Don't Think About the Pink Elephant!
Golfers often come in for treatment looking for a way to overcome difficulties that they are experiencing. Undoubtedly, the most mental sport out there is golf- the more a golfer thinks, the less they rely on their training and abilities. So how does the golfer get out of their head and back onto the course?
“Competitive Sports Are Played Mainly On A Five And-A-Half Inch Court- The Space Between Your Ears” - Bobby Jones
First, the golfer needs to pay attention to what they are saying to themselves during their play. We all have an internal running commentary in which we comment on what we are doing or want to do. This commentary (self-talk) becomes crucial because when we speak to ourselves, we are giving ourselves directions- and these directions may not be what we want them to be! Anyone who watches golf has seen the golfer that sails their ball right into the water despite great play on all the previous holes. Chances are that the golfer focused his/her attention on the water trap and pleaded with themselves not to hit it into the water, “Whatever you do, don’t hit it in the water.” By making such a statement, the golfer has unknowingly told his/her body where to send the ball. Our brains do not understand negation, so using the word don’t becomes dangerous to optimal performance. Although we think we are telling our body what to avoid, all our brain is hearing is, “hit it in the water”, and will follow our succinct directions. In order to overcome this hazardous behavior, be sure to keep your self talk short and positively directed (i.e., straight down the fairway).
Next, the golfer needs to focus on the process and not the outcome. By worrying/focusing on the outcome, the golfer’s attention is not on the factors that will impact their swing on the current hole (i.e., traps, wind, club choice, etc.). As such, it is beneficial for the golfer to come up with process statements that redirects their attention to the mechanics necessary to be successful on their swing (i.e., swing through the ball, center of the fairway, see the shot- hit the inside of the ball). This statement can be the same on every shot or differ based on the type of shot being taken, such as a drive v. putt.
In addition to focusing on the process, remaining present is essential for optimal performance. Once a shot has been taken or a hole has been completed, the golfer needs to move on and forget any errors they may have made. How can a golfer expect to perform up to optimal levels if they are thinking about a previous shot and not the hole/shot they are currently playing? Same goes for thinking in the future- not just the outcome, but potential future mistakes. If a golfer notices that their mind is wandering, they should take a moment to refocus themselves to the present. Refocusing can be done by taking a deep breath and reciting their process statement.
The above techniques are just a few ways for a golfer to improve their game without spending more hours working on their mechanics or making the mistake of altering their swing thinking that it is faulty in some way.