Mental game stats

January 27, 2013 6 comments

Practicing the skills you need to play successful tournament golf should include some element of practicing mental skills. I think any coach worth their salt would agree. But I think too often this challenge is looked at in the wrong way. The technical and mental don’t need to be treated so differently and worked on separately. Perhaps what you’re doing now in practice actually ticks many of the mental skill boxes without actually being described as such.

Let’s break it down. What are the most important mental skills for high-level tournament play? A list might contain the following: resilience – ability to bounce back from adversity; handling disappointment or nerves; the ability to concentrate in short bursts; self confidence; ability to stay committed to decisions, regaining focus after distraction. You may have come up with a few more.

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A simple ‘game’ on the trackman combine test (or a playing test that you’ve created yourself) could be geared up in such a way that you meet most of the mental challenges you may face in tournaments. It will take some discipline to allow this to happen and a heightened awareness to what you are practicing (anticipation of the event, handling disappointment, patience, concentration, warming up in an effective way prior to starting). As you do this it might give you more benefit to think before you start what mental skills would be most useful to focus on. Write it down. It will be worth the effort and if you do you’ll then be matching elements of your practice with the demands of tournament play.

Looking back over a few previous posts (e.g. ‘saying and doing’) I’m starting to sound like a broken record. BUT it’s worth repeating again: It’s not rocket science! Good quality practice in = good tournament performance out. Very, very simple. Beautiful even. I could write a whole blog on the sorts of skills that I typically see gained at the practice range that aren’t needed in competitive golf (and I’m as guilty as anyone). If you manage to achieve quality practice that matches the skills that you need in tournaments you’ll probably be in the minority, which in my book makes it all the more attractive.

Aggressive golf?

October 18, 2012 2 comments

Aggression and golf. Not exactly ham and eggs is it? Golf; the most gentlemanly of games, where encouraging fellow competitors is the norm, good shots are met with an embarrassed smile and any sign of self-congratulation or celebration is often frowned upon. Then the Ryder Cup comes along and slaps these ideas in the face; full of scowling, teeth grinding, chest barging, fist pumping and crowd inciting. Not to mention probably the most enthralling 3-days in all of sport. Anyone dipping into the Ryder cup, watching golf for the first time, would think aggression is just part of playing golf at a high level like any other sport. Here we are a few weeks after the event and i’m still pondering the role of aggression in golf. Aggressive golf. Really? Could being more aggressive help you play better? What does it mean to be more aggressive anyway? Attack more pins. Psych or pump yourself up before every shot. Get intensely focussed on your target?

Aggression can manifest in different ways in different people. After all it is just a word we use to try to describe behaviours. The same word can be used to describe very different behaviours. Likewise different words can be used to describe very similar behaviours. Try ‘determined’, ‘focussed’ and ‘committed’ for example. However, it is fairly easy to imagine that someone being aggressive on the golf course is very focussed on a target and probably wouldn’t allow nerves or negative thoughts in. They are filling their mind with other thoughts.

Here are some suggestions: decide what aggressive qualities could help you. Aim to improve your self-awareness; can you notice the type of aggression that spills over into uncontrolled anger and poor decisions. I like the phrase ‘being aggressive to specific targets’ (not necessarily the pin). Reflect on what level of ‘psyched up’ allows you to play your best golf. Experiment with it. Then aim to reach this state before you start the round. Poulter might need to be at a 10 to play his best golf, Rose a 7 and Laurie might be at a 5. Where are you in this scale? How might this information help you the next time you play?

Saying and Doing

June 28, 2011 1 comment

Spending your time planning how you are going to improve always seems like a sensible investment of time to me. I can preach about the merits of setting goals all day long. In fact scrolling down my list of posts I notice that I’ve previously written about how very few players actually ‘do’ goal setting well and how a player who’s desperate to improve should look wider than just swing changes when looking to move their game forward.

In this post I want to focus on how you go beyond being a just a ‘sayer’ to actually getting things done; converting big thinking into small doing. I’d like to make a bet that the majority of the elite sportsmen/ women that have been able to turn their talent into lasting professional careers have this ability in spades.

The following may come as a surprise. Simply making a statement about what you plan to do, what your aims and goals are, can make you feel good. It’s worth repeating: Making a plan, regardless of whether you achieve it or not, can make you feel good; a positive affect. Similarly, the positive interaction you often get when you tell someone your goal(s) is (sometimes) an additional reward. “That sounds terrific; you’re going to be the next Rory McIlroy, excellent well done you for setting your goals so high, I’m very proud”. Sometimes this sort of interaction is even encouraged (without any follow-up) by parents and coaches alike. This is potentially a huge problem for the (almost) high achievers. It encourages a lot of saying and not a lot of doing.

The good feeling and excitement generated by stating your aims and goals can be so great that actually doing what it takes to achieve them (often on your own and mixed in with a few struggles along the way) becomes, at best, ho hum in comparison. “This is too hard – I want to feel good so I’ll make another plan”.

What can you do about this? Be sure that what you set out to do has enough meaning for you and only you. It’s your internal motivation that will be the bedrock in any achievement. Take satisfaction in keeping some of your goals to yourself rather than broadcasting to the world (this goes against conventional goal setting research). When you picture yourself achieving what you want to achieve, picture what it will take (day in, day out) and what you might have to overcome along the way.

If you are reading this as a coach remember to save your enthusiasm towards the player for the small steps along the way to achieving their goals. Some of the best coaches I’ve seen help players take small steps forward; they are encouraging about a player’s long term goals and at the same time careful to keep the player’s feet very much on the ground. They keep the player focused on task. As a friend of mine always reminds me, the process of improvement is not rocket science. True, but it doesn’t happen by saying or planning alone.

Mental Mistakes

“I was telling Steve we made three mental mistakes today. The only thing it cost us was the chance to win the US Open.” – Tiger Woods

This quote got me wondering about the interaction between the ‘playing’ or physical and pure ‘decision making’ elements of sport. A number of players often use phrases like the one above when giving a post-round interview but what is a mental mistake anyway? Is it as easy to quantify as Woods makes out? Is there anything here that could increase your awareness and help your game?

I’ve got a hunch that most players like to believe that some sort of robotic, ‘computerised’ thinking is possible and more to the point necessary in order to perform at the highest level. Yardage – wind – lie – COMPUTE – possible trouble? – ideal landing point? – PROCESS  – ideal shot selection – select club – SEARCH MEMORY BANK…. etc etc. A mental mistake being a faultly INPUT into this process. Somehow this seems to get too far away (though not entirely) from the point of the game – get the ball in the hole, quickly.

So what is a mental mistake? Taking a driver when the hole is tight? Overshooting the green because you didn’t account for the wind? Hitting a shot when you’re not comfortable? Getting angry with yourself and hitting the next shot without much thought to your target? I believe most of what players might think of as mental mistakes may be more to do with over-thinking and being at odds with natural athletic instincts. I like players to consider the interplay between the type of thoughts they have during a round and how these thoughts allow them to use their athletic ability. Are your in-the-shot thoughts and processes getting in the way of playing with flow and ease?

I’ve always liked like the simplicity of playing with very specific ideas of what you are attempting do on each shot (what’s my target?). But key is actually ‘playing’ with this focus. Use your amazing ability to produce shots without the clinical information overload. Arrive at a decision and “play”.

The Swing Season

October 21, 2009 1 comment

The clocks go back one hour this Sunday and winter golf is nearly upon us. For many golfers this is a time when golf can become even more enjoyable; all of  sudden fresh-air, daylight and ‘just getting it around’ in a brisk manner with some good company takes priority over the (sometimes painstaking and ‘work like’) quest for lower scores and handicap improvements.  Some players even find their game miraculously improves, and playing the game seems more like (errm)… playing a game. There are probably some good lessons to be learnt if you get a chance to pay attention to your mindset when you play during winter and compare it to the ‘competition season’.

For the elite band of players, winter often means one thing: Swing Changes. In my experience a player often sees making a swing change as a utopian experience. “Once I get this move down everything will be different next year”. One swing fault or another is often used as an excuse for not being as successful as the player would like. This is a very lazy approach to improvement (even if you put the hours in trying to make a swing change). If you are part of the elite set of players and are serious about improvement I strongly challenge you to take a much wider view of your game and (dare I say it) yourself this winter. A good start is to seek out some role models – someone who is at the level you want to attain. How do they act in various situations? How do they train? How to they think? Then go a little further and work out what are the areas of you (and your game) that makes you special? How could you tap into these areas more often? Also, what challenges away from golf would benefit your game in the long run? How are you working on YOU? There’s a lot more to improvement than a swing change.

Extract from “Feet In The Clouds”

February 23, 2009 2 comments

An excellent book from Richard Askwith. In my view essential reading for any would-be professional sports person; an exploration into fell running and so much more.

Here’s a sample – and something for all athletes (yes, golfers too!) about the power of competitive training…

Kenny’s life was not noticeably different from that of an Olympic fitcathlete – except of course, that he still lived with his parents and was fitting his training in around a 40-hour working week.

Somehow he managed to fit a quality 5-mile run into his lunch hour, leaving time to warm down and change, but not to shower. He then summoned the energy for a proper evening session after work.

His training diary meticulously recorded for more than a decade in neat pencil: twice a day for 365 days of the year, rarely more than 90 miles per week: a distance quite low by modern standards, but it was the quality of his training that set him apart:

“I used to do the most incredible interval sessions”, Kenny remembered. “All my competitiveness went into my training as much as my racing. It was in my training that I really used to dig deep. The races were more like a bonus – the reward if you like”.

Kenny Stuart is one of Britain’s greatest unsung athletes. Of his many achievements, perhaps the most astounding is his record for the Ben Nevis Race. Fit walkers take 7 hours for such a journey. In 1984 Kenny Stuart took 1 hour 25 minutes and 34 seconds – which no one has come close to equalling since.

“That’s all I can do…”

February 1, 2009 2 comments

rorymcilroy1A good insight into Rory McIlroy’s mental game from his comments at the end of the third day in Dubai. He had just completed the 10th hole in his third round [play was suspended for bad light] and had a 2-shot lead over the field.

“It would be absolutely fantastic to win here. At the moment I am just thinking about hitting the 11th tee-shot. That’s all I can do.”

and on being compared to Tiger Woods:

“I just want to try to keep getting better and concentrate on this week and take one week at a time. You know, if I can just keep doing what I’m doing, playing well, hopefully a few years down the line I might be able to compete with him.”

Extended interview here.

Update: I’m impressed with the way he realises/ acknowledges his position in the tournament and [the key point] he also knows that the only thing he can effect is his next shot. You get the sense when you hear Rory talk that he thinks in ‘plain and simple’ terms. He doesn’t over complicate things. He knows the ‘importance’ of what he’s doing yet doesn’t dwell on the end game / result only on what’s coming up next.