This summer, I have been working on my golf game. Putting looks so simple; the ball should simply roll along and plop right in the hole. But it’s not that easy.
Similarly, parents and educators seeking the right strokes to put high ability children on the course to success may struggle putting the learning journey into perspective: What if we can’t afford the summer enrichment program? What if my child chooses skateboarding over piano? What if he is not in the accelerated class? What if she’d rather play with friends than do the robot-making competition? Is my child achieving enough?
How do we lower our handicap?
Lately, in an effort to improve my putting, I’ve been reading Putting Out of Your Mind by Dr. Bob Rotella, an esteemed sports psychologist and golf expert, and the bestselling author of Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. And for parents of high ability children, three of his putting tips are especially on par:
“There is no such thing as perfect putting mechanics. There is no perfect way to roll the ball.”
Dr. Rotella asserts that there are, not one, but many ways to putt a ball so that it lands in the hole. He observes:
Golfers today are inundated with information and pseudo-information about the mechanics of putting. The implication of much of it is that a perfect stroke exists and that if you could only attain it, you would putt perfectly…So we have many players in hot pursuit of the perfect putting stroke. The more putts they miss, the more convinced they become that their stroke is to blame. The more information they get about the stroke, the more lost they become in thoughts of mechanics. (129-130)
Just as there are many ways to putt, there are many ways to learn and excel. Although every child needs fundamental skills, a method or “stroke” that works to inspire one child may not be the best for another. Some children may love spending time on computers. Others relish current events discussions and debates, or visiting the library, or building forts, or hiking in the woods. There are countless ways to help our children become lifelong learners when we recognize and build upon their passions. Rotella advises, “Fall in love with the stroke you have. It’s more than good enough to get the ball into the hole.” (136).
“To gain control, give up control”
When it comes to putting, Dr. Rotella advises that “trying too hard” can actually impede success. He observes:
…[T]he main reason trying too hard doesn’t work is that it invariably diminishes the chances of making a good stroke. It introduces doubt to the mind. It tightens the muscles. It robs the player of his natural talent and destroys his rhythm and flow. (51)
Rotella asserts that when it comes to putting, golfers need to relax, focus on the target, and stroke the ball. He explains that “giving up control” does not mean to stop caring, but to avoid becoming too consumed with the importance of the result.
Similarly, learners falter when focused too much on insuring that every stroke toward academic excellence results in success. Misses are part of any challenging game; we learn from them, grow, and move on. Like good putters, children need to relax and embrace the process of learning, practicing and performing.
“You’ll make your best stroke and hole the most putts if you think only of your target.”
When putting, Dr. Rotello advises that players focus on the target – a simple and natural method for sinking a ball into a hole.
Like golf, learning is a course dotted with beautiful, inspiring targets, some of which are close, and some of which are off in the distance. Solving a unique problem. Creating a beautiful composition. Mastering an art. Discovering new knowledge. Making the world a better place.
Yet, unlike on the golf course, these targets are not marked with tall poles and brightly colored flags. Putting learning in perspective requires helping our children not to get caught up in the strokes, but to develop a life-long love of learning, envisioning meaningful targets, and continually taking aim.
 Rotella, Robert J., and Robert Cullen. Putting Out of Your Mind. London: Pocket, 2005.