Sports competition provides us with a stage upon which to practice the dramas of life in a fun, non-threatening environment. In sports competition we are confronted with opportunities and pitfalls that can also teach us how to deal with prosperity and adversity in our daily lives.
Golf, as a sport, is unique in that it is comprised of elements that set it apart from many other sports. For the most part, golf is a competition among individuals as opposed to teams. Competition in golf is based on how well the participants overcome a common obstacle, the golf course.
The following represents a summary of what I believe to be some of golf’s important lessons for life. Finding new and creative ways to confront golf situations can help us to improve not only our enjoyment of golf, but they can also enhance our fulfillment in the game of life.
Golf, unlike most sports, relies on the honesty of the players for the fairness of competition. Adding up scores at the end of a hole requires that all participants honestly account for their strokes.
There are many times in life when no one is watching. At such times we must decide whether it is more important to “win” or more important to be true to our value of honesty. If winning is more important, we sacrifice our integrity for the seductive cloak of victory, but our character suffers. In life, if we lose our ability to distinguish between right and wrong, we have lost our “conscience” and we become prey to our unconscious desire for recognition and acclaim. In these cases, short term “winning” leads to long term losing.
Humility in golf means having a healthy respect for the challenges offered by the golf course no matter how “short” or “easy” the holes might appear to be.
Excessive pride can make us overly sensitive to our mistakes. When we are controlled by our ego, there is always a “reason” beyond our control that prevented us from reaching our goal. Humility in life is the recognition that there are many things that are beyond our control. Putting our ego in our back pocket will help us to accurately gauge the pitfalls that we face and enable us to assume full accountability for our performances whether they are failures or successes. If we fail, the challenge is to learn all that we can so that we are better prepared the next time. If we succeed, we need to recognize all of the things inside and outside of us that contributed to our success and to be thankful for the opportunity to improve our life skills and experiences.
At times our desire to fulfill our expectations can overshadow our ability to accurately assess the challenges offered by the situation that we are facing. One of the greatest challenges in golf is to continually match our scoring expectations with the time and effort that are available to us to practice, to play, and to fully develop our golf skills. Our enjoyment of golf is heavily dependent on continually remembering that our main objective for each round is to have fun. Fun for most of us includes tolerating the occasional slice, hook, or topped shot because we simply do not have the time to devote to playing and practicing that we would like.
A realistic appraisal of our goals and of our ability to successfully meet the challenge of reaching our goals can spell the difference between success and failure. Effectively managing our expectations requires us to exhibit a realistic awareness of our strengths and weaknesses, and a full appreciation for the nature of the challenges that we face. Having high aspirations is fine, but we must be sure to do the homework of preparation that will ensure that our expectations and realizations match.
Many of the conditions surrounding a round of golf are beyond our control. The pace of play can be controlled to some extent by being ready to play when it is your turn to hit, lining up your putt while your partners are hitting their putts, and limiting time spent looking for lost balls. But golf is not typically a “fast” game. Impatience is one of the surest ways to ruin a golf shot and ultimately the enjoyment of a round of golf. Patience requires understanding, compassion, and remembering how most of us played when we first took up golf as a beginner.
Life does not always proceed at the pace that we would like or expect. Often, our control of situations is limited as is our ability to change the situation. At these times patience allows us to remain focused on our primary objective (to enjoy a round of golf), and to go with the flow of things as they unfold. Patience allows us to accept things as they are rather than as we wish them to be.
As far as I am concerned, there is only one important shot in golf, and that shot is the one that you are standing over at this very moment. All the shots before this one are finished, and all the shots after this one have not occurred yet. Any thoughts about what has happened or might happen will interfere with your ability to summon the concentration necessary to play your current shot effectively.
Life can only be lived in the present. Certainly we must learn from our past mistakes as well as past successes. The possible future consequences of our current actions must likewise be considered. But being overly concerned with the past and the future can lead to paralysis, hesitancy, and ineffective action. As with golf, we must “trust our swing”, in life we must trust ourselves. Clear-cut answers to our apprehensions and fears are rarely at hand. We must rely on our confidence in ourselves and in our ability to trust our judgment and intuition as well as our experience to guide us. Living in the moment means trusting ourselves to do what is right at this moment in this situation, nothing more and nothing less.
Participating in or watching sports presents us with an opportunity to experience fun and enjoyment, as well as offering a venue for practicing valuable life lessons and enhancing our personal growth. Golf, due to its individual competitor nature, offers some unique elements not necessarily common to team sports. The rules of golf etiquette spell out processes and constraints that enable the match to proceed with a clear understanding of how to resolve disputes in a way that encourages respect for the game as well as our fellow golfers.
The Professional Golf Association’s First Tee program is a stellar example of how golf can be used to teach young people about life values. The mission of First Tee is:
”To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.”
If character building through golf can be a positive endeavor for our children, why not use it for ourselves?