I’ve known Andy ever since we were kids. In our teens, we used to mess around on boats during the many hot, lazy Malta summers. One day I remember particularly clearly, we were ‘spinnaker flying’ with his brother Nicky (who was much lighter than both of us) sitting in the ‘hot seat’ between the two spinnaker clues. I was on halyard duty, and while sheeting it in to make the most of the downwind breeze, it slipped and unthreaded itself from the cockpit all the way up the mast, leaving a very angry Nicky in the water at the other end!
Andy showed a strong sense of brotherly unity by fishing his brother out of the water, spinnaker and all! On reflection many years later, this story made me think about how best to develop a strong sense of family unity between siblings. Sibling rivalry or competition between siblings is largely a natural phenomenon. A family can be a strong unit when children learn early to look after and stand up for one another. This is clearly a priority for Andy, who is keen to develop these attributes within his own family.
Rapid Fire Q & A’s:
Zodiac sign? Scorpio
What few words best describe you? Driven, competitive
Favourite sports movie or book? Rocky Balboa
Favourite sports quote? Life is like a boxing match. You’re going to get knocked down, but as long as you get up off the canvas you can keep on fighting! (I’m not sure it’s a quote, but it’s something I was told when I was younger, and I continue to live by it.)
What’s something that’s unique to you? I got early confidence in my sporting ability from my father Stephen, and my work ethic from my mother Maureen.
Are you a better coach or player? Player
What’s your proudest personal sporting moment or achievement as a coach or player? Shooting a 58 on the 2nd of January 2019.
What distinguishes this moment amongst others as a player or sportsman? Not many golfers are able to break 70, let alone 60. I had shot a number of 59s, however, shooting 58 was really special.
Who inspired you as a young athlete? I remember when I started playing, there was an American player who was amazing, and I couldn’t imagine being as good as him. One day, when I realised I had potential, my inspiration was Tiger Woods. His work ethic was really something that really stood out for me.
What is/was your favourite routine prior to a game of your chosen sport? Is there a favourite food, a favourite mantra, or any visual cues?
Sleep is the most important for me. I have to be well rested in order to perform at my best. Eating the right food is important and hydrating well is huge. When I get nervous, the most important thing is to commit to the process and put all thoughts of the result out of my mind.
Trying too hard has always been a problem for me. I used to practice with the idea of preparing to play under pressure, but I’ve learnt through the years that the secret is to perform in a relaxed state. Take the pressure off and allow yourself to perform.
Did you have a favourite coach? Who was he or she and why were they your favourite?
In sport, as in life, there are different areas of the game that one has to master. I believe you need a different coach for each of these. In golf, mastering the skills to play the game is important, but more important is controlling the mind. There is so much time between shots and the game or match is played over four days. The mind can either wreak havoc or can get a less physically talented player through.
What, in your mind, are the top three qualities for a successful golf coach?
A good understanding of the player is important. And knowledge of the technical side of the game and the mental side of the game.
If I were to talk to you about ‘mindset’ in the context of sporting or every day performance, what thoughts does that word trigger for you?
Mindset is what performance is all about. Training your mind to be able to achieve any goal that you give yourself. You have to be able to imagine the situation and see yourself achieving your desired result. Having a winner’s mindset creates winners.
What is a winner’s mindset?
I believe it’s different for everyone, but it’s a mindset that allows flow to happen. It allows the athlete to perform to their true potential. Understanding what type of mindset is important in different situations is hugely valuable. Then you can analyse the situation and apply the correct mindset to get the best performance out of yourself. It’s all about creating flow.
In your estimation, what percentage of ‘total sporting ability’ is based on mindset? (And by mindset, I mean the relationship between meaning and performance.)
At the upper levels, I would say that the game of golf is 90% mental. Your performance is based on where you are mentally. Are you creating blocks or creating flow? The difference is purely mindset!
From a coaching perspective, do you consider an athlete’s ‘headspace’ to be important in determining the outcome of a performance? (By headspace I mean ‘mood’ and ‘ability to stay in the now’.)
Absolutely. If I were a coach, that would be my priority. Creating the right mood and culture is huge in creating winners.
Can you suggest any particular techniques used by others who coached you to improve the mindset or headspace of golf athletes?
In my training, I use self-talk to help me get into the right space: Positive self-talk and reminding myself to commit to my process and forget the outcome. Counting or using basic skills that have nothing to do with the game to engage the mind allows the subconscious to take over. Breathing techniques are very helpful to slow the heart rate and allow the mind to work normally.
What are your thoughts about the importance of an athlete’s ability to perform under pressure at a given time?
If an athlete can’t perform when it’s crunch time, then they have to work on their mental side. If you can do it in practice, but when you get into the thick of things you choke, there is an issue with your mindset. So you have to work on it. Habits are easily changed and how you perceive certain situations can create the blockage, so changing your perception can create a different result.
What do you find are the main differences in performance between more experienced athletes vs rookie athletes you have come into contact with?
Experience is a great teacher, but it also brings scar tissue, so it has its pros and cons. Learning how you feel in certain situations requires time, so the more times you get yourself into a winning position and you give yourself the opportunity to choke, the more you become aware of those feelings and therefore understand what you need to do to remain in a state of flow.
What factors underpin your ability to perform effectively?
My performance ‘trigger’ was to learn about the concept of ‘flow’. To absorb and rationalise a situation during a golf practice or competition and bring it to a baseline from which I could perform well. The factors that underpin my ability to perform effectively are shown below. In ideal circumstances they all need to exist in the right balance!
You can normally tell if someone has the right mindset from the way that they talk about the different situations and the way that they handle different problems that come their way. It’s how they deal with the situation they are in on any given day that dictates their mindset. That, or their mindset that dictates how they deal with certain problems.
Looking Forward and Back
Taking into account your answers to the above questions, how do your thoughts about the way young athletes should be coached and perform today and, in the future, vary with reality? Is there a gap? Any recommendations for improvement?
I’m not really exposed to this yet. I think that we are constantly learning, and we can always improve. I’m not sure if there is a gap, but the right schools will have the right coaching for different individuals. I personally think that getting out and playing any sport to a certain level is the biggest teacher, as you learn more from this than anything else.
How have you dealt with failure?
Failure is part of the process. I hate failure, as it means that I have not achieved my goal, but it teaches us what we need to do to get to where we want to be. Without failure, we can’t assess where we are. If it doesn’t hurt, then what drives you? The fear of failure can be a problem, but understanding that we spend most of our time failing helps us avoid the fear of failure and it being a block. If we fail, we assess, fix the problem, and go again. Failure is a massive motivator for me. More than success. I come back stronger and more determined to get it right.
Here’s Andy’s typical shot routine:
- Read the ground between the ball and the pin, starting from the pin and working back towards the ball.
- Commit to the consistency of the shot process/routine of preparation. Commit to process, NOT outcome. Outcome is result oriented.
- Mental note — ‘Don’t worry, let it go/flow!’ Try not to over think this stage of the shot process.
- Rinse and repeat.