Unorthodox Lessons on Teamwork

Varsity golf, playing a match at TPC Sugarloaf in 2012.

Varsity golf, playing a match at TPC Sugarloaf in 2012.

There was a time, four years ago, when I felt like I was becoming a total failure in what I loved to do. I struggled with my golf swing. It didn’t matter how much I practiced for how long on which days; my swing simply refused to repeat itself, and I found that my ball flight and trajectory and direction were very consistently inconsistent. 

Four years ago was also a depressing time because the notes that floated and flowed from my violin carried the defect of poor tone quality, the result of a consistently inconsistent bowing motion. On shorter notes it was usually straight, perpendicular to the strings, but otherwise my right arm behaved like a fly dazed by the sudden smack of a swatter, zooming around confusedly in directions it didn’t want to go.

I was nervous at all my golf tournaments for fear of completely embarrassing myself. I would strike a ball a healthy distance to a very good position – short and dry Bermuda grass growing on a smooth flat portion of the fairway – and my opponents and their parents would clap and smile, then my next shot would fly straight up into the stratosphere and drop, almost comically, ten yards away. I was nervous at all my violin recitals for the same reason. At the time, I was being coached by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians, and was at a level where not having a straight bow makes you the laughingstock of other students and the shame of your teachers.

Through patience from myself and my teachers, as well as many more hours of practice, I was able to synchronize both my golf swing and my bow arm. But I learned more from 2010, that failure of a year, than just how to be consistently consistent.

Playing golf is extraordinarily – unexpectedly - similar to playing violin. It looks much easier than it really is, but the act of swinging a golf club is comparable to a pack of wolves hunting deer. A good golf swing relies on many things: not too much lower body movement until the exact moment, just the right amount of weight shifting at just the right time, the wrists turning perfectly in place so that the end of the club is parallel to the target. Wolves, too, rely on each other to take down their prey; for instance, one wolf running too far ahead of the rest might result in the pack returning hungry and frustrated. Even when only one person is involved in an action, every component must work together.

Such is the case with the violin as well. The upper and lower parts of the arm must cooperate with the shoulder and the wrist to produce the clean warm tone the world’s greatest violinists have been hailed for.

In the process of fixing my swing and bowing, I ultimately found that teamwork is truly important to produce a finished product. Most people see teamwork as a group of soccer players working together to keep the ball away from the net or as a crowd of colleagues contributing bits and pieces of a giant project to accomplish a goal faster. But I learned from correcting both my golf swing and my violin playing at the same time that teamwork can also mean every part of an individual working in perfect synchronization, and I realized how detrimental of an effect there could be if even one of these parts was “off the beat.” 

Although my golf swing and my violin playing certainly aren’t perfect now, I can fix problems more quickly since I know that oftentimes the problem is caused simply by one part of me not in synchronization with the rest. I also value teamwork much more when I’m working with others on a school project and in a study group.