Golf psychology in broad definition could be described as how our behaviour through our emotions and thoughts relate to our performance. I used to think this was the absolute key to determining whether I would perform at the level I wanted. Performance outcomes are often judged on how effective the psychological skills are and that there was some kind of magic moment I would find the answer to unlock any potential. This I assumed must be what the best players had done and once you find this magic moment these psychological obstacles are forever removed. However, the reality is there are several things that will affect the way we perform and some of them are still a mystery to us as a human race. This being said, great golf psychology helps us optimise whatever performance level is available at any given time. But just like the physical movements these psychological skills take time to learn and develop and they do not relate any one particular standard of golfer. There is no magic pill or blueprint that top performers find one day and then “hey presto” do not have to experience the same psychological problems again – they go through the same emotions, worries and thoughts we do.
Golf can be a stressful game for a number of reasons. Stress can happen when a golfer may feel that they do not have the abilities to deal with certain situations. This of course is often not the truth, but this undesirable thought can lead onto very poor outcomes. I think you can start to find some strategies if you break it down to find out what is the main source of the stressor, become aware of what causes the stress. It could be physical, bad swinging will often lead to some golfers stressing about “how they are going to swing it” during the game. Mental errors are certainly going to lead to emotional stress for some. The type of competition format or for some golfers who we are playing with can create stress. Then there are things like the course layout and the conditions we may have to play in. Awareness of what situations have impacted on the stress level going up and how you feel is important to being able to understand your reactions.
I think acceptance is also important. Avoiding stress may seem like a good plan but the reality is that as mentioned above the game off golf has a number of stressful situations. Trying to condition ourselves so that we won’t feel stress for most of us would take superhero ability and time and I don’t think is realistic. In fact I would go as far and say that a big part of the enjoyment of sport can comes from facing up to the trials like stressful situations even though I know we don’t always succeed in these tests. I was talking to a golfer who had recently taken up the game. She had good natural co-ordination and had put some good technical foundations in place; however, she would not go out onto the course with anybody except her husband and only when it was quiet. She explained that she would find it too stressful to play with anybody else and she was reliant on him giving her advice on what to do. This of course is totally understandable, but I explained to her that the likelihood of her over coming these situations is by facing them head on and to treat them as part of a challenge rather than seeing them as a threat and avoiding them. Also, I said that no matter what standard we play at we all go through the same emotions, its part of sport, so it is better we accept it rather than trying to avoid it totally.
Strategies that can be used to help deal with these stressful situations include goal setting or shot routines or having specific plans to deal with certain problems that lets you deal with situations step by step. Breathing awareness or relaxation techniques may help with emotionally focused situations. What you are trying to do through good practice is to try to build a personalised toolkit of coping strategies. It first of all takes awareness and acceptance and takes constant practice. We don’t just get it and one day and it stays with us, we have to keep working at it, but the good thing it is the same for all of us.