AWARE: Lessons for the Athlete

In my role as head golf coach at Simon Fraser University, my primary endeavor is to help our student-athletes build awareness. As eighteen-year-olds move away from home, enter the university setting, venturing into the unknown, the greatest skill among those who successfully navigate this transition are those who cultivate their awareness. With this, I see awareness in three dimensions: the inner self, the outer self, and the loss of self in the time-space continuum. 

Awareness of the self – small “i” awareness or internal awareness -- is the body scan, the mirror to the mind, body, heart and soul. I feel this current generation is much better equipped to look internally and process how they are doing and what’s really going on. Language and practices have been shared in their youthful development. Stigmas of previous generations have been removed, and it’s okay to look inward. Practices like journaling, reflection, and meditation are commonplace and common through the lens of “me” or “i.”

When it comes to golf, it is important to calibrate your inner condition. Overactivation, causing nerves or anxiety, can show up with quick swings, lack of commitment, skipping steps in the pre-shot routine or in general a shortened “process.” A distraction or open loop that may seem insignificant on the first tee may cause chaos under the pressure of the last few holes. Like a pebble in your shoe, if not attended to, it can cause discomfort, pain, and ultimately affect performance.

The next level of awareness, and the one I find most important for our student-athletes, is the outer Self–awareness of the big “I” in context to the larger world. This involves using your five senses to be aware of what’s going on around you and then filtering through the information for context - figuring out how the Self fits into what is actually going on in the world.

For the first time in their lives, all daily decisions are now the sole responsibility of the individual, and being aware of the myriad choices often leads to cognitive overload. In a golf context, this becomes overwhelmingly evident, especially to those players who specialized early on in their sport development.

NCAA college golf requires strong physical and technical skills (and these two components of performance are the easiest for the coach to develop), but the requirements to compete at the highest level evolves into more of a mental and tactical challenge. Those who have lower awareness of external factors – wind, grass types, weather, temperature, elevation, etc. – struggle as they try to make mental space to incorporate all this new data. It impedes their ability to perform the physical and technical skills. Successful players are those who are present and able to gather all relevant information, filter what’s important and adapt their strategy to best match their own uniqueness to the demands of each shot.

The final piece of awareness is the loss of self in the grandeur of time and space –it removes any form of “i/I” and connects to something bigger in the universe. Through ITP, I’ve come to see this as evolutionary panentheism, but many top athletes possess very strong faith. To this end, there is an awareness of those who have come before and those who may follow in the future. There is also an awareness of gratitude and humbleness that comes by leaving the “self.” 

It’s rare for a student-athlete to attain this level of awareness in their late teens, but as a coach, I strive to plant the seeds that may blossom into awareness of a greater worldview. I have the honor and privilege to coach high-performance student-athletes in a crucial/transitional time in their lives and while the journey begins with the game of golf, through an integral model focused on building awareness, I hope to guide them to a greater purpose in life’s journey.