Not Enough Music

Much of what I've learned about practice and learning came from my experiences learning to play music back in my younger days.

When learning an instrument, once you get past the very rudiments of technique, you'll be given scales and arpeggios to learn. Scales and arpeggios are pretty boring to practice, but any instructor worth her salt will tell you that they're the foundation of musical technique. They're a practice that never goes away. Even concertizing musicians work on scales and arpeggios.

Beginning musicians work on simple pieces of music, too, to begin to put technique into practice. If you played a classical instrument as a child, or if you've ever been to a little kid's recital, you know the kind of pieces I mean, the ones written by music educators and collected into books with names like "Delightful Easy Piano Pieces Vol. 14." They're tolerably inoffensive and completely forgettable. These pieces give students with limited technique the opportunity to do something that is (more or less) making music. These pieces serve as bridges to higher-level pieces, which makes them useful, but they're not something anyone really wants to listen to--again, if you've been to a kids' recital, you know exactly what I mean. You play these pieces until they stop being useful, and then you set them aside.

For some practitioners, interleaving all of this is theory. Studying the subject for underlying patterns can, when used appropriately, facilitate understanding and learning. The risk with theory is that it can "put the cart before the horse," as my dad would have said. People sufficiently committed to theory seem to forget that theory usually arose from practice. When the opposite is true, as with 20th-century serial music, the results might sometimes be intellectually satisfying, but often lack the aesthetic and intuitive grace that drove progress in the field in the first place.

Here's why I'm saying all of this: This week, I participated in an introductory certification exam run by the national certifying association for ski instructors, and I really struggle with the association's methods. For one thing, they have built an enormous edifice of theory around skiing and insist on its importance in learning and teaching. But I do not believe that a vast intellectualized structure of words is how anyone actually learns a complicated physical task. This is not my experience. For another thing, they test us on what they call "skills," which are, I deduce, meant to be the equivalent of scales and arpeggios--exercises to build and strengthen foundation. But I am quite unconvinced that that's actually true. It seems to me--though let's grant that the association's teachers are much stronger skiers than I am, so their opinion can't be discounted--that most of the "skills" they test us on arise from proper technique rather than teach it.

And when the skills do properly apply to learning to ski, the focus can be misplaced. For example, one of the skills that they test us on is the wedge turn, which is the way that beginners learn to turn their skis. On Monday, I watched one of the examiners do a series of wedge turns, and his were the best I've ever seen. He was a paragon of balance and relaxed execution in the movement. Now, the wedge turn is a simple and effective way for beginners to learn to turn, but it's also fundamentally inefficient, which is why intermediates learn to turn parallel and quickly leave the wedge behind.

To achieve such smoothness in wedge turns, the examiner clearly had devoted many, many hours to their study and practice. Now, for this to be worthwhile, the wedge turn has to be the equivalent of scales and arpeggios, that is, something so foundational to skiing technique that it should be practiced no matter how far up the ladder we advance as skiers.

But I strongly suspect that what I witnessed was not the equivalent of a concert pianist practicing scales and arpeggios as a foundation to higher-level technique. I think I was watching a concert pianist who has, for some perverse reason, committed a vast collection of children's pieces to his performance repertoire, analyzed them endlessly, then concertizes them, and then insists that anyone who doesn't do the same isn't really a pianist.

What arose from these practices was a kind of thin-lipped, mirthless approach to skiing. By analogy, I witnessed the dissection-by-theoretical-analysis of charmless children's pieces, their joyless performance, and then a dogmatic insistence that this is the One True Path.

I understand that I'm speaking of a professional certification, and thus it probably should have a certain rigor. But, metaphorically speaking, what's the point of practicing an instrument if the end result is utterly devoid of music?

Stretching 101

One of the major problems with pursuing fitness goals at this time of year is respecting the energy limitations of the season. One of the ways to do this is to work on your base fitness level. Another way is to work out so that you are actually building energy rather than burning it. Increasing flexibility does both of these things, while increasing sport performance.

Rather than talk about golf specific stretches, I am going to talk about the mechanics of stretching as a function of the Training Tiger Woods Program.

Establish Your “V”

In a post last year, I talked about establishing your “V” while centering. The “V” is the imaginary lines from your shoulders to your navel when you’re in the centered position. This position aligns your body and allows for an open flowing breath. When stretching, if you are centered and capable of an open flowing breath, you are certain to have perfect form and will be able to improve your overall flexibility.


When stretching it is critical to limit the intensity to a 5 on the RPE (rate of perceived experience) chart below.

Rate of Perceived Experience - Stretching

1-2: Hardly feels like you’re stretching; breathing is normal and feels easy.

3-4: The muscle has slight tension. You could hold this position comfortably for a long time.

5: There is an awareness of tension in the muscle. You can hold this stretch comfortably.
Breathing is unrestricted and natural. As you hold the stretch, the muscles begin to relax and the RPE level decreases.

6-7: Muscle is tight. It would be uncomfortable to hold this position for very long. Breathing is restricted.

8-9: At this point the stretch actually hurts. The intensity will prevent you from focusing on the stretch and often causes you to hold your breath.

10: Here you are approaching the point of injury, with the range of motion being forced.


Stretches should be held for 5-10 centered breaths. By focusing on your breath you will be able to feel when the muscle actually releases.


For now, don’t worry about golf specific stretches. Increasing basic flexibility improves overall fitness. Later, this will make sport specific stretches more effective.

Session Length

Begin by picking 4-5 common stretches that you like and know how to do. Hold each stretch for 5-10 centered breaths. Repeat 2-3 times for each stretch. This shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes per day.


I have added stretching 5-10 minutes per day as a part of my goals for the winter quarter. By following the guidelines that I have set here, I can ensure that I am protecting my energy expenditure while increasing my health and fitness levels.

On Goals, Met and Unmet

I wrote last week that my goals for the Vegas soccer tournament were, in order, to stay healthy and uninjured, to have fun, and to win the thing. I thought it would be worthwhile to examine how that all went.

Between good luck (no unlucky falls), good will (no one tried to hurt me), and staying in tune with my body, I came home pretty beat up (four matches in two days takes a lot out of a guy) but uninjured, and I've been good about rest and recovery since I've been home to try to keep it that way.

As for winning: we made it through our round-robin group but lost in the quarterfinals, 1-0, on a late-game counterattack.

Which leaves the goal of having fun. Unfortunately, I didn't have nearly as much fun as I'd hoped. It's funny that it took me until my fourth go-round at this tournament to realize this, but it's actually a pretty stressful tournament. All teams play two game on Saturday and another before Sunday lunchtime. That's a tough schedule. And though the games are only 60 minutes long rather than the normal 90, the abbreviated play doesn't help all that much. Yes, it's easier on the body, but it leads to frenetic matches.

Also, many teams get put together just for this tournament, so they lack cohesiveness. Teammates who know each other well know how to rely on one another. Not being able to fully trust your teammates adds to the stress.

In the past, being stressed while playing soccer was normal enough that I didn't particularly notice it. Engaging in stressful situations and calling them fun is just something people in our culture do, and I was no exception. Now, I'm more aware of this approach, and it strikes me as a little odd. And this points to a crucial question: Is it worth it? Will I participate in this tournament again? Right now, I think the answer is no.

A Cautionary Tale

Over the last few weeks both Ben and I have talked about the importance of respecting the energy of the season.

Since the first of the year, the gym where I have my office has been inundated with people who obviously have made New Year resolutions. They’re running, jumping, lifting weights, and doing exercises that are way beyond their current abilities. I hear them grunting and groaning and I watch them grimace in pain.

Because I’m there every day, I notice as they begin to miss workouts. Some get sick, while others get injured. Soon, they are gone. Just another failed resolution.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that 70% of people who make resolutions fail in the first 8 weeks. Ignoring the energy of the season is usually why.

If you want to successfully begin an exercise program, start slow. Build a foundation and increase the intensity of your workouts gradually. Possibly, seek professional help from someone who understands the principles that Ben and I have laid out in our Training Tiger Woods program.

Remember, whatever your fitness level is right now, it has taken you awhile to get there. It’ll take you just as long to get to where you’d like to go.

Goals for Winter

In our pieces from last week, Jerry and I both spoke of the need to attend to the energy of the season when setting goals.

Which points to an interesting conundrum for my winter. I'm teaching skiing this winter, and I've been surprised to discover just how physically arduous it is. I go home deeply tired every single day I work. I expected that because I'd be skiing at the levels of my students, I'd be skiing much less than I do on a typical day on the slopes. And while that's true, what I hadn't counted on is that skiing inefficiently, which I have to do to demonstrate the techniques I want my students to work on (in order to model the progression to the next level, I ski just above their current level), is vastly more exhausting than skiing efficiently. Two top-to-bottom runs in a snowplow demand as much from my body as a full day of carved turns. Throw in the energetic demand of focusing as hard as I do when I teach, and my days are really tiring.

Jerry and I both described winter as a time for rest and recuperation, but I'm certainly not tamping down my physical activity.

What has also been interesting, though, is how much energy I've had when I'm on the mountain. Even after nights when I've woken up after four or five hours of sleep and been unable to get back to sleep, my energy during my workday has always been excellent. Over the years, I've noticed how good I feel when I'm in the mountains. This winter, I have come to believe that time on snow-covered mountains offers powerful support for us energetically.

All of this is a long introduction to the framework under which I'm operating for my winter-time goals. If I weren't teaching, I'd probably be resting more, as the season dictates. But I am teaching (and enjoying it), so I'll continue to have to put out the energy the job demands.

So then my main goal, from a fitness and health perspective, is to stay healthy and uninjured. That means being very careful to get adequate sleep, moderating my alcohol intake, and trying my best to eat well. It also means paying close attention to what my body is requesting on days when I don't work. I have no choice but to meet the physical demands of my job, but when I find myself especially tired on a day off, I have to either keep my exercise, be it on the slopes or in the gym, to a light to moderate level, or else take the day off completely.

I am applying Training Tiger Woods principles to my skiing and that of my students each and every day, and of course I'll continue to do so. My goal is to ski and ride with less stress and more flow, which dictates that I continue attending to the breath and continue practicing holding a strong center. That approach, coupled with the instruction I get from the stronger skiers who surround me at work, has already help me improve my skiing markedly this winter, despite having very little time away from teaching to actually practice. I hope to see continued improvement now that the teaching schedule has lightened after the end of the holidays.

I expect to practice or play very little golf or tennis until nearly the spring equinox, at which time we'll establish new goals in line with the growing energy of spring. So beyond what I've mentioned so far, my focus will be in the gym, aiming to provide myself with a stronger base for activities of spring, be they golf, tennis or soccer.

One last thing: I'm in Las Vegas this weekend for a soccer tournament. My team's goal is to win the thing. That's my goal too, right behind staying healthy and uninjured and having a lot of fun. Wish us luck.

Goals – Part 2

Last week both Ben and I talked about goal setting and the need to respect the energy demands of the season when setting and pursuing goals. In this week’s post I am going to share the method I use for setting and achieving goals that has been very successful and is applicable to almost any goal.

State Your Goal

It’s extremely important to verbally declare your goals aloud. Nobody else has to be present, but verbalizing your goals gives them power and brings energy to the process. While verbalizing your goals notice how your body physically and energetically reacts to the goal. If you feel strong and energetic during the process, your chance for success will be greatly enhanced. If you feel weak or uncertain when declaring your goals, re-examine them. There is something within your goal that is causing conflict and it will make them much harder to achieve.

Next, write down your goals and share them with someone else. This accomplishes a couple of things.

First, writing down a goal gives it life and creates a sense of energy around it. This is different than verbalizing your goal. When verbalizing it, you’re feeling how the energy of the goal flows with your energy system. At this stage, it’s still an idea or something you think you want. When writing the goal down, you are breathing energy into it and giving it life. It goes from being something you are wishing for to something that you’re working towards.

Second, by sharing it with someone else you’re not only accountable to yourself, but you now have to account for your successes and failures with someone else.

To illustrate the whole process, I will share a goal of mine and the process for achieving it.

One of my goals this year is to improve my overall fitness level. I had a series of abdominal injuries last summer and my fitness level and my weight isn’t where I like it to be. I have some measurable parameters of lowering my exercise heart rate and blood pressure while losing 15 pounds.

Start Small

Nothing kills progress like a goal that is impossible to reach. I like to set very attainable, relatively short-term goals that act as stepping stones to achieving the larger long-range goal. Each step should be relatively easy to accomplish and should lead directly to the next logical step in the process. The plan should be flexible and allow for any necessary changes. It’s my experience that nothing gets in the way of achieving goals like too fixed of a plan early in the process.

My first stepping stone is to do four 30-minute exercise sessions per week. Notice that the number of sessions as well as the duration of each session is easily obtainable. I purposely leave the type of exercise and days I plan to exercise vague. This allows me to react to the energy of the day and the conditions in the gym without upsetting a rigid schedule.

Accountability/ Journaling

It’s important to be accountable for accomplishing each step that you have laid out. Give yourself a timetable to accomplish the step and journal the process. Journaling it on something you see everyday reminds you that you have made an obligation to yourself and keeps you aware of how you are doing.

I have a calendar set up in plain view next to my desk at work. Each exercise session gets logged onto the calendar. A notation might be as simple as 30 minutes of rowing or 20 minutes weights and 10 minutes of cycling.

Review / Restructure

The review process is critical for success. It allows you to determine what is and isn’t working in the process of achieving your goal. Reviewing should be done after each step is accomplished or the time set for accomplishing the goal expires. This is where your goal journal becomes important. By re-reading your journal, you can better understand what worked as well as what hindered your progress in accomplishing each step.

I like to set a check-in with myself two weeks into the process. I’ll look at the number of and type of exercise sessions that I have logged over the two-week period. Based on the results, I can plan the next step in the process. I might increase or decrease the goal for the next two-week period based on how I did previously.

Be Kind

When critiquing your results be nice to yourself! If for some reason you were unable to achieve one of the steps, it’s OKAY! Assess why. Too vague? Too much work? Needs more structure? Less? Did life get complicated? Now, based on your answers adjust the next step on the journey of achieving your goal.

Plan/Change The Next Step

After the review process, it is time to plan or make changes to the next step in the process. Keeping the plan fluid allows you to react to the ever changing circumstances of your life. When changing the steps associated with achieving your goal make sure you keep the overall picture of what you are looking to accomplish firmly in mind.

I am constantly changing and tweaking my step-by-step process to achieving the goals that I stated. If things are going well, I will accelerate the plan. If events have conspired to set up some road blocks on my path, I’ll adjust as necessary to keep my head up and keep myself moving forward.

Success Vs Failure

When pursuing goals in this fashion, the only way to fail is to quit. By reviewing progress and adjusting the next step forward from the results from the last step, we can continue the journey forward one step at a time. It doesn’t matter if there are 6 steps between starting and achieving your goal or 126.

Sometimes, you’ll achieve your goal ahead of schedule and other times you’ll get there but it’ll seem like it took forever. Whichever way it goes, you have achieved the goal and you’re ready for the next one.

Ben’s Thoughts on Resolutions and Goals

Neither Jerry nor I particularly believe in new year's resolutions. Resolutions rarely seem to work in practice. If a single application of willpower was all it took to make a change in our lives, we'd all do it every single time we noticed something not working as well as we'd like it to. "Goodness," we'd say. "I eat too many sugary foods. I think I'll stop." And then we would.

But life doesn't work that way, does it?

However, the idea of resolutions is wonderful. Both symbolically (a new year, a new beginning) and energetically (the winter solstice is energetically the moment of the yearly cycle's rebirth), the early days of winter are an excellent time to look ahead.

So in that spirit, we decided to write about goals to start the new year. Unlike a resolution, a goal, properly stated, offers us both a destination and a direction. It essentially creates a path, and then offers us a means to walk that path.

It's important that goals reflect the energy of the season. As Jerry noted, the winter solstice and the early days of winter, the short days and long nights, energetically harbinger a time of rest and reflection.

Of course, most of us do not live this way at all. In our culture, we generally treat every day as equivalent to every other day. We put out as much energy in the dead of winter as we do in high summer. Ever wonder why people tend to get sick in the winter? Getting out of sync with the energy of the season is a major factor.

So within this framework we can begin to talk about our goals for the winter. We'll speak specifically about our goals next week.


I hope your holidays were safe, fun, and everything you were hoping for and more. Now that they are over, it’s time to get back to work.

A new year is a great time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’d like to go in the coming new year.

Resolution vs Goals

The idea behind making resolutions is great. When people resolve to make a change in their lives they have noticed a behavior or part of their lifestyle is less than they desire and “resolve” to do better. Having said that, the average life span of a health or fitness resolution is 6-8 weeks. That’s right. More than 70% of people quit within the first 8 weeks. The numbers only get bleaker after that.

Goals are like resolutions except with a plan of action behind them, and so are much more effective. Stating goals and periodically checking in and assessing the results keeps us moving on the desired path. Often, the goals that we started with will change based on new life circumstances that make the previously stated goals obsolete.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to map out a process for setting and achieving goals that has been very successful in the past, both personally and for my clients, and is applicable to almost any goal.

When talking with Ben about setting goals for the coming year, it seemed appropriate to break it down into quarters. However, rather than follow the calendar year, we decided that setting goals based on seasonal changes made more sense for the Training Tiger Woods program.

The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, was on December 22nd this year. That was the actual day that our off-season started.

During the first quarter of this new season our collective and individual goals should reflect the energetic changes that the winter solstice dictates. Quite often, this is much harder than it sounds. What we’re doing here is very exciting and working on it is FUN. Ben and I enjoy the work and the camaraderie that we have created with this project. While slowing things down may seem counter-intuitive on the surface, following the energetic pattern dictated by the solstice will help us maintain balance as the energy demands of the coming year become greater.

Next week, I will share the specific goals that I have set for the coming quarter.

I challenge each and every one of you to take some time and set your own goals for the coming quarter. Whether or not they are golf-related doesn’t matter. Think about the energy that accompanies the winter solstice and set some goals for yourself.