So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Once A Coach, Always A Coach – OR – Sometimes, Sport Ain’t Pretty

Some time back I began to read the occasional blog posting from Brett "Doc" Sutton, an Australian coach who has guided a number of athletes to success in the world of swimming, as well as ITU and long distance triathlon. At this point in the 2010 season a number of his TeamTBB athletes have been setting the triathlon world aflame.
One of the first blog posts I read from Doc was entertaining, but difficult to follow, because he (as many of his athletes will tell) has an atrocious writing style. So, I took it upon myself to edit it for public consumption. I think Doc will be pleased, or at least minimally miffed, at the fact I hadn't chopped it up too much...I felt spelling and minor word cobbling would suffice. Enjoy!

Ol’ Doc has been getting a bit frayed around the edges lately, so his ever-suffering wife bought him a set of golf clubs. Seems she had heard him say that back in the old days his doctor used to prescribe hitting golf balls rather than punching bags when the anxiety level started to rise.
Recently his team was on fire, namely the daily “fires” athletes and coaches deal with to make the magic happen on race day. Putting out those fires was starting to take its toll on Doc. So after a little track set, his wife suggested he take the new golf clubs to the driving range and test them out, while she took the kids to the lake. She told him, ‘don’t think about coaching for the rest of the day.’
So Doc went off, bag in hand, down to the driving range. He bought his bucket of balls and proceeded to deal with the anxieties of coaching a’ la Tiger. Right beside him was a group of folks ranging from their mid 40s to about 80 years of age. They were all decked out in their new golf attire, with their beautiful clubs and the immaculately dressed golf pro who was giving the group a lesson. The pro had the group stretching and doing all these drills, and it appeared like they were having fun.

Doc proceeded to put his bucket of balls down, took a club out of the bag, and started to hit the balls. Being a professional in another ball-sport, He never considered hitting a ball that isn’t moving to be much of a problem. After about 20 strokes he found the ball to be moving off the tee quite well, but his anxiety wasn’t subsiding one bit.While his shots were going more or less in the proper direction, the golf students next to him were sending their balls, er, sideways. They had become a danger not only to themselves, but to everyone nearby.

After a 9-iron slice missed Doc’s temple by about an inch (which pleased an elderly lady in the group; she finally hit a ball that was not a “worm burner,”) he decided checking a few e-mails was the better part of being pole-axed by an octogenarian would-be Nancy Lopez. What’s a 20-to-30-minute delay on such a nice day? He knew he’d end up taking care of coaching business, but at least he was exercising his obsession at the golf club rather than at the track.
As he answered the last of the e-mails, Doc realized this group was booked for an hour lesson. So, with mortal fear he returned to whacking a few balls, but with his eye constantly on the group, just in case. The pro teacher had provided this group with all the correct golf form tips money could buy; but these middle-aged hackers were lucky to be able to strike the ball, much less the broad side of a barn. They all had back swings as big as John Daly, turning their hips exactly like Tiger, and were still fortunate to get the ball 15 yards downrange. Most of the shots were “worm burners,” except when they tried the 9-iron; those were the moments Doc feared emasculation.

He kept thinking to himself, ‘what is this bloke doing with these people?’ He had long gone past the point of being upset for no particular reason. But the anxiety and frustration the foursome was experiencing as an outcome of trying so hard to emulate the technique of the world’s best golfers, as espoused by their instructor, was quickly becoming pandemic. Even with the language barrier, Doc knew the French word ‘merde’ was not ‘I love that shot.’ Time to answer a little more e-mail, thought Doc, to avoid their frustration becoming his. When the old pensioner let out the English version of the earlier French interjection, Doc said nothing, but sat there and kept boiling on how these people were being coached.

The elderly woman came and sat on the bench five minutes later, to light up a cigarette. Now her – and Doc’s - anxiety had gone out of control. He said, ‘that will kill you,’ in English. He knew she understood only too well. She bounced back with, ‘not before the golf does.’
Doc learned during their conversation the woman’s husband wanted her to learn to play golf and improve her health; he bought her new clubs and 30 golf lessons. She was so embarrassed to not be able to hit the ball. At her age, she felt it was silly trying to learn something difficult, just for fun.
She then waxed on, ‘Look at you. You walk up, don’t stretch, don’t warm up, you don’t practice. You wear lambskin boots for golf shoes, and you just “bang, bang, bang.” The balls fire out like its nothing. How much have you practiced to do that?’ Doc said he had picked up the clubs two or three times in the last ten years.

While this dowager might have had a $3,000 set of clubs and Nike equipment, she was a Yorkshire “angler”; her biggest catch was the husband with the Swiss bank account. They might have been in Montreaux, she in her 70’s, prim and proper, but she still told Doc he was full of it.
However, he was serious: ‘If you really want to hit the ball time after time and enjoy it, I can help you.’ She said, ‘Oh, now you’re a pro golfer too?’ Doc explained while he wasn’t a pro at golf, he could have her hitting ten fifty-yard shots in succession within 30 minutes. ‘When he leaves with his band of merry payers, go buy another lot of balls. But you have got to do as I tell you; forget all that clap trap the instructor said.’
‘Did you see me try to hit that ball or you just blind? That was my 28th lesson and I have yet to hit one that far and more than three in the row that went anywhere.’ Doc said, ‘well, you got one off the ground which nearly took me out.’

‘So what’s the point? Do you want to be better than you’re doing now, or just look good?’ She said, ‘Yes, of course.’
‘Well make your mind up; I have to be back at the lake in 45 minutes.’
So, over she went and bought the balls. The first ten minutes passed with Doc instructing, ‘do you want to hit it or look like a golfer that air swings all the time?’

‘I learned a terrific lesson a lot of years ago when I went to a golf tournament to watch my brother-in-law hack about. I watched a 69-year-old lining up; my brother-in-law filled me in: “This guy is the local legend. He can hardly walk now, so he never finishes the second round of the tournament, but he won it three times; twice before the war and one time afterward. He never became a pro as the war wrecked him and his lungs.” Of course I followed him instead of the brother-in-law, and it was the best 18 holes I ever walked. Now, that is another story, but it taught me plenty about hitting a golf ball.’ So Doc told the lady of this old guy and what the old guy showed him, then she started to really listen, not like before. She must have thought there was some English common sense in that.
So, they got rid of the John Daly backswing, told Tiger Woods to piss off, and decided the follow-through was over-rated. That ten minutes was hopefully the turning point in Amy loving to play golf as in the previous ten minutes; not only did Amy hit ten straight balls but at least half of them went beyond the 50 mark.
She was astonished, but when she went to go, Doc said ‘hang on. It was all ten past that mark. Get your wallet out, old girl, and get some more balls.’ Some traits die hard. ‘We are going to nail this before we leave here.’ She hit two more lots of ten, and the last lot went past the 50-yard sign every time. They grounded in the "Amy Swipe," as it was christened: a technique that revolutionary needed to have a name. Amy was having a ball whacking the balls every time, like a Swiss watch. The old girl had a bit of talent; the “Amy Swipe” was a thing of beauty. The back swing was not higher than her hips - sorry, john. Her hip turn - well we lost that, sorry, Tiger, and her follow-through stopped also at the hip but she hit 30 balls. She never missed one and over half went 50 yards or more, all in a straight line.
They packed up, and she said, ‘I just paid that guy - or my husband did - 1450 Swiss francs for 30 lessons and I still could not hit the ball. What can I get you, Doc?’

‘Well, I am pretty thirsty. How about a can of Coke?’
There are a couple of morals to the story:
First, beauty is in the eye of the beholder!
Second, do you want to look good, or do you want to be better?
I think that sums it up.
As for the anxiety, well, Doc returned to the lake, and his wife said ‘You look much happier. See what happens when you take just a little time off from coaching? I am proud of you!’
Doc said, ‘me too, me too.’

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