Sports, Leadership & Life » Learning Through Golf
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The Sports, Leadership & Life series will explore the lessons offered by the games we watch and play. Our lineup of contributors — which includes New England leaders in business, culture, politics and sports — will reflect on how their lives and thinking were shaped by athletics in this weekly series.
Darnell Williams
July 30, 2009
Learning Through Golf

When I look back at the phrase that means the most to me about my attitude towards sports and leadership, I draw upon Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi.

“Show me a person that likes to lose and I will show you a loser.” End of quote.

Winning is not everything in life because you can learn a lot about yourself and the people around you, especially in situations where winning and losing demonstrate and define character.

072909_williams-webI grew up in Gary, Indiana, in a state that is truly known for basketball and track.  I was not fast but I had a decent jump shot.  But as father time caught up with me I looked for additional sports venues that would capture my attention and energy.

Thirty years ago I taught myself to play tennis and found out that I was pretty good and really enjoyed the social aspect and the discipline about the rules of engagement and competiveness associated with the activity.  One day, however, someone asked me whether I had ever thought about playing golf. I quickly snapped that I did not think it was a sport that would capture and hold my attention.  Twenty-two years later I realize how flat-out wrong I was in that assessment.

My wife was expecting our child and requested that I go to the store and get three entirely different items. I knew instinctively that I was in for deep trouble.  I left the house and on the way to that store I detoured and ultimately went into a golf shop and purchased everything I needed to play the game of golf – clubs, shoes, tees, balls, and books.  I brought to the game my attitude and desire.  It has been a long journey.

Every golfer goes through the introduction phase, fever phase, digging-any-golf-course-up phase and finally understanding-your-game phase.   You find yourself wondering where you would rather be: playing golf, at home on the sofa watching the tour, or thinking you are on the local tour in your head on the course.  Golfers know the answer to this quiz.

As much as I love to play, however, the truly important lessons I have learned on this journey are from the really good people whom I’ve met on the golf course. I have the opportunity to play all around the country and outside of the United States.  You learn a great deal about other players in a short period of time.  Their honesty and respect for the rules of the game and how transparent they are in victory and defeat are so revealing.

These simple lessons are immediately transferable to the work place.  For example, if you hit a shot out of position then your immediate objective is to get back on course in the short grass, not try and hit an impossible miracle shot.  This happens at work when unforeseen things happen; the lesson from the golf course is that you should not get overwhelmed and bent out of shape.

What is the nearest objective that can be met without trying to make impossible things happen? You become more level headed and relaxed followed by clearer thinking.  You head is not crowded with a bunch of thoughts that have nothing to do with your visual objective.

The closing lesson is this: golf and golfing also allow you to enter into a world of access and opportunity.  People who normally do not have things in common can talk about golf and connect in ways that would never present themselves in the hustle and bustle of our days. You do not have to cut through the nonsense.  Doors have been opened, friendships have been established, deals have been made, and trust has been built. Life is full of many enjoyments, and much to my surprise, I have found golf to be one of mine. It’s been a diversion of delight in the most literal sense – as evidenced by that fact that I never did bring those requested items home from the store because I went to the golf course!

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