Coaching us on the "X Factor"

FIONA ROTHERHAM
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2014
Jamie Ford
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ

TO THE TEST: Foresight’s Jamie Ford says he will test US golfers and then assess how they will perform in a major tournament.

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It's well-known some of us are more competitive than others but are we born that way or is it a learned behaviour?

Jamie Ford of Auckland-based motivational training company Foresight said "attitude" is not something that is genetic but comes mainly from accidental learning or being trained specifically on how to develop it. He's about to put that to the test by applying his science-based tools to American golfers ahead of an as yet unnamed major golf tournament in the United States in the next couple of months.

Golf Digest, one of the world's leading sports magazines with 7.75 million readers globally, has asked Ford to test an expected 50 to 70 players on whether they have the winning "X Factor".

Ford was recommended to the golfing magazine by his mentor in the mental toughness field, Professor Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Ford has worked with Seligman since hearing him speak in the mid-1990s. He went on to gain the sole New Zealand licence to use the measurement systems Seligman developed.

Seligman, named by the Review of General Psychology as the 13th most cited psychologist of the 20th Century, has focused his work on what makes us well, rather than what makes us unwell. More than 1000 studies using his work show people with an optimistic attitude perform better in most aspects of life, including academic and sporting achievement. Ford said Seligman developed his knowledge on the "X Factor" partly after studying thousands of American football and basketball games.

The tests on the golfers is part of an overall look at how and which golfers improve, as so many don't, says the magazine's contributing editor Bob Carney.

"Handicaps, for example, tend not to change much, on average. We're tying it to some of the research being done on how children succeed. Professor Seligman's research on optimism and "learned" optimism is key. We want to know if optimistic golfers fare better than pessimistic (or even rigidly "realistic") golfers do. We think giving competitors the SASQ [test] prior to the tournament might confirm that."

Ford said he would consider the test results along with the players' handicaps, before forecasting where each player was likely to end up placing in the tournament.

The magazine plans to publish stories before and after the tests.

Players will be offered the opportunity to get feedback on their test results after the tournament and to sign up at their own expense for guidance from Foresight on how to use the science to improve their game, said Ford.

He plays the game himself though said the low-handicap players he usually does a round with tease him that he plays a different game called Flog.

In New Zealand, Foresight's sporting clients include Canterbury Rugby and Netball North Shore, and it has also used the tool to work with a range of corporates and government departments.

Sales people, in particular, were keen to find a way to improve their positivity and develop ways of handling rejection, Ford said.

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"People are constantly surprised when I tell them that we can actually measure the "X Factor", that there's a scientific process to it and we can help them develop it," Ford said.

Ford said he tested players and did an attitudinal training programme with the Canterbury provincial rugby team from 2008 to 2010. The team first won the national provincial championship in 2008 and has gone on to win it six times consecutively.

Among the testimonials on Foresight's website is one from Rob Penney, the former head coach of Canterbury Rugby Football Union who is now coaching in Ireland.

"What I liked most about the ‘Learned Optimism and Resilience' programme was the attitudinal shift from a pessimistic outlook to optimistic with tools that are practical, relevant and most importantly usable. I highly recommend this programme because the ideas and strategies can be easily used by any person and the material is based on proven scientific research," he said on the website.

There are no testimonials from other sports organisations.

Ford said he also used the diagnostic tool to help recruit one of our national netball coaches a few years ago. Only one of the four candidates tested, an Australian, bothered to ask for feedback on their tests results.

He's critical that Kiwis have less mental toughness than our Australian counterparts and that we're dumbing down our ‘can do' attitude.

"They are more willing to gain insights on things that can give them an edge," he said.

- Sunday Star Times

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