Learning from Tiger
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
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
"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.
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
Return to The
Alexander Technique Articles directory.