How important is the mental game when it comes to performance and what percentage of the game is mental? These are questions that have been plaguing golfers and coaches for years. I’m not sure if the industry will ever agree on this debated subject, but if thought precedes motion, one would have to agree that it’s imperative that we control our thoughts and not let them control us. To better understand this concept, we need to understand how the central nervous system works.
The central nervous system is composed of the brain and the spinal cord. It communicates with the body by sending messages from the brain through the nerves that branch off of your spine. These messages are electrical and chemical which explain why we can quickly alter our thoughts and why the game of golf can be so emotional. Bio-mechanically you are able to do some remarkable things with your body to get the club into certain positions and to transfer energy to the golf club and therefore the ball. Some of these processes are your conscious mind at work and some are trained in your subconscious.
As golf instructors we understand the importance of the mental game. Dr. Debbie Crews (Research and Development THINQ Team Member) breaks down the mental game to 5 Key Areas to improve performance. Consider these key areas when helping your students develop their mental game.
Awareness – Awareness is the first key to improving performance. Once we become aware we can go through a process that will put us in control and provide the opportunity to create whatever it is we choose. We become aware by simply asking for it. Anything a golfer wants to influence or change we simply focus our attention in that direction. Many golfers remain in the same old pattern (hardwired) and are poor observers when it comes to awareness. Do we create our experiences or react to whatever comes on any given day?
Attention – Attention is our state of consciousness. As human beings we are different than any other species because we can think about what we think about (Meta-Cognition). As golfers we need to focus our attention the way we choose or it will be an open slate for negative thinking, self-doubt and distractions. Where you direct your attention is important, which could be internal (feel) or external (target).
Synchronicity – Keeping your golf game in sync is when you have coherency in the brain. This is a state in which your brain is balanced from left to right, front to back, and that the subconscious and conscious mind are balanced. The definition of synchronicity is “occurring at the same time,” timing. When your golf swing is in balance, research shows that your mind is in balance. It’s important to regulate your shot routine timing and to anticipate (send and receive) motion when playing a round of golf. As golfers, sometimes we get our mind ahead of where our focus needs to be.
Intention – When your mind’s intention to move is translated by the brain, neurochemicals and electrical impulses contract your skeletal muscles resulting in certain movement patterns. A simple rule of intention is asking for and defining exactly what you want by self-talk, visualization, and defining the shot in your mind. The key to intention is making a choice and not altering that message to the body. If the body is getting mixed messages from the Central Nervous System this will lead to inconsistent results.
Adaptability – The skill of adaptability is one of the most powerful skills a golfer possesses. This often entails the post shot routine. It is important to discard poor shots and anchor good shots. The brain produces chemicals and if we can shorten the refractory period on bad shots, then the brain is spending more time reinforcing the successes versus failures. This process of regulating emotions and not letting them run our golf game is often described as wisdom.
In summary improving these cognitive skills is imperative to improving performance. As an industry we may not know how to weigh mental versus physical but we do know surveying elite level golfers they believe the mental game to be between 70-90 %. However, they also admit that they spend less than 10% of the time working on it compared to other aspects of their game. As golfers we want to be in a higher performance state as often as possible and this takes practice just like your physical golf skills.
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