Rules for the Top Player
Figure out how to get a Little Bit of Help from your Partner
Carry the Team
It is always easier to make rules for other people rather than yourself.
So this post opens up self reflection and the conclusion that I am not always good at following my own rules. Sometimes I suck at the emotional control of the game as I get too upset with my own failures and too angry over strings of bad luck. It is one thing to allow your own head to harm your game if you are playing singles-you only harm yourself- but in doubles you have an obligation to your team.
An odd thing is that sometimes when I get pissed with my performance that anger spurs me to play well. If you get on a roll while playing mad it encourages you to stay mad and keep throwing. I have been in those situations and made some really good shots and refused to let them improve my mood. I have thrown aces and given no reaction beyond disgust at my earlier ineffectiveness. This can freak out my playing group with me scowling after an ace.
In the last couple months I have been studying sports psychology books and getting better at controlling anger. As a general rule anger hurts your game and positive emotion helps. Why this is true is a mystery but evidently negative emotion generates chemical responses in the body which make performance more difficult.
In doubles your partner will react to your mood. More or less depending on the partner, of course, but the the bigger the gap in skill the more your partner depends on you for leadership, both in shots and psyche. So staying positive is a benefit to the team, just like making a good shot is.
No two players are the same but it is typical human emotion to worry about how we are perceived and to want to make a good impression. This burden is greater the less skill the Low Player has and the bigger the gap in skill levels within the team. When the Top Player gets angry the Low Player often interprets this as a reflection of them, even if it is not true. For myself, it is not important if I win or lose so long as I play well by my standards. I would rather throw a good shot for a park job deuce than a bad shot which gets lucky and aces. For a round, I am happy if I throw well even if I don't win. I can't control how anyone else plays. If they play well and beat me then congratulations to them. This concept extends to my partners. If I play well but my partner sucks I am ok with this (so long as they follow their rules, ie...keep trying and don't distract me).
Since your partner feeds off your emotions ( good or bad) it is best to reflect positive emotions. For those who also have trouble doing this consider the following: Humans have poor control of emotions but complete control of thoughts. If you are feeling mad or depressed you didn't ask to feel that way, you didn't try to feel that way, you just do. But your emotions follow your thoughts. So if when you are angry you force yourself to think good thoughts ( happy memories, funny ideas, whatever) your emotions will follow those thoughts and become more positive.
FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET A LITTLE BIT OF HELP FROM YOUR PARTNER
If your partner is a newbie or poorly skilled then set your expectations low. If you can get just a throw or two from them at a critical time then this is GREAT. If they only throw 200 feet then it makes no sense to expect them to park a 300 foot hole. If they have power but no control then don't expect them to lace a tunnel. But within their skill set they might throw well or poorly. A smart partner figures out how to get the best out of their teammate, playing amateur psychologist and trying to hit the right buttons.
Early in a match the newbie partner may be very nervous and ineffective. This is fine. If help is coming it doesn't matter when so long as you can keep your team in the hunt. I have partners who miss putts inside 10 feet and feel upset. I tell them they can miss every close putt all day and it won't matter. In doubles you don't have to make every shot, just try to make some of them. That's why God gave you a partner.
I mean c'mon. I'm a Pro. If I can't make short putts I don't deserve to win. A 10 foot putt looks a lot harder after your partner misses it but in singles there is no way I should miss this so why should it be any different in doubles?
Once you figure out the skill level of your partner then you are in a better positive to advise them whether they should be aggressive or conservative on any given shot. Normally I want my partner to be aggressive except for a few particular shots. But if tell them to be aggressive and they do so and mess up badly you have to tell them it's ok. Then you have to step up and make a shot, proving to them it really is ok.
CARRY THE TEAM
My old doubles partner Carlton Howard (North Carolina Hall of Famer) had this phrase for doubles. "The better I play the better my team will play." This may explain how he tolerated me as a partner.
So if your team is sucking, look in the mirror and pick it up.
If you are the Top Player it is your job to carry the team. Do not shirk this responsibility or no matter how good you are or your team won't win (unless you draw another good player). If you watch over time you will see some players who are always in the hunt, no matter what partner they draw. Then there are others who are no threat unless they draw a Pro (in which case they might threaten a course record or suck without rhyme or reason).
There is a special skill to playing well without getting help from your partner. But if you can do this for the start of the match it will help your partner's confidence and you may get unexpected help later. I once drew a kid I didn't know who had obvious talent but was dead weight for the first two hours. I didn't matter as I was hot early. Then out of the blue he turned in to world beater for the last hour. He solo deuced the last 2 holes at Kensington. If the top ten players in the world were offered a big prize to deuce those two holes back to back I'm not sure any of them would collect (at least on one try).
When the Low Player is shooting bad it puts pressure on the Top Player. When the Top Player steps up under pressure it teaches the Low player it can be done. Sometimes this attitude of success becomes infectious. Success breeds success and teams can get on great rolls.
Top Players started as newbies, just like everybody else. Before you throw good shots every time you start by throwing good shots some of the time. Top Players need to remember how bad they were when they started and how far they have come. If they made that journey who is to say the newbie partner they just drew might not also. If the seeds of talent are in your partner you might be spark that starts it growing. And you might be the beneficiary of those first good shots. Some carry the damn team. Leave your excuses at the car.