The April 2007 issue of “High School Sports Magazine” for Central Oklahoma has an article about Morgan Chambers, the most dominant female high school golfer in the state. I play golf but certainly don’t claim to play the game well: Generally my best golf games are the ones when I’m not keeping score and just playing for fun. The most beautiful course I’ve ever played is Eisenhower at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Beautiful course and a magnificent setting, right at the foothills of the Rockies. I often wish that golf course was still just a 10 minute ride away in the car.

This article about Morgan brings several thoughts to mind, and I want to share those which relate to creativity, failure, and learning. Whenever I am teaching workshops about digital storytelling (including podcasting) I love to teach others “the failure bow.” The key takeaway from the failure bow is that if we want to be creative people, we can’t let ourselves be “defined” by failure. The same is certainly true of people who want to be (or are) great golfers. The following paragraph from this article stood out for me:

“She’s been a great leader on the team since she was a freshman,” [Purcell Golf coach Mike] Gowans said. “She sets a great example on how to get better. She stays very calm on the golf course. She is very rarely rattled. It’s so hard to teach a young person that. She shoots a bad shot and forgets about it. She does that better than any girl I’ve ever seen.”

In life, as learners as well as golfers, we should all aspire to be a little more like Morgan. To not be rattled. When we blow “a shot,” to not let it define the rest of our game or our day. We need to learn from our mistakes, but not focus on them to the point that we obsess over them and let them define our attitude and worldview.

I think I may try to play some more golf with my kids this spring and summer. Golf is a GREAT game for many reasons. First of all, you play your best golf typically when you are RELAXED. Golf seems to be 90% mental, and 10% physical. Even if you know the “right moves” to make physically, if you are mentally out of the game you’re not going to be able to play anywhere near your top potential.

Like most things in life, to be good golf requires that you practice a lot. I find the same thing is true for writing. As I’ve continued to write more, on my blog and elsewhere, I find my proficiency (my game) when it comes to writing improves. When we spend time reading the writing of others, we can improve our own skills. Same is true for golf. Golf is something you must DO to improve your skills, you can’t just abstractly “think about it” and get better. You have to swing the club. You have to play on varied terrain. In different weather conditions: sunny, cloudy, windy, rainy. When you’re playing a “big game,” you never know what the weather is going to be like, so it pays to be proficient in a variety of conditions.

Golf also requires players (generally) to SLOW DOWN and enjoy living in the moment. Enjoy the beauty of a freshly mowed fairway, the dew on the grass in the morning, the cottonwood cotton blowing from the trees. Golf can provide great opportunities to build margin IF you have the right attitude. With the wrong attitude, which is often a highly-competitive one, a golf game can create more stress and anxiety than it helps dissipate.

I’m certainly not against all competition, but I do find that I enjoy golf the most when I’m not being competitive. When I’m simply playing the game to enjoy the company of my companions, the environment around us, and the game we are playing. If I can maintain an attitude like that, I think I could enjoy life even more if I make the time for more golf.

The same thing is often true of learning environments. When the pressure is high, when stress levels are maxing out, it’s hard to not only enjoy yourself: It’s also hard to LEARN. Psychologists call this the “fight or flight” response. Chemicals in your brain actually block your ability to do higher level thinking when adrenaline kicks in. You options become more limited. That’s why it’s called the “flight or flight” response, and not the “fight, flight, or think critically” response. We’ve just finished our week of high stakes testing in most Oklahoma schools, and in many cases the “pressure to perform” is now off. Hopefully in many classrooms, that will mean more opportunities for relaxed, fun learning rather than just pizza parties and pajama days at school.

Congrats to Morgan Chambers, not only for being recognized as a top Oklahoma high school golfer and winning a golf scholarship to Baylor, but also for reminding all of us that if we can slow down and avoid being “rattled” by bad shots we make and encounter each day of our lives, we’ll all be better prepared to handle the challenges of life as well as enjoy the journey a little more.

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2 Responses to Golf, creativity, failure and learning

  1. Andrew Pass says:

    Wesley, Thanks for the post. I need to keep your thoughts in mind throughout my day. It is too easy to get lost in work, feel the pressure and not stop and realize that things will work out.

  2. Wes,

    I can’t resist a post that uses the world “Golf” in the title. I starred this post till I had more time to think about it.

    I used golf as a metaphor for learning, life and pretty well anything. Here’s a couple of observations re: golf and your post.

    1. Golf combines a great balance between technique and feel. Some of us get so wrapped up in technique we forget to “let it go” and allow the feel and natural ability to work. We all need to understand the technical aspects but many have focussed too greatly on this and forget the fun and beauty of playing golf naturally.

    2. The best competition is internal. I’m way less interested in beating my buddies than I am in bettering my own game. I understand my capabilities and strive to improve my own game. I’d rather lose to a friend and play well than beat him and play poorly.

    3. Social aspects of golf make it fun. Golf is a social activity. Enjoying time and nature with friends. As well, I play with friends who vary in ability but we always find some competitive team games where everyone can contribute and support each other.

    4. Golf is about integrity. If you want to read a great book find one called “Fathers and Sons”
    The book describes the attempt of a father to teach his boys about integrity through golf. You’d love it. Golf relies on individuals to police themselves and each other. There are no referees. It’s been said, Golf does not teach character it reveals it. I do believe it does develop character as well.

    I could go on…..maybe I should write my own post….Thanks for this.

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