet 130th, 5-10 feet 107th, 10-15 feet 159th and 15-20 feet he is 60th, hardly what I would call setting the world alight. Another statistic they have is Strokes Gained putting which measure how you putt against the field, he is slightly better here at T37th a couple of places behind our very own Danny Lee, but again certainly not world beating.

This actually surprised me and so I had a sneaky look at one stat as I exited the PGA Tour site and this was "Strokes Gained Approach to the Green" and guess what Jordan was Number 1!

So he may not bomb like the some other players or look as naturally athletic but I reckon he does a better job than people give him credit for, it's too easy to say "he is just a good putter" without actually looking at the data. One thing is for sure though he is mentally tough, he is a competitor and he has great course management skills and probably deserves a little more credit for his ability to control his ball than he gets.

Can he complete the career Grand Slam next month at the US PGA at the ripe old age of 23?