Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Happy Person is a Happy Athlete

It has been mentioned a few times over the course of The 2017 Masters that Sergio Garcia is recently engaged and the man himself has acknowledged that this off-course happiness "definitely helps" his on-course performance. Garcia has put himself in serious contention for this year's green jacket and, for me, this is no coincidence.

When I work with athletes, I'm coming from a place where I see them as a whole person and not just as some high-performing machine. Sure, I'm often sitting with them because they are experiencing dysfunctional performances and/or they're not enjoying their sport as much as they have done previously, however what I find is that this normally stems from an unhappiness with something external of their competition performance. Now if I was to consider them as an athlete only, I would likely be wondering what goals they're setting, whether they are able to visualise positive outcomes or what their concentration levels are like at specific times during a performance. These things can all be beneficial, however how impactful would improving these areas be if this particular athlete had a difficult relationship with their coach, if they had recently become unemployed or if they were stressed about a personal relationship, for example? Without taking this whole-person approach, it's my belief that any work on purely performance-related improvements would be extremely limited. Perhaps more importantly, I wouldn't feel comfortable as a helping professional or a human-being if I was to take the approach of "I'm hearing that you're worried about leaving school and home and starting university, however can we just get back to something you said about your distance-putting a minute ago?".

As with all people I work with, my aim is to help that person grow and get closer to becoming the person they want to be. Often this involves an acceptance of how and where they currently are before being able to look forward and strive for their ideals. A paradox exists in the sense that often we must accept failure to be able to succeed. If all that truly matters to you in your whole existence is to achieve a specific goal, such as a Green Jacket, then you cannot truly be content until you achieve it - but what if you don't? And what about that pressure on your shoulders? It's only making this achievement even more difficult than it already is. Rory McIlory is perhaps a good illustration of that at the moment, as he bids to become only the 6th player in history to have won all four of golf's Majors. He recently admitted he would feel "unfulfilled" without a Green Jacket in his wardrobe...that sounds like an awful lot of pressure to me. Only when you accept that a goal may not happen and that you'll be OK regardless can you truly give yourself the best chance of achieving it. It's possible that Sergio doesn't 'need' the Masters, or a major, as much as he once did to feel truly satisfied as a person.

I'm not saying that there's a definite right or wrong way to help athletes - just highlighting my own preference for supporting them. Some work from the belief that a happy athlete is a happy person, however my own stance is the opposite - a happy person is a happy, successful athlete. So while Sergio's Masters chances could possibly have benefited from some focused mental work with putter in hand to tidy up that aspect of his performance, for my money his contentment off the course is more likely to have been a far more significant factor should he find himself in the Butler Cabin later tonight.