Getting To YES! Growing in Confidence!
In addition to my sport psychology practice, I have also been a touring professional golfer and teacher to some of the finest young golfers in the world. For almost 28 years now and every summer since 1992, I have spent five weeks each summer working with young golfers and growing the game. I have been extremely fortunate to have been associated with the NIKE Golf Schools and US Sports Camps as a Director of Golf Programs at various institutions across the United States. I first started directing the NIKE golf schools back in the summer of 1992 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia and then started the NIKE Golf Schools at The Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton, Florida.
It was at the Boca Resort that I started the 1stAll Girls Golf Academy (for young girls only) and also the Parent-Child Golf schools which pairs up a parent and their son, daughter or grandchildren to participate and learn and play golf together. Fortunate to have had a good deal of success at both of these venues, I was asked to direct the NIKE Golf School at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts to which I have been doing every year since 1994. Almost every one of these golf schools had a different climate and location and it has been a great teaching and learning experience that has seen me reaching out to junior golfers that come to our camps from all over the world.
The venues have often been on college campuses during the summer months when the dormitories are empty and the availability of the local golf courses has been deemed appropriate. Throughout the past 28 summers, I have had the opportunity to coach over 7,500 young golfers individually and collectively and teach them the proper fundamentals of grip, aim, stance and swinging a golf club. But even more than that, I include each day of my five week summer golf schools with mental and emotional skills training. This includes me giving a morning and evening seminar on the psychological skills of composure, patience and confidence. And with each of these seminars, it is not so much about golf skills or playing the game but more about developing life and coping skills and growing in confidence each day.
Now imagine speaking each morning, day and evening to a group of 50 young pre-teen and teenagers the importance of having a positive attitude and carrying that demeanor throughout the day onto the golf course and also to live that attitude off of the course! Not the easiest assignment in the world, but one that has a limitless opportunity to influence young minds! But it was here at one of these morning sessions with these young teenagers that I uncovered one of the greatest stories about creating confidence that I have experienced firsthand.
This particular story begins in 1995 during the second week of our five week session visit to the Berkshire Mountains at the beautiful campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Williams College is a wonderful liberal arts college that also happens to have one of the finest drama departments in the country. Renowned for its summer theater and the famous Adams Theatre which attracts famous celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, David Schwimmer, David Hyde Pierce, Justin Long, Wendie Malick and Olympia Dukakis to star in summer plays, Williamstown is known as the “Little Hollywood” of the East. What made this particular week in Williams College so extraordinary was that we had a mix of several camps that all came together to participate in the Williams Nike Golf program. One of those camps was a nearby all-boys camp called Camp Mac-Kee-Nac. Camp Mac-Kee-Nac consists each year of over 400 boys from around the globe who spend their summers in the mountains of Massachusetts participating in all outdoor and sporting activities. As part of a program option at that time, they could also sign up for a week or two at the NIKE Golf School at Williams College. Camp Mac-Kee-Nac was located about 45 minutes away from Williams College, so every morning several of the boys who signed up for the golf program had to get up at 4:30 and eat breakfast, get on a bus and head to Williams College so that they could be on campus for the 7:30 orientation to start the day.
This particular session we had twelve boys from Camp Mac-Kee-Nac in addition to our 40 which made a total of 52 student golfers. With a staff of twelve instructors including myself, I had a small army of young boys and girls to address each morning and evening. The topics would vary from what it means to be “In the moment’ to “what does it mean to focus on the target with 100% intention.” This particular Monday morning was our first full day with all of the golf-campers, so I wanted to make a good impression with our young troops. What was nice about Williams College is that the main dorm that we were using had a big lounge area where I could stand on the steps and address everyone who was seated in front of me. It worked like a little auditorium and has been a great learning center and meeting area for all of our golfers. After telling them of the schedule for the day and week, I looked out into the audience that was seated in front of me. Seventy sets of eyes were on me as I scanned the room only to notice one of the young boys from Camp Mac-Kee-Nac seated directly in front of me.
What struck me initially was his appearance. He was slightly stocky and around twelve years of age. From all of the other boys that had come to NIKE golf from Camp Mac-Kee-Nac; he was perhaps one of the youngest. He was wearing a white shirt with blue stripes that had a chocolate ice cream stain on the front of it and was wearing plaid shorts. He wore glasses which had the typical white athletic tape that acted as a bond to keep the frames intact since they were obviously broken. He was wearing an old baseball cap of which he would always wear (except in meetings and at mealtimes when I would have them remove their caps) and I asked him to remove his cap. To which he responded: “I’m sorry, I forgot”.
Upon hearing his voice, I thought he might have a cold or asthma, but would later find out that he was deeply allergic to some of the pollen that was thick in the mountains at that time. I asked him his name because I always wanted to know every one of my golfers by their first name at the end of the day. He told me his name was Alex Glick. I told Alex that it was great to have him at my golf school and then proceeded to ask him a few questions to break the ice for him and several of the other golfers. I asked him about his Camp Mac-Kee-Nac and what he liked to do. He started to discuss all of the things that his camp offered and that he was really glad to be here learning how to play golf. But what he was most excited to talk about was an upcoming mixer that his camp would be having with an all-girls camp that was nearby. This prompted me to ask what this was all about. At this same time, some of the older boys from Camp Mac-Kee-Nac were seated next to the wall and I sensed that they had some uneasiness with Alex discussing the upcoming mixer. To squelch this unruly behavior I turned my attention to one of the older boys named Matt that was whispering to the others. I asked him if he knew what Alex was talking about. Matt stood up and said that Camp Mac-Kee-Nac was having a social mixer with the All –girl camp called Camp Danbee. Camp Danbee was an all-girl’s outdoor camp for girls of ages 10-18 and numbered over 1600 girl campers.
Sensing that this was a pretty big deal for my boy golfers, I asked how many boys there would be in comparison to the girls. Matt responded with that the numbers would be around 400 boys to almost 1600 girls. As we discussed how many times a summer that the two camps got together I found out that they would only be having this one and perhaps another one at the end of the season. I brought my attention back to Alex who was smiling a big grin from ear to ear and I asked him if he was excited and he said: Absolutely! I asked Alex why he was looking forward to the mixer and he replied: “I love to dance!” Upon him saying this, the other older campers from Camp Mac-Kee-Nac started giving him the raspberries and that he didn’t know what he was talking about. They shouted “you can’t dance!” To which Alex shouted back: “I am too a good dancer and I will show you this Wednesday night!”
As I was now starting to be a witness to a rivalry and personal challenge, I took the opportunity to create a teaching/learning moment. I got everyone to quiet down and asked Alex why he loved to dance so much. He replied that he always felt that he was a good dancer and that he had good rhythm and more than anything, he practiced dancing by himself when he listened to music. To which this response drew a few snickers and cat caws from the young crowd of golfers. I replied: “this is what most of you do not understand….but hear me now and listen to me in your head later……preparation when coupled with opportunity creates a platform for success.” I went on to tell them that whether anyone else knew it or not, that it was totally up to Alex to believe in his ability to dance. Alex Glick would have the first and final say in whether or not he could dance. And as far as anyone else’s opinion ….well, it really didn’t matter.
The point that I was making is that whenever we as human beings allow others to control our thoughts and we give away our permission to be ourselves and believe in our abilities, we give our power away. I went on to tell them that in every area of life and especially on the golf course, if you let someone else get inside of your head and make you feel inferior, then they have control over you! As I was talking and making a point of creating a personal position of thought control and decision making, I could see that I was getting quite a few nods of approval from the audience. As with anything that goes on in today’s world, young people are savvy and they totally understand when someone is making a valid point as opposed to some psycho-babble double talk.
I went on to suggest that Alex and the other fellows flex their risk muscle and bust a move and get on the dance floor and ask several of the Camp Danbee girls to dance. This is where the story took a turn for the dramatic. Alex then raised his hand and asked a simple question: “What if I ask a girl to dance and she rejects me?” As everyone burst into an awkward laughter for Alex, I reminded them of a simple truth that resonated with each one of them. I simply made the observation that in the world of men and women, some of the most attractive and eligible men and women stay shut in and at home by themselves because they didn’t have the risk muscle to ask someone out on a date or if they wanted to go do something. The safe play was to not ask and put yourself into a negative situation that would only hurt your pride and self-confidence. By not asking someone to do something such as dance or go on a date, you wouldn’t be turned down and you wouldn’t suffer the shame or embarrassment of being rejected.
As I stated this, I saw and heard muffled chatter throughout the room. Their thinking was around the line of: Perhaps Dr. Winters is correct, what if I don’t take a chance? And if I do take a chance……what have I got to lose? After hearing this from me, Alex Glick then again raised his hand. I asked him what he was thinking about now to which Alex replied: “Okay, but if I get turned down by the first girl I ask…..what should I do then?” I responded with the simple answer of: “You thank her for her time and move on to the next girl who wants to dance. No matter how many rejections you may get, no matter how many people you have to ask to dance……you have to get to the one person who wants to dance with you!” “The toughest thing you have to face is the rejection from those who do not see the value in you!”
I then presented them with a golfing analogy. “If you miss a putt and the putting Gods say “NO” to you….do you stop what you are doing and stop putting or playing?” No, you simply chalk it up as a miss and move on. “The same applies to Alex or any one of you young men going to this social mixer and dance. You have to move through the doubt, eliminate and release the negative and move on to the next opportunity to succeed.” This just isn’t a golf skill, but a basic life skill that everyone can learn from if they aspire to reach great things!” I then took a look at Alex Glick and suggested that he take to heart what I was saying to him this early Monday morning and try and transfer it to the golf course later that day.
As I ended my Monday morning session on a positive learning note, I looked around and saw Alex Glick looking at me and giving me a smile. No words were spoken, but I knew he had gotten the message loud and clear. Persist until you succeed! You must get to YES! In order to be truly confident you have to take the risks, stretch yourself and move through the doubt and uncertainty to get to the good things that lay on the other side of the wall of doubt and worry.
For the rest of that first day and the next, my golfers filled their time with practice drills, reinforcement thoughts and the repetition of taking things one at a time, one after one until done. The same thing happened on Wednesday morning, the day of the big camp mixer. I discussed the benefits of being optimistic and patient and that good things happen to those that hang in there. I didn’t have to mention anything about the camp mixer that night at my morning orientation, but the message permeated throughout the day. As Alex Glick finished his day at the golf camp and left for Camp Mac-Kee-Nac and his big social, he was about to embark on a new chapter of believing in oneself.
Thursday morning in the Nike golf school began almost like every other day. The students would assemble in the lounge of the Williams dorm that we were using and get ready to receive their morning lecture on sport psychology and game improvement ideas. Thursday was our pro-am day where each student would be paired with different team members and they would have one of my instructors be their professional partner in a scramble format. It is always a lot of fun and there is friendly rivalry amongst all of the golfers. However, before I came in the main room to address my young golfers, I had a knock on my door. I answered it and there were four of the Camp Mac-Kee-Nac older golfers. Matt, Jeff, James and Devin were all huddled around the front of my room door and proceeded to give me the rundown of what transpired the night before at the social mixer with Camp Danbee.
Devin was the first to speak. He said: “Dr. Winters, we are here just to let you know that last night was pretty unbelievable. As you had told us earlier in the week about how things are kind of in your control and that you can make things happen for yourself if you put your mind to it…..well, we just thought you’d like to know that Alex doesn’t want to be called Alex anymore.” I listened and then responded: “Well, what does he want to be called now?” Matt spoke up and said: “He now wants to be called The Glickster!” “We think you may have made a monster out of him!” I was a bit taken back and asked why he wanted to be known as that new name. They all responded with: “Ask him about what happened last night at the dance….you won’t believe it!” With a big collective laugh, they then all turned towards the main room to meet for our morning pairings and motivational lecture for the day.
As I was getting my final mental notes in my head for what I was about to say to the young golfers, I wondered what these fellows must have been talking about. I asked myself…….The Glickster? I could only imagine what I was about to head into when I walked into the main assembly room. Lo and behold, right down in front of where I would be speaking was Alex Glick….aka…The Glickster. As had been his clothing modis operandi for the past few days, there he was with his broken glasses, the same shirt with stripes that still had the chocolate stain on it and his plaid shorts. But today he was wearing white socks with a blue stripe on the top of his right foot and a yellow strip on the top of his left foot. I am sure he had a pair that matched them back at Camp Mac-Kee-Nac!
I said a big good morning to the entire group and asked them if they were ready for a big day on the links and that today was our Nike Golf Pro-Am. But before I began to discuss the pairings for the day, I asked if anyone had anything new that they wanted to discuss before we proceeded into the day’s business of tournament golf. As I looked around and didn’t see any hands, my eyes dropped to Alex Glick who was directly in front of me surrounded by some other of the golf kids. I asked Alex: “Alex, wasn’t last night your big mixer with Camp Danbee? I would like to hear about it.” “How was it…how’d it go?” Alex smiled a big grin and said: “Last night…… I was cool.” This got a big reaction from laughter from the entire room and Alex turned around and waved to all of the other kids. I knew that this was a very important time for not only Alex, but for me to hit home with a few key thoughts about what he just said. I interjected and said: “Hold on a minute…did everyone hear what Alex just said?” “He didn’t say the night was fun or a big success or that everyone else had a blast……he said that I was cool!”
As the room settled down to make sense of what I was trying to say, I went on and asked Alex what made him so cool and his night so special. He responded: “Well, it was like you said, if you want to dance, then you need to step up and ask someone to dance….so I did. I asked him what happened then. He went on to say that the first girl he asked to dance told him to go away. But not to be deterred or frustrated, he reminded me of how it is one after one until you get the job done and he went up to another girl and asked her to dance. She told him to drop dead and quit bothering her. This led me to ask Alex what he was feeling at the time. Alex said: “well, I didn’t have anything to lose and I had already been turned down a couple of times and I thought, well let’s try again.” To which Alex was turned down again. At this point in time, the room was a bit confused, befuddled and feeling a sense of sympathy for young Alex. To which I finally asked Alex: “well, did you try a fourth time?” He smiled and said: “YES!” “That is when it happened!” I asked him what he was talking about and he said that he went up to one of the older girls in camp. Her name was Rhonda and she just happened to be the prettiest girl in all of Camp Danbee. He asked her to dance and she said: “Wow, yes, I love to dance!” At that point in time Alex was talking about how not only was it just this pretty older girl and him dancing, but several of her friends joined them and Alex was dancing with at least ten different girls. Alex Glick had just hit the jackpot!
As this story was unfolding, I noticed all of Alex’s camper buddies from Camp-Mac-Kee-Nac were standing up against the wall in the main room and were just shaking their heads in disbelief as he was re-telling the story about his big adventure with Camp Danbee girls. I asked them: “Did any of you dance with Rhonda or any of the other girls in the camp?” They all shook their heads and sheepishly said no. “So, all of you just hugged the wall all night like you are now?”
I then addressed them and the rest of the kids in the room and said: “I think this is a great thing that we are talking about this morning. Three days ago, Alex came forth and told us that he wanted to dance at this mixer and many of us in this room laughed and made fun of him. But who’s laughing now? Alex put himself out there and got through the rejection, the humiliation and the embarrassment and got to dance with the girl of his dreams that night. Not only that, but he made a big breakthrough and got to dance with dozens of girls. Now, I am not sure, but you other guys holding up the wall here this morning probably did the same thing Wednesday night at the mixer. You didn’t risk or even take the time to ask someone to dance. I am not here to judge you, but did you guys have any fun the way that Alex did? So, what can we really learn from all of this?”
At this point in time I made it very clear that in order for real confidence in yourself to be fortified, you must be ready to feel uncomfortable and go through frustration, disappointment and hardships. Nothing worth having comes easy. Not in your personal life, business life or even on the athletic field. Sometimes, the hard is what makes it truly worthwhile. Once you know you can handle whatever it is that smacks you down and that you get back up to face it again, it will lose its grip on you. Alex Glick has shown us a perfect example of this. I went on. I said: “Alex, good for you that you stuck to your guns and did exactly what you said you were going to do. You told us you were a good dancer and you got to dance. But even if no one had said yes to you Alex, always remember that if you want to dance, you can dance by yourself…..because that is what makes you happy. I went on to say that many times when we make reservations to go out for a nice meal, we always tell the maître d how many are in our party. But there will be times in your life when you are by yourself. Sometimes the best parties are a party of one! You dance for yourself, you dine for yourself and you live to make yourself happy. That is what growing in confidence is all about. It is YOU giving yourself the permission to say YES to YOU!
As the final message to my group, I simply said to each and all of them. “Let us not forget this important lesson that Alex……forgive me, The Glickster, has given us this week”. “In life and especially in golf, if the results are negative, let’s not get upset and feel that we have lost or damaged ourselves and the round. Let us not look at failure as final, but instead as a requirement for future success! Instead of allowing the negative shot or result to be an ending, let us accept it for what it is; a momentary setback or mistake and move on towards what we want it to be! So, let us all take a page from The Glickster and believe in ourselves and be big today and the rest of our lives”. As we dismissed the group to get onto the bus, I noticed all of the kids giving Alex high fives and “Atta boys”. For once and perhaps for that day and many days thereafter, Alex Glick was cool. Because as we all know: Cool is….as cool does.
The story about Alex Glick does not end there. For every year since that day in 1995, I have told and retold the story about how one little boy wanted to be a big time player on the social scene and simply do the one thing he wanted to do and that was ……dance. The Alex Glick story is one of our strongest stories of perseverance and grit to get what you want. I believe it resonates with every person who has felt inadequate or that they just weren’t “cool enough”. As the years have gone on, I have reached out to Alex Glick. Today he is a successful web analyst who has graduated from the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business and also has completed a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago in Analytics. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who wore mismatched socks!
I can only hope that Alex Glick….aka The Glickster, used a bit of the perseverance and confidence from this summer event to be a tipping point for bigger things in his life ahead. But what I find over and over in dealing with people is that many times there is a single, triggering event in a person’s life that makes a dramatic difference. Who knows what is could be for you. I just know that for one summer night many years ago, a little boy got to be unbelievably cool because he put himself out there and got through the rejections and finally got to YES!