“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach

Over the years that I’ve been coaching the mental game of golf to all levels of golfer, I’ve concluded that one of the biggest factors in whether a player becomes their best is how they define success.

For most golfers (and athletes in general), the measure of success is simple – it’s the end result, your score, your place in the tournament and your reputation. Vince Lombardi summed this perspective up best with his famous line: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing”.

But is this really the best way to measure success to improve long-term performance and what we should teach our kids?

When we measure success by score and where we finished on the leaderboard, we:

  • Place greater weight to the outcome of shots, which adds pressure
  • Create disappointment and frustration when outcomes are not achieved
  • Become afraid to make mistakes, increasing performance anxiety
  • Make is harder to stay present and place attention on what you are doing now
  • Lose a valuable learning opportunity
  • Create the perception that we should only enjoy the game when we are scoring well
  • Are always striving for a future outcome, rather than being patient and content in the present moment

I see too many players and parents of junior golfers making this mistake. This perspective, more often than not, leads to a lot of disappointment and underperformance, creates a wedge between parent and junior and can lead to juniors losing interest in the game.


Redefining success for high performance and learning

John Wooden also told us that:

“It’s not about winning. It’s about learning to give all we have to give.”

To become your best, success has to be redefined.

When I review a round with a player, I don’t ask them what they scored or where they finished. I know that their long-term success is about developing high performance habits over time and reflecting on whether they are being the best versions of themselves in their rounds and in practice. That is the real meaning of success.

Whether in practice or rounds, I believe that success should be measured by the following:

Attitude. Did you give 100% until the end or did you give up?

Enthusiasm and Gratitude. Did you love and appreciate the game whether it was going well or not?

Optimism and Mental Toughness. Did you embrace the challenges and believe you could get through them?

Discipline and Focus on Shot Routines. Did you do everything you intended to do to hit each shot as best you could?

Awareness of your thinking and self-talk. Without awareness we are powerless to our thoughts. Did you use self-talk proactively or reactively?

Self control. Did you respond well to poor outcomes/negative thoughts and emotions and stay calm and composed?

Humility. Did you do a good job of not comparing your game to others?

Work ethic. Did you put 100% effort into your process on the course and in practice?

By rewarding the achievement of these “intrinsic” goals, we shift focus away from the unpredictable outcomes to what the player has in their control and make external goals (scores, wins, etc.) more attainable.

This is why my mental game scorecard, or “internal” scorecard, is the measure of success for my students. It’s very simple, you set clear intentions for your “process” and the player you want to be, and hold yourself accountable to it. With continued practice of setting intentions -> having awareness -> doing reflection we learn how to “give all we have to give”, accept any outcome and play with freedom.


Mastering Ourselves From Mastering Our Craft

As I always say, the value of the game of golf goes way deeper than score. The greatest value is what we learn about ourselves to become better human beings and live better lives. If we can develop these skills playing the game we love we not only go further down the path to being a mastery golfer, but we learn how to master ourselves.

I get a great sense of purpose working with junior players. Through the great game we can teach them to be great people. By rewarding these high performance behaviors (and teaching them how to develop them) in their rounds, rather than scores and where they placed, we help them develop high performance habits for a happier and more productive life.

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