Social Connection and Golf

Social Connection is an incredibly important influencer for all of us. But you may not have thought much about it in a golf context. A recent experience made me think of Social Connection as a great topic for the GGA community.

Human beings are wired to connect with each other in important ways. (Dr. Matt Lieberman’s TED Talk on the neuroscience of human connection is pretty interesting.) For example, when you feel like your need to connect with others (to be liked, to be loved, to be appreciated…etc.) is in jeopardy, your energetic presence can shift in important ways – and your play can be impacted.

It boils down to this: your ability to stay present in the game you are playing – and to play and perform at your best  – sometimes depends upon whether you feel like you are being supported (or not) by the people around you.

In August, I spent an amazing week in the Wind River Mountains in Central Wyoming with an incredible group of leaders and coaches. We were part of a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) -led leadership expedition designed to explore team and leadership dynamics, overcome physical challenges, and reconnect with nature.

One of the elements of the trip that was pretty fascinating was the team of pack llamas that accompanied us, carrying our food and some of our gear. It turns out that llamas are highly-social pack animals…and significantly influenced by their social nature.

My new buddy “Oregon” and me in the Wind River Mountains.

There were 14 of us on the trip along with 7 llamas. At night we were all in the same camp together…but during the days when we hiked 5-6 miles , we would break up into smaller groups of 4 or 5 people  – and so the llamas would be split up as well.  No big deal right? Well, not if you are a llama!

Each of the llamas had distinct personalities. “Coyote” was young and rambunctious. “Oregon” was mature and calm. “Roper” wanted to lead …and so on. One of the things we noticed was that their performance on the trail depended on the social dynamics they found themselves in.

So, if Roper wasn’t leading, he would pout. If Coyote wasn’t with his buddies, he got tough to handle. (That’s right…some of them seemed to get along with some of the other llamas, but not others!) And if one of them felt challenged, they would spit or kick.

All of this made me think of the ways we (human beings) handle our interactions with others when playing golf.

Let’s face it. Not everyone approaches the game the same way you do. Some talk more than you. Some drink more, use language you don’t, or make noises while you are hitting the ball.

Additionally, others may not approach the kind of fun competition you enjoy in the same way that you do. They may bang their club on the ground after an errant shot. They may get super-intense with themselves or others.

If you are not careful, you can let other’s behaviors impact your own thought patterns –how you experience the game, and ultimately how you perform on the course

When I work with golf clients, I always talk about the importance of their Energetic Presence on the course…and we often discuss Social Connection influencers. My goal is to help them to become aware of what they “need” from others on the course – so that they can tune in to potential detractors when they are occurring -and REFRAME their thinking so that they can maintain a more neutral and objective stance.

This way, no matter how the other person is behaving, they can still have an enjoyable experience. They can still stay connected their true potential and play the game at or even above their skill level ( and not below it).

How does this work?

Imagine the playing partner who get super-angry with every shot. You know this guy. Every shot has to be perfect or they tell themselves (out loud) what a complete idiot they are. They get intense and angry with themselves, and maybe even with others around them.

How do you react to that guy today? Do you get a little caught up in their drama? Do you get annoyed by their behavior…because, after all. “I would never do that.”

If you do, then you are at risk of being taken out of your game. You are at risk of lowering your performance capacity. And why? Simply because of a thought you have about how the other person was behaving.

So, how do you turn that around? How do you prevent being taken out of your game by that guy?

First, tune into your own mental and emotional state. Notice what you are feeling about the situation – (“His behavior is frustrating me.”) Next, notice how those feelings are causing you to behave. (“I’m getting tense and it’s causing me to miss easy shots.”)

Then, see if you can isolate the original THOUGHT driving your feelings:  (“This guy is a total jerk.”)

This is SUPER-important, as your feelings area a product of your THINKING. Isololate your thinking and you can make important shifts in your mental state!

Finally, REFRAME that thought. (“This guy is acting like a jerk. But he is doing the best he can right now. Maybe I can be a good friend and be supportive toward him right now while he is struggling. “)

If you can do this, you might be surprised at what happens next. Your emotional intensity will diminish. Your feelings will shift from frustration to care and concern. And you will be able to stay connected to your full potential on the course.

All because you shifted your thinking.

Too bad my llama friends will never quite get this!

Have a great week!


Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan

Paul Monahan is an International Coach Federation (ICF) - credentialed coach working in the arena of human potential. Paul’s clients are leaders, executives, athletes and musicians who are serious about transforming how they perform in critical moments. His experiences in leadership and development over a highly-successful 25-year corporate career have created powerful context and understanding for the leaders and executives he coaches. Additionally, his passions and experiences in sports and music have uniquely positioned Paul to profoundly impact his clients in those areas as well.

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