• Harvey Hillary

Expectation Relocation


I was given the opportunity to attend British Amateur Golf Open in Sandwich last year as a guest Raymond Russell - Head of Golf Talent for Nike . As a Performance Coach, I am always interested to observe peak performance delivered ‘when it counts’, and the Amateur Open is a perfect vehicle for this. The winner and only the winner gets a ‘Golden Ticket’ to two of the most prestigious tournaments in the professional golfing calendar, namely The Open and the US Open. This opportunity presents a powerful motivator to succeed but also gives Dr Steve Peters' ‘Chimp’ a licence to run riot as golfers forget the 'here and now' and start dreaming about what if I win or the consequences of what if I miss.

It became clear after just three holes that many of the golfers on the course that day were struggling to match their own expectations for their performance, and that their 'emotion' was taking control of their game. So how does this happen? After all, these ‘amateurs’ are already well on their way to over 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, will have access to world-class coaching and have a well-designed practice schedule …. Or do they?

Matched Training Environment

Matched Training Environment is not a new concept, and it is something Dr David Alred has extensively written about in his research. Any coach worth his or her salt will consider using blocking (repeated drills focused on a specific component skill) v's random practice (where skills are mixed in sequence). In my sport of Sailing, Pre-Event training was specifically designed for each Championship or event, targeting specific features of that venue and particular skills associated with winning at that location.

What I observed at the British Amateur Championships was that competitors had:

  • Failed to identify beforehand the demands and skills requirements of the specific course on which they were going to compete.

  • Failed to review ‘best practice’ examples of previous rounds to understand the tactics required to excel & recover on each hole.

  • Failed to practice their skills specific to that course.

  • Failed to scenario plan and rehearse set play scenarios in the pre-event training.

What these golfers had done was to practice putting exhaustively on the putting green and driving on the driving range in isolation. What they had not done was practice their shots as part of a sequence of linked-shots that replicate what they might actually do on the Sandwich links course during the championship.

Practicing to ‘compete’ with a ‘realistic expectation of performance’

At the Open, I was surprised to see one of the contenders let his 'CHIMP*' take control on the 3rd Hole and effectively sabotage his entire round. I am not a psychologist, but my coaching experience would suggest that this player had formed a picture of how he would play each hole based on a self-selected set of practice shots that represented a perfect sequence of his best shots. That Expectation Dislocation was the root cause of his emotional outbursts. Even as a non-golfer, I could see that his physical reaction to each shot that he took that he perceived as poor, was damaging his form, his next shot and subsequently his next hole.

Expectation Re-Location

The critical lesson here is that in every field of performance (where your actions are measured against a known outcome or by a comparative performance) you MUST:

  • Align your expectations for PERFORMANCE with what you have consistently delivered in a competition environment.

  • Align your expectations for POTENTIAL with what you have consistently delivered in a matched training environment.

  • Accept the INTERFERENCE caused by factors, not under your direct control and manage your CHIMP by remaining in the here and now rather than focusing on consequence or outcome.

In the words of Timothy Gallwey, author of the seminal ‘Inner Game’: 

Performance = Potential – Interference

Key lessons relevant to Business and Sport

  1. Take time to locate your expectations to help stay logical when performing at crucial outcome events and keep the Chimp in his or her box.

  2. To realise or get close to your potential when it counts – scenario plan and practice skills specific to the competition venue or likely competitors.

  3. In business, it is often unclear when you, your team or your organisation is competing. Why not take time to consider the concept of when you are performing, how you gauge potential and what are your sources of interference?

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