Head Games

Golf is my favorite sport to play – ever since I was nine years old hitting rock-hard Top Flites with my dad’s old red-grip clubs around a four-hole course that had plastic greens. As a teenager my friends and I toured the munis in the DFW area. Green fees: $10. I even have the scorecard from the first time I broke 100.

Sometime around age 20, my friends named a shot after me. The ‘Handler Shot’ – which they still use all these 36 years later – comes out whenever someone hits a fat flub into the water. That was a regular occurrence of my youth… and a sarcastic tribute that lives on.

I became a pretty good player in my late 20’s, then gave up the game – save for the occasional scramble – when our kids were young. I started playing again a few years ago, and have my handicap back in single digits.

That said, I still struggle with the game playing inside my head. While I’m typically a ‘glass half full’ guy, on the golf course negative thoughts dance around my mind… especially whenever a foursome behind us catches up on a crowded tee box, or we play through another group. Something about eyes watching causes my muscles to tense up.

So, at age 56, I’m reading ‘Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect,’ by noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella. He makes a lot of interesting points that resonate with me:

‘A little doubt or a little indecision is sufficient to impair performance.’

‘People by and large become what they think about themselves.’

‘We are endowed with the most marvelous computer system imaginable, and it is wired to maximize physical performance and grace if a person simply looks at a target and reacts to it.’

Come to think of it, those are good reminders for business, too. Glad I discovered this book. Of course, it was written in 1995.

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Mature Mindset

The Olympic Swimming Trials are in full swing this week, and since the nephew of a good friend of ours is one of the world’s best breaststrokers, we’ve been watching. (Of course, Michael Phelps is competing, too, so that adds to the fun.)

Last night as we watched the final lap of a women’s freestyle race in which I didn’t even know the swimmers – with the favorite clinging to a slim lead – I said: “She better watch out or Lane 5 is going to pass her.” My daughter responded: “Dad, you’re always so negative about sports.” Then my son said: “Yes, he is, and doesn’t that get old?”

Wow! Talk about a learning moment. I take a lot of pride in having a positive attitude – and it definitely shows up in our marriage, good health and business success. Yet, when it comes to sports, I am definitely a pessimist. That’s probably from a lifetime of experiencing the agonies of defeat sprinkled far too infrequently with some thrills of victory. (See Texas Longhorns football failing to win their last game of a season four times when it would have meant national championships.)

So this morning I made a vow. No more allowing sports to give me highs and lows. If my team or athlete wins, super. If they lose, so what? That has to be a much better way to enjoy life.

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Major Assist

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament continues tonight… and perhaps the most surprising remaining participant is Texas A&M. Not because they aren’t worthy; however, when you’re down 10 with less than 40 seconds remaining in your second round game, it’s unlikely you’ll win and advance. (‘Unlikely’ as in never happened before in the history of college basketball.)

Watching those moments unfold Sunday night – with Northern Iowa continually turning the ball over under the Texas A&M basket, including twice failing to execute the always sure-fire ‘bounce it off your opponent’s leg and out of bounds’ play – there was clear evidence of a lack of leadership for the Panthers.

(Why didn’t the player inbounding the ball run the baseline to create some space between himself and the defender, and give his teammates a better chance to get open? Why didn’t the coach tell them to throw the ball to the other end of the court, so, even if the Aggies intercepted, time would run off the clock? Basic situational plays high school teams practice.)

In moments of distress, someone has to have the presence of mind to take control – ‘Everybody be quiet and listen to me’ – and provide guidance on what needs to happen to ensure success.

Neither talent without instruction, nor instruction without talent can produce the perfect craftsman.” ~ Vitruvius

Former Students of Texas A&M University like to say, “Aggies Never Quit,” and in this instance – even with the unprecedented help from UNI – it was clear their basketball team adhered to that long-standing mantra. (Not so much for the dozens of Tweets I saw from media during the last two minutes of the game congratulating Northern Iowa and commenting on the Aggies’ missed opportunity.)

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Lessons Learned – #2

Two more remain. The #2 lesson I learned during 2015:

Clear Foresight – Two years ago in this same issue, I advised you to keep an eye on a talented youngster who might become golf’s next superstar. In 2015, that athlete far surpassed the future I envisioned – winning two Majors, becoming world number one and being named PGA Player of the Year. Of the many accolades announcers use to describe Jordan Spieth – tough competitor, incredible putter, humble person – the best I heard is the 22-year-old has an amazing ability to put the last hole behind him. That’s a skill of great business leaders, too: Let yesterday pass. Focus on the now.

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String Music

During the past 11 years and three months I have written 135 monthly issues of my e-newsletter – originally titled “The Franchisee Focus” and rebranded four years later to “Fast:Forward” to reflect the expansion of my coaching practice into the corporate world.

I finished issue #4 around 11 p.m. on April 5, 2004, immediately following the Championship game of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, having watched Connecticut defeat Georgia Tech. My storyline in that missive focused on how the committee ranks every team on an S-Curve from one to 64 and seeds the bracket accordingly.

One of the key points referred to a franchisor client that “has an outstanding management team, a strong product in a growth industry and a solid marketing approach. Yet, like many franchise systems, their franchisees are not achieving the results they or the franchisor expect. Put in sports terms, they have a good game plan, but their execution is coming up short.”

As the Tournament begins today, my premise remains valid. The difference between a champion and everyone else often comes down to which team plays together best during March Madness. And, except for this year’s undefeated favorite Kentucky, it isn’t always the most talent that reaches the summit. Terrific coaching and a desire to excel often determine who cuts down the nets just before CBS signs off with “One Shining Moment.”

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