Tim O'Connor on Coaching Performance
Tim O’Connor is the Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He’s also an author with two published books on Moe Norman; a contributing writer to several golf publications including Fairways Magazine; and he co-hosts a weekly podcast called Swing Thoughts that is available on iTunes. We caught up with Tim for 5 Questions about his role as a Mental Performance Coach.
You have a background as a golf journalist and author as well as handling public relations/communications for a number of golf related clients. The transition to mental performance coach seems like a significant shift. Is this a career change or a natural progression of your talents? Does your previous work help you as a coach?
It’s been a logical transition. A few years ago, I realized that I wrote about golf to tell stories for golf fans, but also for selfish reasons. When I was covering the Masters, interviewing the likes of Tiger Woods and Bob Rotella and writing blogs for Sean Foley, I wanted to learn as much as possible from them to help other golfers and my own game. I have always been fascinated with psychology; researching and writing about that part of the game helped me become a single-digit golfer. The last piece of the puzzle was becoming a leader in the The Mankind Project. Putting my coaching ability, facilitation skills and intuition together with my golf experience to become a performance coach was a natural progression.
Most people understand coaching and performance but the word “mental” encompasses a lot of territory. What does it mean and how do you differentiate it from many other practitioners who are trying to get inside our heads to make us better golfers?
The key is to get people out of their heads—to think less. One of my goals is to help golfers take advantage of the natural ability that they’ve already got to play their best golf and be their best selves. I help people become aware of the brilliance they’ve already got, how to become present to it and draw on it. There is a certain amount of teaching in helping golfers to deal with their thoughts, emotions, limiting beliefs, and developing strategies for dealing with, say, first tee nerves or tournament pressure. But mostly, my approach is to help people learn they have an abundance of internal resources, and they don’t need to be searching outside themselves for answers.
My role is mainly to help draw that ability out of them, offer perspective and support.
Each week we hear some PGA Tour player talk about his “team” and that usually includes a mental coach. That’s fine for multi-millionaire athletes performing at elite levels but can regular golfers benefit from a mental performance coach too?
You might be surprised by this, but average players have more to gain from working with a coach like me than so-called good players. Regular golfers can lose four-five strokes off their game without changing their swing by developing performance skills—things like optimal breathing and good posture. It’s skill building—just like learning the golf swing. Elite players know that playing their best requires a solid swing and developing their performance skills. I think average players cheat themselves by focusing solely on mechanics. In fact, it makes them play worse.
What are the core principals you try to pass on to your students?
My core principal is this—the mere fact that you are a human means you are brilliant. Seriously. Some people are better athletes than others, but you have everything you need to be a good golfer. Namely, you have a natural swing that’s right for you. If you become more aware of your abilities, you can enjoy a sense of mastery and hit great golf shots. That includes becoming more aware of your limiting beliefs, and gaining a greater understanding of yourself. Ultimately, my goal is to help you discover who you truly are as a golfer and a person so that you can play well and have fun, whether you want to win tournaments or play with your grand kids.
What’s the hardest part of working with a new student and is there an “aha” moment where it all clicks into place?
The hardest part of working with a new student is getting them to understand that they do not need fixing. Most golfers believe they are broken. Our golf culture constantly tells people they are not good enough. The “aha” moment for many players is realizing they aren’t the only people who think that way, and that their scores do not define them. They get excited when they start to focus on learning more about themselves rather than scores. That includes professionals and scratch golfers. They play with more joy, they enjoy themselves more and—wait for it—they score better without trying to.
For more information and to read Tim’s current blog, click HERE.