At the risk of using yet another sports analogy for life, leadership, or teamwork, I’m going to use yet another sports analogy to discuss relationships. But luckily, I’m using the universally overused analogy of golf. The reason is that I just returned from a golf trip and there is nothing better than a recent life experience to spark an idea for a blog.
I’m not a great golfer since I only play about eight times a year. But I keep playing because I want to be able to participate in a sport when I’m 80 – and golf seems to be the most likely option. Especially since it’s so hard to find a curling sheet (look it up) in central Virginia.
The destination of our recent trip was Ocean City, MD and my golf game was as bad as the weather was good. I’ve been going on this particular golf trip, give or take a few years, since 1996 when I accompanied two friends to Kiawah, SC on a coupon we received in the mail. After returning to Kiawah for a few years, we added a fourth person who was also the pastor of our church and a scratch golfer when he was in high school. He felt, as pastors often do, that this type of activity was an opportunity for other men in the church to enjoy fellowship while doing something fun. So the annual church golf trip was born.
A trip like this can be a wonderful relationship-building experience for men because we’re not accustomed to inviting other men to dinner, for a walk, or to join us on a trip to the restroom. We will, however, invite other men to play golf, attend a baseball game, or paint a garage. So, it seems that we men tend to build relationships as a secondary component of an activity while women tend to build relationships first and the other activity becomes secondary.
As I pondered the value of my most recent trip, I was unable to prevent my brain from making the obligatory comparison between the golf terms we used and the relationship-building process. Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to know golf, or even like golf, to understand the comparison. But it’s a lot more fun for me to write it this way!
Traps or Bunkers. In golf, you’re supposed to get a little ball into a hole, that’s located anywhere from 100 to 600 yards away from the tee, using only 3-5 shots. It’s amazing that it’s even possible. As an aside, it isn’t typically possible for me, but that’s a topic for the what-we-learn-from-failure blog. But here’s the kicker about golf – the course has obstacles in the way of your shots. There are trees, sand traps (or bunkers), tall grass, ponds, creeks, and hills. You not only have to hit the ball well, you have to maneuver around all this crap. And interestingly, that’s the way life works. We have to maneuver around obstacles like challenges at work, complicated relationships, health problems, and death. In golf, it’s much more fun to encounter the bunkers on the fairway when someone is there with you. In life, it’s the same way. Our relationships don’t make the barriers disappear but they make them more bearable.
Reading the Putt. If you’re lucky enough to land your ball on the green, it’s a good thing. But, the challenge of getting the ball in the hole is still not over because the green is not level. From up high, a green may look perfectly flat but when you get down on the ground, you will see that there are bumps, mounds, and hills to deal with. So, in golf, it’s important to “read” the green before attempting a putt. Relationships are like that. We must read other people before we respond to them. A colleague may express frustration about the traffic coming into work but underneath, he may really be upset because of a marital problem or the death of a loved one. We must read the signs between and behind the words to truly understand others thus strengthening the relationship.
Muscle Memory. This is one of the coolest aspects of golf. It’s like riding a bike. Even if I haven’t played golf for a year, my body still remembers how to hit the ball. Now, muscle memory is great when your swing is correct but it’s debilitating when your swing is bad because you will continue to do the wrong things automatically. It takes a long time to teach your body to move differently. Relationships are similar. We can easily get into bad habits in the way we treat other people. Often these habits were developed during our own upbringing but when they start to interfere with our relationships, we need to get a “swing adjustment” to change our muscle memory. By learning new ways of interacting, we can improve our relationships.
Nice Shot. The sweetest two words any golfer can hear is, “nice shot.” It means that we put all of the components together and hit the ball well. It also means that someone else noticed and took the time to let us know. That’s the best part of relationships as well. When we get supportive feedback from those around us, it builds our self esteem and helps us to tackle the next bunker in our life. And we must remember to offer a “nice shot” to others too as part of the mutuality of the relationship.
Maybe golf is not your bag (See how I did that? Golf…bag.) but I hope it won’t prevent you from seeing the real message in this blog – the importance of having and maintaining relationships. Because just like my recent golf trip, it wasn’t really about the golf.