12 months, 67 hours, 6 players, 1 team, 1 dream

goal-setting imagery mental toughness resilience results self-awareness visualization Feb 10, 2020

The Announcement

Last February, I was asked to be one of three former collegiate athletes to speak to all of Seton Hall University’s Division-I athletes about leadership and life. 

Overcoming a lot of self-doubt and limiting beliefs, I announced that I was willing to work with any team or athlete on their mental game. I didn’t know it then, but it was the start of Top Mental Game. 

After the talk, several players and coaches came up and wanted to get started. One of those coaches was Coach Natalie Desjardins, the women’s golf coach. We met the next week in my office, and we collaborated on a set of team sessions based around various aspects of the mental game - mental toughness, self-talk, goal-setting, and visualization and imagery exercises. 

A Year With Seton Hall Women’s Golf

I first spoke to the team on Feb 28, 2019. At the end of my first session, I said that I’d also be willing to work with any of the players one-on-one. 

I had my first one-on-one session with one of the players a few weeks later on Mar 20, 2019. I joked with my wife about whether the player would come back or whether any more players would sign up. Maybe there won’t be any demand for this type of training. Maybe I was wrong about athletes wanting to work on their mental game.

But then another player came to me on Mar 22nd. And another on Mar 25th. Two more on Mar 27th. And guess what, they kept coming back! Week after week.

In these sessions we talked about each player’s personal values, what is important to them, and what goals they wanted to accomplish. I personalized visualization and imagery scripts they could download to their phones to use in pre-practice and pre-competition routines. We talked about mistake rituals, self-talk, and controlling the controllables. We got deep into how each player responds to adversity, how they like to get feedback, and strategies to manage tension and conflict with teammates and their coaches. 

Without violating any confidentiality with the players, I could have conversations with Coach D about what trends I was seeing. I could hear her perspective and when asked, provide mine. As an honest broker who had nothing except the success of the team and the individual players in mind, I could help all sides see things from a different viewpoint.

I’m often asked when is the optimal time to start performance coaching and mental skills training. For example, is it better to start in the off-season, pre-season training, or during the season. My answer is “yesterday.” But sometimes athletes who are introduced to mental skills training have unrealistic expectations. As if years of poor habits, negative self-talk, and limiting beliefs can be overcome overnight. 

So when the team failed to win the Big East tournament a few weeks after being exposed to mental skills training, I feared that many would give up on their mental game.

But I was wrong. Many of the players saw me after the Big East Championships to discuss what happened and talk about plans to get better over the summer. 

A Record-Setting Fall Season

When they came back from summer break, every player made appointments to meet with me. Coach D and I met to discuss the team’s progress. Communication and team chemistry were at all-time highs. Several players shared their season goals with me, and working on their mental game with me was one of them. 

Then the team went out and had the best Fall season in school history. 

Same players. Just a lot more focus on the mental game. 

During the first tournament, two of our players tied to win their first-ever collegiate tournament with both playing out of their minds. One was a sophomore who shot a 68 in the 3rd round, and the other was a senior who had never won an individual tournament before. They each shot a 214 for the 3-round tournament, setting a new school record in the process.

In the next tournament, another senior (who competed as the individual in the first tournament) played the greatest tournament of her life. She shot a blistering 68 in the first round and finished with a 141 for the 2-round tournament. She shattered Seton Hall’s previous record for a 2-round tournament by 5 strokes. During her entire career, she finished in the top-5 only once (as a freshman). She had now finished in the top-5 in back-to-back weeks.

Oh, and the sophomore who won the first tournament, was 2 strokes back. She became the first Seton Hall golfer to shoot under-par in back-to-back tournaments. 

The team won the tournament by firing 1-under par. The team ended up 7 shots ahead of the second-place team and 16 strokes ahead of the third-place team.

The team finished second at their next tournament, but this time a different player got to shine in the spotlight. The team’s only junior went unconscious in the first round, firing a blistering 65, and setting a new Seton Hall record. She then continued her hot golf by shooting a 68 in the opening round of the next tournament, and ultimately finished 4th overall. 

The team went from being ranked 108th in the country to 54th, the lowest Seton Hall has ever been ranked. 

Reflecting on the Past Year

Because the team opens the Spring season in Florida tomorrow, I wanted to reflect on the past year and do some statistical analysis. 

As a whole, the team has worked a total of 67 hours on the mental game over the past year. This includes team sessions and one-on-one time with players and coaches. Other than the 4 mandatory sessions the team had, the other 63 hours were voluntary. While Coach D encouraged her players to see me, it was never obligatory, and Coach D never asked me how many hours each player was coming to see me. 

Here is the cool part. EVERY player saw me individually. The player who saw me most logged 17 hours, while the player who saw me the least logged 4 hours. 

The Results

And here are the results - I’ll let others determine to what degree performance coaching and mental skills training led to these results. 

1. In the Spring of 2019, when the team began working on the mental game, they averaged 303.53 strokes per tournament. In the Fall of 2019, the team set a school record by averaging 294.91 strokes per tournament. That’s an improvement of 8.62, a ridiculous margin.

2. The team went from being ranked 108th last Spring to 54th this Fall. 

3. Every player improved from the Spring 2019 season. On average, each player dropped their average round by 2.5 strokes. Two players improved their average round score by 3 and 4 strokes, respectively, while one player (a senior) dropped her average by 4.84 strokes!

4. Since some might suggest that this was a case of a “lucky” Fall or perhaps easier courses/competition than during the Spring season, I compared the Fall’s scores to each player’s career average. This was a way to compare their performance “before” and “after” mental skills training. Here is the data:

                       Career Avg     Fall 2019 Avg       Difference

Player 1            78.84                  75.55                  -3.29

Player 2            75.66                  74.64                  -1.02

Player 3            77.51                  73.91                  -3.60

Player 4            78.08                  74.91                  -3.17

Player 5            76.06                  75.09                  -0.97

Player 6            75.92                  75.73                  -0.19

5. The team destroyed the Seton Hall record book in the Fall. New records included:

- lowest individual par-72 round: 65

- lowest individual par-72 3-rounds: 214 (set by 2 players)

- lowest team round for par-72 course: 285

- lowest team 2-round total for par-72 course: 575

- under-par team tournament score for first time in school history

- 4 players recorded sub-70 scores, including 3 players who did it twice

- four different players earned Big East Player of the Week

- the team shot 32 sub-75 rounds (a 68% improvement from the Spring)

- the team shot 10 sub-par rounds by 5 different players (a 150% improvement from the Spring)

- 4 of the 6 players shot career bests for lowest round and lowest tournament

- 3 of the 6 players shot career bests for number of sub-75 rounds, sub-par tournaments, and top-10 finishes

How Much Credit Should Go to the Team’s Mental Game? You Be the Judge

Would these golfers have enjoyed the same success this past Fall, even if they never worked with me? Maybe. Maybe not. I will let others be the judge of that. 

But here’s what I can tell you. This team and these players are more self-aware. They are more resilient. They are communicating with each other better than they have ever done before. They are closer than ever before. They have a set of mental skills and tools to perform at their best when it matters the most. And when the golf gods humble them on the golf course as they inevitably do, they have skills to cope with adversity and to bounce back. 

12 months. 67 hours. 6 players. 1 team. 1 dream. 

I can’t wait to see what they do this Spring! Go Pirates!

 

 

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