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Learning from Tiger



Robert Rickover


The August 14, 2000 issue of Time Magazine features an article about Tiger Woods titled "The Game of Risk - How the Best Golfer in the World Got Even Better". Although I have no specific interest in the sport of golf, I do have a long-standing fascination with the general theme of the article: how can someone learn to do something better.

That's precisely what the Alexander Technique is all about. And while Tiger Woods has probably never heard of it, it's interesting that his quest for a better golf swing parallels in many ways the process F. Matthias Alexander - the developer of the Alexander Technique - went through a century ago.

Alexander was a Shakespearean reciter who ran up against limitations in his ability to perform well on stage. At that time there were no microphones and speakers and so he had to fill an entire auditorium with just the power of his own voice. Like Woods he was very talented at his profession but he also knew that there was room for improvement. In particular, he found that his voice gave out during a longer performance and that he had a tendency to gasp for breath on occasion.

Neither his doctors nor his vocal coaches were able to help and so he set off on his own, using a system of mirrors to monitor his performance in order to see precisely what was causing his difficulties. If he were living today, he would probably use video tapes of himself to see what was going on.

That's what Tiger Woods did in order to improve his swing. "I knew I wasn't in the greatest positions in my swing at the Masters," Woods said. "But my timing was great, so I got away with it. And I made almost every putt. You can have a wonderful week like that even when your swing isn't sound. But can you still contend in tournaments with that swing when your timing isn't good? Will it hold up over a long period of time? The answer to those questions, with the swing I had, was no. And I wanted to change that."

The article notes that Woods has become "...an obsessive student of the game who reviews videotapes of old tournaments for clues about how to play each hole." Alexander too was an obsessive student of his performance and in the end his obsession paid off not only in providing a solution to his voice problem, but later in the discovery of a process that could be taught to others who wanted to improve the quality of their physical functioning.

"What is most remarkable about Woods," the article continues, "is his restless drive for what the Japanese call kaizen, or continuous improvement. Toyota engineers will push a perfectly good assembly line until it breaks down. They they'll find and fix the flaw and push the system again. That's kaizen. That's Tiger."

And that's Alexander too. Never content with the progress he had already made - first in solving his own voice problem and later in developing better ways to teach others, and to train teachers in his Technique.

Wood's first instructor Rudy Duran commented that he has "the ability to stay in the present during a tournament and focus on hitting one shot at a time."

Alexander too discovered that in order to change his way of speaking he had to learn to stay focused on what he was thinking and doing in the present. Much of what Alexander Technique teachers do to help their students with today is teach them how to develop this skill for themselves.

It's no wonder that so many leading performers in the fields of acting, music, and dance have studied the Alexander Technique and have publicly endorsed it. It turns out that this ability is also very useful for people who don't consider themselves to be performers but whose "performance" of activities in their daily lives has put harmful stress on their bodies, often to the point of causing pain such as backache or stiff shoulders and necks.

Learning how to monitor your thoughts and actions in real time is a valuable skill for anyone to master.


Robert Rickover is a teacher of the Alexander Technique living in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also teaches regularly in Toronto, Canada. He is the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique at http://www.alexandertechnique.com

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