by Noah Gentner, PhD
Have you ever dated someone who made you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable with who you are? Maybe they made you feel like you dressed like a slob, drank too much Diet Coke, partied too much, or were lazy. If you have experienced this you know how uncomfortable it feels to constantly second guess yourself. Will she like this shirt? Did I leave that empty Diet Coke can on the table? Will he be mad if I tell him I watched TV all morning? Over time the constant second guessing becomes extremely tiring. You question everything you say and do. You continuously critique and evaluate yourself, all in an attempt to meet your significant other’s expectations. In essence you do everything you can to be the person they want you to be. Rather than simply being yourself, you spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to be someone else. In the end you cease being and start trying. Ultimately, this leads to fatigue, unhappiness, and probably the end of your relationship. It’s not until you meet someone who allows you to be yourself that you realize how tiring it is to try and how comfortable it is to just be.
For years, Tiger Woods has been able to just be. He’s never had to question his actions. His entire life has been one big “I’m Tiger Woods” commercial. He was Tiger Woods and that was all he had to be. He could curse after a bad shot, swing his club in disgust, be short with the media, and act petulant after a loss and none of it mattered. That was just Tiger being Tiger. He was never asked to evaluate his behavior or try to act a certain way, he was simply able to be Tiger Woods.
However, that stopped last Thanksgiving. Once news got out that Tiger wasn’t the perfect individual we had all believed him to be, people started to analyze and question his behavior. It started with his infidelity and spread to all areas of his life. I’ve even heard people criticize him for being a stingy tipper. The more people learned about his mistakes the more they realized that Tiger wasn’t who they wanted him to be. Saying, “I’m Tiger Woods” quickly went from a compliment to a putdown. With every piece of information and apology people began to build a vision of who they wanted Tiger to be. As a person they wanted him to be contrite and show that he had learned from his mistakes. They wanted a kinder and gentler Tiger. As the Master’s approached they wanted to see those same qualities on the golf course. Tiger further fueled this fire by stating that he wanted to return to his Buddhist roots and be a mature, calm, and respectful golfer.
All of this sounded great as he interacted with crowds and did everything short of kiss babies at Augusta. Then he hit his first bad shot. People looked on in disgust as he cursed at himself. ESPN showed highlights of his frustrations. He was even asked in an interview on Sunday if he had let his emotions get the best of him. All of the sudden people were very concerned with Tiger’s behavior on the course. Why? Because he was not acting how they wanted him to. They expected a new Tiger and got the old one. Tiger hadn’t changed and that was the problem. He was simply being Tiger but that’s not good enough anymore. We have now become the girlfriend who disapproves of our boyfriend’s job or clothes. Subsequently, Tiger is now the boyfriend who is trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. For the first time in his life he can’t just be…he has to try. You could see the look of confusion on his face when he was asked about his emotions on the course. He even said he thought people were much too concerned with his behavior. You could almost see him thinking, “Why do they care, I’ve always been this way?” Well, Tiger, they care because they expect something different now. This, more than anything else, will be Tiger’s biggest struggle in the coming months. How will he respond to these new expectations? Will he get tired of trying? Will his marriage with golf, fans, and the media end in a similar fashion to those where one partner makes the other feel uncomfortable in her own skin? If anything can derail Tiger from becoming the greatest golfer ever it could be this.
In the past Tiger could focus all of his energy on golf. He didn’t think about his actions or behavior…just the next shot. Now, he has to take time to think about how he should act or what he should say. He knows every negative emotion will be analyzed and critiqued. Most of all, he knows that people want him to act a certain way. It’s the difference between reacting and acting. Reactions are natural while acting takes energy and effort. Tiger can no longer simply react to bad shots, now he has to think about how he is supposed to act and try to do that. It will no doubt take a tremendous amount of energy to try and act that way. The question is will all that trying prevent him from being the best golfer he can be?
Noah Gentner, Ph.D., CC-AASP is an Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Sport Psychology graduate program at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. He received his Ph.D. in Sport Psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2004. He has published his research in several journals and has given presentations on Sport Psychology at worldwide and regional Sport Psychology, Coaching, and Athletic Training Conferences.