Golf…..it’s a funny old sport. At the beginning of each year I decide what my experience, growth, contribution and creative goals are. For my growth goal this year I decided to trade in endurance sports and learn how to play golf. I had two main drivers, all my friends had started playing more frequently and going away on golf trips and I wanted a sport that would keep me occupied and interested for decades, not just years. My end of year goal was not to have a handicap but simply to have a golf away day with the lads at a decent course without embarrassing myself.
The glass ceiling in golf is very high and I can only describe the process of learning, a humbling experience. Where previously I was able to rely on my natural athleticism to carry me to a certain standard in sport, there are no short cuts in golf and everyone has to start at the bottom. This means hour after hour of gruelling practice where sometimes you think you have mastered it and the next time you play, it’s like you’ve never swung a golf club before. I’ve never known a sport like it. There simply is not a linear correlation of improvement week after week.
I started the right way by taking golf lessons spread out every three weeks and going to the driving range in between. We started off great where I could see a gradual improvement. Every time I went to see him, he would add a new dimension to my swing and I would go away, practice and master it. Then all of sudden the improvement slowed down and stopped. I had plateaued and I couldn’t work it out. On my sixth lesson whether it be my mood that day or not but I felt like the golf pro was telling me the same instructions he told me on lesson three and four and I just wasn’t getting it. At this point I let my emotions get the better of me, I became extremely frustrated and I threw the toys out of the pram. I explained to the golf pro that this approach wasn’t working for me and I didn’t book any more lessons with him.
After sulking for a while I finally had a light bulb moment. The reason why I wasn’t improving at the speed that I was happy with wasn’t because I lacked ability but because I was only going to the driving range once a week for 40 minutes and having a lesson every three weeks. I came to the conclusion that if I expect my patients to complete their exercises two to three times per week to make the minimum changes to their body, how could I be so arrogant to think that I could master a new skill based sport by practicing it once per week for 40 minutes. From that point onwards, I started going to the driving range twice and sometimes three times per week. What happened? Of course my golf skill level improved exponentially.
Why am I telling you this story? I feel like the journey I have gone through can be likened to the rehabilitation of tricky injuries such as achilles tendinopathy or persistent low back or shoulder pain. There were times where my golf skill was improving and I could see light at the end of the tunnel and other times I simply felt I was back to square one.
- Like golf there are no short cuts in rehabilitation. You have to be disciplined with your approach. The body likes routine and although there will be frustrating times ahead overall improvement will be made with time when you continue to practice the same exercise not once but several times per week. The brain and body connection is strong when you are consistent with your approach. You can’t expect instant results if you only practice your exercises now and again.
I also related to the fact that my golf skill level would be influenced by my emotions and mood. I played my best when I was most relaxed and only focusing on the task at hand (hitting the ball). My golf severely deteriorated when I was sleep deprived, stressed and worrying about factors out of my control.
- As discussed in my previous blog about the biopsychosocial model, these factors can play a roll on injury management. It’s okay to have moments of anger and frustration and set backs are normal but try to have a short term memory and forget about these times. It’s about bouncing back, starting each week fresh focusing on the task at hand. Try to focus on the things you can control, good quality diet, sleep, correct intensity of exercise and stress management strategies.
I also found with learning golf that everyone becomes a professional and tells you (whether you’re wanting to hear it or not) their expert advice that works for them or to try this approach or person. As a learner this can be extremely frustrating as you want to take everyone’s advice on but it also leads to a lot of conflicting advice. I often hear this from my back pain patients.
- Seek out professional help for your injuries from a recommend qualified health professional. Their advice will be based on an assessment of you and they will tailor their treatment for your specific needs. It is important to listen to other peoples advice but remember that one size does not fit all. It’s about working out what works best for you.
As soon as I booked the golf trip I had a goal to work towards. Even though it applied extra time pressure, having the reminder of a booked event made me focus on the task. I also felt six months was the right amount of time for me to prepare.
- It’s important to set goals so you have a target to work towards but try to make it realistic based on all the information you have. Accept that making changes to the body takes time and there is no perfect rehabilitation programme as life often gets in the way. Be patient. Tendonopathies often take 12-16 weeks to recover and persistent pain can by a lifelong management plan. Having short and long term goals will improve your performance.
Finally, three weeks ago I managed to complete my goal of playing two rounds at The East Sussex National Golf Club. I was given the maximum handicap and we played Stable Ford. Although I let my nerves get the better of me on day one and only contributed 10 points to my team, on day two (because I most likely relaxed more) I contributed 24 points to my team and walked away with my head held high.