Article #14 - Mental Skills & Recent Sporting Events: Padraig Harrington Discusses Confidence after Shooting a 64 at Bridgestone (Originally Published in 2009)

It’s no secret that three-time major winner Padraig Harrington has been struggling for several months.  His performance so far this year has left him outside of the group of golfers who will qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.  How do you suppose his lackluster level of play would impact on his degree of confidence? 

Harrington was interviewed by Scott Crockett after his first round 64 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.  In the interview, Crockett asked Harrington about how shooting 64 would affect Harrington’s confidence level.  And although some of Padraig’s responses were a bit convoluted (as is often the case in any live interview) he explained how he tends to maintain a fairly consistent and healthy level of confidence, regardless of his recent performances.

Harrington suggested that confidence needs to come from inside of oneself, as opposed to being the result of how one is currently performing.  He stated, “I shouldn’t get influenced by the highs and lows of a particular round of golf.  If I shot a poor score, I shouldn’t lose confidence by that, so… one score isn’t going to make me feel great about my game either.  If I have to wait for a good score, that’s not a good idea.  You’ve got to have internal confidence rather than wait for scores like that.”

Harrington indicated that he thinks it’s foolish to get too high or to low about what is happening on the course.  When this occurs, he suggested, the golfer is allowing the results of his play determine how he feels about himself and how much self-confidence he has.  He further explained that rather than letting results dictate how a golfer feels, “You should dictate how you feel about yourself to change your results.”

I think most golfers can learn a great deal from a guy like Padraig Harrington.  He hasn’t been playing well as of late, yet he still maintains a high level of confidence.  One of his key mental skills is his ability to consciously decide how he feels about himself, how confident he is going to be, regardless of his recent outcomes.  Stop and think for a moment about how powerful this concept is; instead of allowing your confidence to ebb and flow with the currents of recent performances, you make the conscious determination to maintain a steady and healthy level of confidence

I think this type of thinking is essential to any athlete wishing to become the best at what he or she does.  I don’t know anyone that doesn’t believe that confidence is crucial to success.  To have the absolute optimum chance of competing at your best, you need to have confidence, and you need to maintain your confidence.  So start every competition with confidence, and make a conscious commitment to yourself to maintain that confidence no matter what!  Follow through with this type of thinking, and I’ll see you at the awards ceremony!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

702-395-2170

Article #13 - Faced with a "Knee-Knocker?" Knock it Right in!

 Why do golfers get so nervous about putts in the three to five foot range? Part of the reason is the belief that you should never miss a putt of this length, or the demand in your head, “I’ve got to make this putt.” You might have the belief that “Only poor putters miss these putts,” or only those who are “head cases” could miss such a short putt.

Take an honest look at the types of thoughts that go on in your head when you’re faced with a “knee-knocker.” Are you telling yourself that you ought to be able to make this putt? Are you demanding of yourself that you not miss? Or perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh no! Not another one of these putts that give me so much trouble!”

When faced with a typical “knee-knocker,” it’s important that you let go of any of the above types of thinking, and instead work on substituting more helpful and productive thoughts. Let go of worries about “what might happen” by reminding yourself of the hundreds or thousands of similar length putts you’ve sunk in practice and competition. With any putt, you either sink it or you don’t; there is no middle ground. So when faced with a three to five foot putt, do you want to be thinking about the ones you’ve missed in the past, or would you rather remind yourself of the many, many successes you’ve had from this length. Before you stroke the putt, you want to reaffirm to yourself you are capable of sinking the putt, you believe in your ability to sink the putt, you anticipate the ball will find the bottom of the cup.

Implementing such positive beliefs will not only take the anxiety out of facing one of these “knee-knockers,” it will also greatly increase your chances of success!

  

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com,

DrKev4Golf@aol.com

702-395-2170.

Article #12 - Process-Focus versus Outcome-Focus: A Crucial Distinction in Sports

For most of you involved in golf or other sports, the ultimate goal is to improve how well you perform.  You strive to hit more fairways and sink more putts.  You try to lower your scoring average and improve your handicap.  You want to establish a new all-time best score.  You work toward better finishes in your competitions.  In any sport, the bottom line is that you are always working toward improving your outcomes.

Anytime I consult with a golfer or other athlete, they’re depending on me to come up with the best mental techniques to help them improve their outcomes.  They want to know what mental strategies will lead to better scores and improve their ability to compete.

So, what are some of the best mental strategies to help you improve your outcomes?

It turns out that the answer to this question is quite paradoxical and counter-intuitive.  The most powerful mental technique I know to improve your scores is simply letting go of any concerns about the outcome and instead focusing solely on the process of preparing for and executing each shot!

Let me give you an example of what I mean by focusing on the process and letting go of any concerns about the outcome.  Suppose I have a rigid steel beam that is one foot wide and fifty feet long.  I lay the beam on the ground and challenge you to walk the length of the beam without falling off.  This is really a very simple task, and anyone with normal coordination would find that they could easily walk those fifty feet without stepping off the beam.  If you were faced with this challenge, I’d bet that you would be very confident in your ability to complete this task.  You’d simply focus on the process of placing one foot in front of the other, and you’d trust in your ability to successfully complete the task.

However, suppose I take that same beam and now put it up on posts that are 100 feet up in the air.  We lift you up those 100 feet and deposit you on one end of the beam.  Again, I challenge you to walk those fifty feet without falling.  How confident would you be that you could successfully walk to the other end without falling off and likely getting yourself killed?  Most people would have virtually no confidence and would absolutely refuse to even try walking across that beam.  What happens is that you are no longer focused on the process of completing the task and instead are very focused on the potential outcomes!

The reality is that whether the beam is on the ground or way up in the air, the physical task of walking across the beam is essentially the same.  What makes trying to cross the beam so difficult when it is high up is that rather than simply focusing on the process of taking a short walk, all of our attention instead becomes focused on the implications of the outcome of our performance!

Let me give you an example of a process-focus versus an outcome-focus in golf.  Suppose you have a mid-iron approach shot over water.  A golfer who maintains a process-focus will check the conditions (wind, lie, change in elevation, etc.) and make a decision about which club to use.  They’ll identify a small precise target at which to aim.  They’ll think back to a similar situation in which they successfully executed their shot.  They’ll retrieve memories of some of the best shots they’ve hit with the club they selected for the shot at hand.

The process-focused golfer will take a practice swing or two to get a comfortable feel for the swing they want to put on the ball.  They will develop an image in their mind of properly executing the exact shot they want to hit.  They’ll address the ball, making sure they have the proper stance and alignment.  And as they become ready to swing, they’ll have a single thought in their mind, such as “perfect” or “smooth.”  And once they have this thought, they simply allow themselves to swing, having absolutely no concern about where the ball is going to go!

Their focus has remained on the process of preparing for a good shot and working toward executing a good shot.  Because of this excellent preparation, and allowing their bodies to do what they know how to do, the process-focused golfer allows none of his attention to be devoted to concerns about where the ball is going to end up.

The golfer who is more outcome-focused may go through many of the same steps the process-focused golfer went through.  They’ll assess the situation, select a target, take practice swings and may well try to imagine the type of shot they want to hit.  But the big difference between the process-focused golfer and the outcome-focused golfer is that when it is time to swing, a significant portion of the outcome-focused golfer’s attention will indeed be devoted to concerns about where the ball is going to go.

Concerns about the outcome of the shot can come in many shapes and sizes, but none of them are good.  Those with an outcome-focus may question whether they really have the proper club, worrying that the ball will go too far, or not far enough.  They might have concerns about how a poor shot will affect their score or standing in a tournament.  They may be worried about what other golfers will think if the shot isn’t pulled off properly.  The golfer might not be 100% certain of his alignment, leading to some type of attempted correction during the actual swing.

Each of these outcome-focused thoughts will interfere with your ability to hit the shot you want to hit.  Concerns about the outcome distract you from staying in the exact here-and-now moment.  They cause mental and physical tension.  They bring forth doubt and impair your ability to make a confident swing.  When any part of your attention is directed toward concerns about what might happen, it diminishes your ability to focus on what you are doing at the present time.

Although it seems quite paradoxical, the best way to increase the likelihood of a good outcome is by not focusing on the outcome!  Instead, focus on the process of preparing for the shot, committing to your preparation, and then simply allowing yourself to hit the shot!

In golf, once the ball leaves the face of the club, you no longer have any control whatsoever over where that ball is going to end up.  This is a fact.  That’s why (even though most of us do it) telling a ball to “go’ or “sit” or “come on back”  has no effect on the  ball at all.  Our control is over.  We have no more influence.  As far as the ball is concerned, it’s “Hasta la vista, baby!”

When you are out on the course, always maintain your focus on those things you can control, and let go of concerns about what you cannot control.  What you can control is your preparation for the shot, the commitment to the shot, and the execution of the actual swing.  That is all you can control.  Let go of all of your concerns about what might happen.  Have no worries about what the outcome will be.  Focus on the process, not the outcome.

Golf is only a game.  It’s not life and death.  But the next time you’re getting ready to hit a shot of any kind, think back to my example of trying to safely walk across that fifty-foot beam.  When you just focus on the process of walking, trust you can safely put one foot in front of the other, and have no concern about the outcome, crossing that beam is a breeze!  But once you start to worry about what “might” happen, or what the consequences will be if you don’t make it to the other end, you hugely sabotage the chance of a successful crossing.

If your ultimate goal is to improve how well you perform, remember to stay focused on the process and let go of concerns about the outcome!

 

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

Article #11 - Motivation in Golf: Approach Versus Avoidance

Golf requires that we constantly change from one position on the course to another, playing the ball from its current spot to a new one..  From the tee to the fairway (or rough or lake or trees), to the green (or bunker or lake), and eventually to the hole.  For each shot we execute there is some form of underlying motivation, a force that not only drives our decisions, but one that also affects our emotional state and likelihood of hitting a good shot.  The two primary motivations for hitting shots are those of approach and avoidance.  Let me explain how these motives differ and how they impact our decisions, emotions, and likelihood of success.

Oftentimes, when we make major changes in our lives, we are either motivated to get away from a bad situation, or we are motivated to move forward to something new.   You might not perceive much difference between the two, but there is a difference. And the degree of difference is significant.  I’ll give you some examples of these two types of motivation and try to clarify the ways they are so different.

When was the last time, for example, you changed jobs or employers?  Why did you make this change?  What motivated you to switch?  Did you hate your old job, feel overworked, underappreciated?  Were your supervisors overly critical and lacking in support?  Did you feel unimportant?  If several of these factors were present in your old job, it’s no wonder you would want to leave.  And you might be satisfied to find almost any different job or company, as long as it got you out of the terrible situation in which you had been.

Contrast the above scenario to a situation in which your job was fine, you liked your coworkers, your bosses treated you with respect, and you generally felt content at work.  But then came along a great new opportunity, for example a similar position, with similar working conditions, but a salary that was twice your old one?  Or perhaps it was a similar job that had even less stress than before, or one where you would be relocating to a much more desirable climate or geographical area?  You would be champing at the bit to go!

In the first situation you drastically wanted to get away from the old job.  You hated the situation, you despised how you were being treated, and you resented the lack of respect you were shown by your superiors.  Your motivation was based on your desire to avoid these factors.  You would take almost any different position to get you out of the dreaded job in which you were stuck

In the second scenario, however, your motivation for change wasn’t to escape or avoid some dreadful situation.  No, you were relatively content and satisfied with what you had before this great new opportunity came to be.  The motivation for change in this second example came from being powerfully drawn to an even better situation.  When we are drawn to something, this motivation is referred to as approach motivation.

In both cases, a job change occurred, but the motivation and emotions associated with the change were clearly different.  With the avoidance motive, the emotions are primarily negative and unpleasant.  The approach motive, however, is associated with pleasant emotions and increased happiness. Also, the likelihood of ending up in a truly good position is distinctly different with each type of motive.

And so it is in golf!  I was standing on a tee box on a tough par four with about a million bunkers and a nasty swale all along the left side.  My playing partner, a PGA professional, teed his ball and went through his routine.  At his final address I heard him softly say, “Don’t hit it left.  Just don’t hit it left.”  His motivation for this shot was clearly avoidance, his emotions were fear and anxiety, and his likelihood of ending up in a truly good position was minimal. Every time you are trying to avoid something in golf, it means that you are worried about the outcome; you are concerned that something bad will occur.  And when you have that fear, the likelihood of hitting a poor shot is huge.  When your motivation for a shot is avoidance, you’re in big trouble!

When faced with difficult shots (actually any shot at all) you always want to have an approach motive.  The hazards on the left side of the fairway exist, and I’m certainly not suggesting you ignore them or pretend they are not there.  What I am suggesting, however, is that when you are planning your shot, you pick a small, precise, and appropriate target at which to aim.  Have an image in your mind of the shot being hit and the ball working directly at that target.  Choose to believe you will be successful and trust in your ability to execute the shot.  Perceive yourself and your ball as being drawn to that specific target.  This is the essence of the approach motivation.  Your shot is designed to be drawn toward something, to approach that target.  You have let go of any concerns about the hazards and therefore do not experience anxiety or fear.  You are envisioning success which brings positive emotions including pride and satisfaction.  And this approach motivation also significantly increases the likelihood you will execute an excellent shot.

To play your best, you always want to be sending the ball toward a target, as opposed to trying to avoid some trouble.  If you use this strategy you’ll have greater confidence and a much more pleasant emotional state.  And the best part of using an approach motivation is that it greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll hit a really good shot.  And that is what we all are striving to do!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

Article #10 - Mental Skills & Recent Sporting Events: John Cook Wins the 2009 Charles Schwab Cup Championship (Originally published in 2009)

After shooting four rounds in the 60s, including a final round 69, John Cook won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship by five strokes.  In the post-tournament press conference, Cook alluded to some specific mental strategies he used to pull off his second victory in the last three weeks.

One of the strategies he discussed involved not getting too far ahead of himself when he had a big lead in the final round. “It’s not that easy playing with a big lead, I can tell you that.  Your mind starts to wander a little bit, and you really have to reign yourself in.”  He explained that he and his caddie kept reminding themselves to stay in the moment, and not get distracted by the size of the lead they had.   He stated, “We just stay on point, stay on point all day.  This is what we need to do.”

He mentioned his loss earlier in the year when he had a one shot lead coming up to the par four 18th hole at the Jeld-Wen Tradition.  He hit the fairway off the tee, but his approach shot, which he described as “the worst swing of the week,” ended up in a back right bunker.  He was not fully committed to his shot and his club selection, leading to his ball missing the green.  He was unable to get up and down for the par, and subsequently lost the tournament to Mike Reid on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.

In referring to the loss at the Tradition, Cook stated, “The event.....was mine and I let it go.  I just was so torn up by the mistake I made at the last hole; I said that ain’t gonna happen again.”  Rather than hanging his head in defeat, Cook decided he could learn from his mistake.  He subsequently convinced himself that he needed to be committed to improving his game, and he also recognized that he needed to be more aggressive during tournaments.

At the Charles Schwab Cup, Cook did play more aggressively.  “I got a little more aggressive around the golf course….you know, go ahead and take a cut at it.  I took shots at pins more.”  Although more aggressive, he still played intelligently.  “I learned from Venturi, just middle of the green, and then when you have a ‘go’ flag, you go at it.”  He knew he was swinging well, and because of that, he told himself, “Just go ahead and trust it and fire at some flags.  Stay aggressive” 

Regarding his excellent putting during the tournament, Cook said, “I’ve been working incredibly hard putting.  It’s the one thing that I think has really kept me back.  I got maybe a little more aggressive on the greens than I normally do.  I’ve putted good the last couple months.”

Finally, Cook referred to the importance of sticking to his aggressive game plan, regardless of how his score matched up to the other players.  Part of his plan was to hit driver on the vast majority of the longer holes.  “I hit drivers off just about every hole except one and 18.  That was a big key.  You know, I stayed with my game plan, so (I’m) pretty happy with this one.” 

What can we learn from John Cook’s winning mental approach at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship? 

One important mental strategy to implement is that of staying in the present moment and not getting “ahead” of yourself.  The shot at hand is the only thing which needs your attention.  Don’t allow your mind to wander with thoughts about winning, or what this shot means in terms of your standing in the tournament.

A second key strategy is the idea that when you make a costly mistake, your best option is to commit to learning from the mistake, and then commit to doing what it takes to improve your game.  There is no way of “undoing” a mistake, and beating yourself up for it is not at all helpful.  Learn from the mistake, commit to not making the mistake again, and then leave the mistake behind you.

Another important mental strategy is before the competition even begins, develop a well thought-out game plan, and stick with it during your play. 

And finally, when you have a large lead, don’t switch over to a protective mode of play.  Stay aggressive, fire at pins when it’s appropriate, and keep striving to go even lower.

Remember, the more often you think like a pro, the more often you’ll play like a pro.  Take responsibility for how you think and you’ll improve your game!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.lasvegassportpsychology.com

Article #9 - Mental Skills & Recent Sporting Events: Ryan Moore Wins the 2009 Wyndham Championship (Originally published in 2009)

Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events:  Ryan Moore wins the 2009 Wyndham Championship (Originally published in 2009).

The wait for that elusive first PGA Tour win is finally over for Ryan Moore.  After having had such an incredible amateur career, it must have been wickedly frustrating to have to wait for five years before scoring that first Tour victory.  Who knew it would take so long?  And what a win considering the circumstances!  The competition was delayed more than once by rain and darkness, and even after the final putt was holed by the final group on the 72nd hole, the competition still wasn’t over.  Moore had to endure three holes of sudden death before he was able to claim the trophy as his own.  Looking back on how difficult it was to wait for this first victory, he stated, “Oh man, this felt like an uphill battle the whole time I’ve been on the PGA Tour.”

In terms of physical aspects which had held him back, Moore referred to a nagging injury to his left hand and wrist.  “I haven’t been healthy.  My hand was hurting my very first professional tournament.  I’ve just been fighting those things…it’s just been a battle to get myself feeling like myself again.  With those types of injuries and everything, you start compensating…  It’s a constant adjustment.”  And although he still has some minor issues with his hand, it appears he has found a way to again be comfortable with how he swings a club.  His history as an amateur demonstrates he has had the physical talent to win, and this Tour victory certainly validates that history.

So what about Moore’s mental talents or mental skills?  What types of thinking did he use to help him achieve his first PGA victory?  What were the mental keys he used to accomplish this important breakthrough?

One of the mental strengths Moore displayed was his ability to regroup and regain his confidence after bogeying the 7th hole on Sunday.  As he walked off the tee, he felt very dissatisfied with how he had been playing, and he asked himself, “Ryan, why are you not playing like you’re going to win this golf tournament?”  He recognized his attitude was poor at that moment, and decided to do something about it.  In essence, he recognized the mental mistake he was committing, and rather than berate himself for the error, he decided to do something constructive.

“I really just kind of gave myself a pep talk.”  He said to himself, “Let’s hit every golf shot the rest of the day like you’re going to win this golf tournament.”

This type of thinking process is crucial for athletes who want to get to the top.  First, they are able to recognize when they are making mental mistakes.  In Ryan Moore’s case, he knew he wasn’t putting in 100 percent, and he had let his confidence level wane. Then, and perhaps most importantly, rather than dwelling on the mistake and beating himself  up, he made a conscious decision learn from that mistake, and made the commitment to use that learning to immediately make him a better competitor.  Moore stated, “I talked myself into it (confidence) a little bit there….and you know it started right there.  I hit a good wedge shot, made a good putt and just kind of really started going.”  And boy, did he start going!  Not only did he birdie the 8th hole, he birdied each of the holes from 12 through 16!

Moore exhibited another clear example of top-level mental skills as he prepared for the first play-off hole, number 18.  Although he had taken his play to a different, much higher level starting on number 8 in the final round, Moore bogeyed the final hole in regulation.  Without that bogey, he would have had his first win sewn up and over with.  The 18th hole played as the most difficult hole on the course on that Sunday, giving trouble to a number of players besides Moore.

Regarding the 18th, Moore said, “It’s a tough golf hole.  I’m not going to lie.  It’s not my favorite golf hole in the world…”  So how do you prepare for a playoff that begins on a brutal hole that had already robbed you of an opportunity to win for the first time?  This is how Moore handled it. As he was getting a ride from a rules official to the 18th tee to start the playoff, he made a conscious decision to take control of his thoughts, and not let the past dictate how he felt about such a difficult start to the sudden death playoff.  He told the official, “You know what, for right now it’s my favorite golf hole in the world and I’m going to love it and go do whatever I can to bury this hole.”

Rather than approaching the hole with fear and worry about the past, he made the decision to view this hole as a welcome challenge; a challenge he was determined to master.  What a powerful way of choosing to think!  And master the 18th hole he did, hitting the fairway each time in sudden death!  And when he hit that fine approach shot the last time the hole was involved in sudden death, he sank the putt to end the playoff and secured his first victory on the PGA Tour!

Moore’s victory at the Wyndham Championship demonstrates the crucial role proper mental skills play in tournament success.  Top athletes like Moore are able to quickly recognize when they are making mental errors.  Once they recognize this, they waste none of their focus or mental energy on berating themselves or getting down on themselves.  Instead, they decide to learn from the mistake they’ve made, and they use this learning to immediately take their game to a higher level.  They also keep in mind that rather than letting the past dictate how they think and feel, they always have the ability to choose the contents of their thoughts as well as the way they feel. 

And I’ll guarantee that if you choose to use mental skills such as these, your victories will come sooner rather than later!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.lasvegassportpsychology.com

Article #8 - How Emotions Help and Hurt the Golfer (Part 1)

HOW EMOTIONS HELP AND HURT THE GOLFER (Part One)

Golf, like any sport, requires the ability to recall how to perform learned sequences of movement.  When we play this game we rely on our minds and bodies to remember what is involved in a proper golf swing.  Without having learned how to swing properly, or if one was unable to recall how to execute a proper swing, a golfer would be doomed to round after round of nothing but frustration and futility. 

It makes a great deal of sense, then, that if there was a strategy to improve one’s memory of good swings or great shots, golfers would benefit greatly by learning such a strategy.  Let me explain this strategy and give you some examples of the effect of strong emotions on memory.

One of the most powerful factors that influences our ability to remember, and to forget, is the amount of emotion that is attached to a particular event. This is true regardless of whether that event is good or bad. A clear example of this is what happened on September 11th, 2001. I’ll bet that there aren’t any individuals who are reading this column today that can’t tell me exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned about the terrorist attacks in New York City.  That is a memory that will be with each of us for the rest of our lives.  It’s etched in our brains, clearly and vividly, because of the gut wrenching emotions that we all experienced when we first learned about this horrific event.  We’ll never be able to forget what happened that day.

But other memories, much more positive ones, are also clearly and vividly etched in our minds.  Those of you who are old enough will remember with great clarity watching Neil Armstrong taking mans’ first steps on the moon.  What an incredible and positive accomplishment for all of humanity! Positive events of a more personal nature are also readily remembered.  The birth of a first child is a clear memory for many of you.  To become a parent for the first time, to witness the arrival of a new, unique human being is a wonderfully moving event.  How about your first hole-in-one?  I bet that’s something you remember!  And if you haven’t had one yet, read this column regularly and you’ll increase your chances!

The point here is that the more powerful the emotion associated with an event, the more likely we are to remember the event.  These powerful memories will affect us in the present and down the road.  This is an established fact.  So, how does this apply to improving your game of golf?

One way to utilize the above principle is to create powerful, positive emotional memories when you are playing good golf.  I was out on the course one day, conducting an on-course consultation with a talented college golfer, John.  On the first par five he crushed an absolutely perfect drive down the fairway, to an ideal spot about 330 yards from the tee.  He had six iron left for his approach to the green.  When we got down to where his tee shot ended up, I turned to him and asked, “How good was that tee shot?”  He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “It was pretty good”, but there was little emotion or pride in his voice. 

I asked him to think about this shot in a different way.  “Suppose,” I said, “that you had just hit this shot at the 13th hole at Augusta National during a round in the Masters Tournament.  What would be the reaction of the crowd?  What would you hear?  How would you feel?”  He thought about it for a moment, and a broad grin spread across his face.  “I’ve got chills” he said, “right now, just thinking about what that would be like.”  I explained to John that each time he hits a particularly good shot, it would be his task to create powerful, positive emotions to help him remember the shot, and to utilize that memory to help him hit similar shots in the future. 

A professional I’ve been working with, Matt, hit a spectacular 145 yard approach shot from the rough to within 18 inches of the hole.  I asked him how good the shot was.  He shrugged and said, “Pretty good.”  I asked him to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10.  He thought for a minute, and then said with a broad smile, “I guess that would be about a 9.9. The only way it could be any better is if it went in the hole.”  I told him that I thought it was a spectacular shot, and I stressed to him, as I did with John, the importance of attaching good, strong, positive emotions to such great shots.

Most of us are brought up to behave modestly and not toot our own horns.  That may be fine in general.  However, in golf, you want to give yourself every advantage you can. Consistently supplying yourself with powerful positive feedback is a way of giving yourself a mighty advantage over your fellow competitors.  Every legitimate opportunity you have, you want to praise yourself, tell yourself that that shot was indeed spectacular, that that was as good as even the best could do.

 “That was incredible!!!”  “What a tremendous shot under the circumstances!!!”  “That was as pure a putt as can be!!!”  These are the types of messages you want to give yourself when you are performing well.  You don’t need to say anything to anybody else; you can continue to behave modestly if you wish.  However, you absolutely want to say these things to yourself.  You could say it out loud, or just say it inside your head, but either way, create strong, positive emotions, and really mean what you say.

If you provide yourself with this powerful form of reinforcement, several things will occur.  First, you’ll enjoy the game of golf much more.  You’ll also begin to develop a consistent set of memories of truly fine shots you’ve made.  And then when you play the next time, you’ll be able to recall these shots and their associated good feelings.  This clear recollection and the wonderful emotions you recall will help you to execute a similar shot when you need it.  Your brain and your body will have a perfect template of the shot, which increases the likelihood you will indeed execute the shot perfectly.

Self reinforcement may not come easily to you, but it’s important you work at it and do it on a consistent basis.  If you want to excel at this sport (or any sport) you’ll need to develop your skills in this area.  It takes commitment and effort on your part.  Just like the physical skills on which you work so hard to develop, you also need to work diligently on implementing and perfecting the mental skills that will lead you to exceptional golf.  It is a matter of personal responsibility.  You’re the only one who can make you utilize these techniques to become a better golfer.

In my next article, I’ll be addressing the OPPOSITE of strategies to help you remember.  Keep on reading this column to learn ways to stop bad events, (like missing a two foot putt that would have won a tournament), from ruining your golf game.  That’s right; I’ll be discussing strategies for FORGETTING certain aspects of the game of golf!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.lasvegassportpsychology.com

Article #7 - How Emotions Help and Hurt the Golfer (Part2)

 HOW EMOTIONS HELP AND HURT THE GOLFER (Part Two)

In my last column I discussed how creating powerful, positive emotions when playing well will improve your golf memory.  Drawing upon these memories in later competitions will increase the likelihood of you hitting similar great shots.  But I also mentioned that powerful, negative emotions equally affect our memory, and this can be a real problem in golf. It is those types of emotions and memories I’ll be discussing today.

When was the last time you got angry, frustrated, or full of disappointment on the golf course?  What was happening? Why were you so miserable?  How did these powerful, unpleasant emotions creep into your round?  They not only robbed you of the enjoyment you were experiencing on the course; they also drastically increased the likelihood these bad events or bad shots will stick in your mind and come back to haunt your play in the future.

Too many golfers get way too angry and upset on the golf course when things don’t go the way they planned.  What kind of thoughts and feelings go through the golfer who just missed a three foot putt needed to get into a playoff?  What goes on inside the woman who is having her career best round, but then blows-up on the final hole?  Or the guy who yanks his approach shot into the water on the 18th hole of a tournament, falling way down the leader board?

Most golfers would have an emotional meltdown of some sort after any one of these events.  Their anger and frustration may be evident to others as they slam a club into the ground, yell profanities at themselves, or simply withdraw and refuse to speak to anyone.  Other golfers will hold their feelings inside, giving themselves a mental tongue lashing, calling themselves all sorts of terrible names and insulting the very core of their existence.  Either way, these golfers are experiencing a high degree of negative emotional arousal.  And this intense arousal will only hurt the golfer in the long run. 

Mark Twain is reported to have said, “The inability to forget is infinitely more devastating than the inability to remember.”  This quote is so apropos to golfers!  When you experience one of these disappointing moments in golf and you allow yourself to become overly angry or frustrated, the high level of emotion ingrains the memory of the event deeply into your mind.  These deeply ingrained memories will surface again, very clearly, when you are faced with a similar situation. These memories will dramatically increase the likelihood of another poor shot. The inability to forget (or let go of) these memories is indeed devastating to the golfer.

Some golfers tell me they play better when they are angry.  “Great” I tell them, “go ahead and get as angry as you want.”  But the truth is that the vast majority of time excessive anger is detrimental.  It ruins the enjoyment of the day, it impacts on your ability to focus on the next shot, it’s a downer for your playing partners, and it definitely makes the bad shot more vivid and more powerful in your memory.  Do any of these things sound like they would help you to play better?

Okay, so it’s important not to get overly angry when you make a bad shot.  It’s easier said than done, especially if you’ve had difficulty with excessive anger and frustration for a long time.  So, how do you maintain proper emotional control?  There are two keys I’ll mention here (in other articles I’ll discuss many additional techniques for maintaining composure).  The first key is the idea of “learning, then letting go”.  The second key is taking personal responsibility for your emotions.

When bad shots occur, in the vast majority of cases, there is a psychological reason for the mistake.  I was out on the course doing a nine hole consult with an amateur golfer. He was really utilizing the mental skills we had been working on and had a career best score going when we came to the par three eighth hole, with water left and front.  He went through his full preshot routine, knew what club he would hit, and picked out a small, precise target at which to aim.  He hit the ball and splashed it into the water on the left.  Disappointment!  Anger!  Frustration!

I asked him what happened on the shot.  He simply stated, “I pulled it.”  That wasn’t what I was asking for.  I saw that had pulled the shot!  I asked him to think about WHY he pull occurred.  When we reviewed his process of making the shot, this golfer realized that as he was getting ready to swing, he doubted his alignment, thinking he was aimed just a little too far to the right.  Rather than restarting his routine, he swung anyway and overcompensated for the misalignment, and ended up making his ball look like Moby Dick.

When we discussed what had just happened, I explained he had his choice of how to react to this mistake.  He could get angry and frustrated which would likely affect his next shot and the next hole.  The anger would also ingrain the memory of this poor shot and increase the odds he’d hit a similar shot in the future when a great round was on the line.

His other choice was to make an immediate and strong commitment to learn from this mistake, right here and now, and to utilize this learning to make him a better golfer for this round, for this week, for the rest of the year.  He chose this second option and ingrained in his mind the importance of being fully committed and comfortable over the ball before allowing himself to swing.  He wasn’t happy about putting the ball in the water, but he was pleased with how he managed to utilize this situation as a learning experience.  This golfer then went to the edge of the hazard to take his drop.  He went through his full routine, envisioned the shot, and believed he could chip it in the hole.  He wasn’t rattled or caught up in dwelling on what had happened on his last shot.  He hit the ball; it landed on the green, curled down the slope and dropped into the cup!  He went on to complete the best nine hole score of his life!  He made the commitment to learn from the bad shot, and then let go of his anger and frustration so he could then focus on the task at hand.

The second key to emotional control is taking full, personal responsibility for your emotions.  The reality in golf is that most of our powerful, negative emotions aren’t directly caused by what has happened (pulling a shot into the water), but instead are caused by the way we choose to think about what has happened.  Dunking a ball into the lake is never a good experience; indeed it’s disappointing, it’s unfortunate.  However, the excessive anger and frustration only come when you tell yourself things such as “This is a tragedy! This is horrendous!  You’re a frigging idiot to have hit a shot like that!  You suck!  You’re a waste of skin!”  It is these labels and exaggerations that infuriate you.  The anger also stems in part by your insistence that what has just happened, have not happened in the first place. 

So take the personal responsibility to monitor what you say to yourself, how you choose to think about what is happening, and how you think about what has happened.  When a mistake occurs, think about it realistically and rationally.  Don’t apply ridiculous and inaccurate labels to yourself.  Don’t demand in your head that what has just occurred should never have happened. You can’t change the reality of what has just taken place. Commit to becoming a better golfer right now by learning from the mistake you just made.  Take responsibility for your emotional response.  By thinking properly on the golf course you’ll stop those bad shots from sticking in your memory and coming back to bite you at a later date. 

Maintaining emotional control is essential in golf.  It’s also a pretty darned important skill in life in general.  Improve your golf…. improve your life!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.lasvegassportpsychology.com

Article #6 - Physically and Mentally Golf is a Game of Inches, A Game of Degrees

PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY, GOLF IS A GAME OF INCHES, A GAME OF DEGREES

Golf, as the saying goes, is indeed a game of inches.  Two separate approach shots can land near the pin, with one of them spinning back and dropping into the cup, while the other one stops just short of the hole.  A tee shot on a hole with O.B. on the right takes a hard hop and lands two inches off the course.  A similar shot might not get the same bounce and remains in play. In the 1999 Ryder Cup final matches, if Justin Leonard had read an extra inch of break in his forty foot putt on hole number 17, the European team might well have won the Cup that year.   What a difference an inch or two can make.

At Q-School one year, the tee shot of a competitor landed on an unreplaced divot; not in an unrepaired divot, not in a sand filled divot.  His ball actually came to rest on the loose piece of turf that an earlier player had not replaced in its’ proper spot.  What do you think this golfer might have offered to have gotten another couple of inches of roll on that particular shot?  And do you remember the year Fred Couple’s ball hung up on the bank of the creek fronting the green at Augusta’s 12th hole?  Just another inch or so of roll toward the water, along with the added momentum of that roll, and the outcome of the Masters Tournament might have been very different that year. 

Golf is also a game of degrees.  Every good instructor talks about the importance of proper alignment and squaring the clubface at impact.  If your alignment is a few degrees off to the left, you’re likely to pull the ball left of your target.  The greater the number of degrees which your alignment is off the target, the worse the pull will be.  If you manage to square the clubface to the target line when alignment (stance) is a bit left, the ball will curve to the right of the target.  And again, the degree of misalignment will determine how far right the ball travels.  Just a few degrees will cause a fade.  A couple of additional degrees of misalignment, however, will result in the dreaded slice way off to the right.

The opposite is true of course for the golfer who is lined up a few degrees right of the target line.  If the clubface is square to the alignment of the body, the shot will be a push out to the right.  The less accurate the alignment, the worse the push will be.  With this same alignment, if the club is square to the target at impact, a draw will be the result, sending the ball left of the target.  With a square to the target clubface, but an alignment which is only a few more degrees off to the right, be prepared to see that all too familiar hook!

Even with alignment which is perfectly perpendicular to the target line, if the clubface is open or shut just a degree or two, the direction of the shot will be affected.  The more open the clubface (the greater the number of degrees it points to the right) the likelihood of the slice increases.  Conversely, the more closed the clubface (the number of degrees it points to the left) the greater the likelihood that a hook will rear its’ all too ugly head.

Obviously, alignment and clubface impact position which is perfectly perpendicular to the target line is generally ideal.   All good golf instructors will stress these points time and time again.  And, these points are crucial to success in golf.  Golf truly is a game of degrees.  (I know, I know.  There will be situations when you are intentionally working the ball from right to left or vice versa, and you’ll purposely alter the alignment or impact angle of the face of the club.  Of course you are right.  But bear with me here, if only for the sake of argument.)

It clearly is true that golf is a game of inches, a game of degrees.  And that is why most good golfers work diligently at perfecting their setup, their swing, and their putting stroke.  They know they are giving themselves an advantage by making sure they have the proper alignment on all of their shots and are stroking their putts with the proper speed.  But there is one aspect of golf, an extremely important component of the game, in which even some of the most physically precise competitors fail to recognize how detrimental “not quite being on target” or “being a few degrees off” can be.  And learning about this aspect, the mental component of golf, is what separates the good golfers from the exceptional ones.

It’s important that you understand when I talk about a golfer who is, mentally, “off a few degrees”, I am NOT referring to people you might think of as “a real head-case” or a “real nut-job”.  If a golfer is truly “only off a few degrees” with their mental game, they may well be quite talented and generally perform fairly well, but until they learn a more proper way of thinking on the course, they are hindering themselves from reaching their fullest potential.

Let me give you some examples of thinking that illustrate mental skills that are “off by quite a few inches or degrees”, those that are “just a few degrees, a few inches off”, and mental skills that are “right on target”.  Here is the situation: A professional golfer stands on the 18th tee on the final round of competition with a one shot lead.  There is a hazard in play on the left.  He has never won a professional event before.  The last time he was in position to win, he hooked his tee shot on the final hole and took a triple bogey to tie for sixth place.

The thinking process of the golfer whose mental skills are “several inches, several degrees off” is something along the lines of this:  “I can’t blow it like I did the last time.  What a humiliating way to finish.  I don’t want to get a reputation as a choker.  No matter what, I’ve got to avoid that hazard on the left.  I don’t care where this ball goes, it just damn well better stay out of the hazard.  Let’s not disappoint my sponsors like I did last time.  It’s make-it or break-it time.  I can’t afford to choke again.”

Multiple mental errors are present for the golfer with the above mindset.   He is allowing himself to be haunted by what has occurred in the past.  His thinking is scattered far from where it should be.  He’s worried about being labeled a “choker” and worried about what his sponsors will think.  He tries to motivate himself not to fail again, as opposed to motivating himself to succeed.  He has concerns about how the tournament will end, as opposed to being focused on this particular shot.  In short, this competitor’s manner of thinking is setting him up for the mental equivalent of a huge slice.

Given the same scenario, the golfer with better mental skills, and one whose thinking is only “off by an inch, a fraction of a degree” might be telling himself something like this:  “I need to avoid the hazard on the left.  I’ll just aim somewhere up the right side of the fairway.  I’m going to come through today and win this tournament.”

Although these thoughts might sound just fine to most golfers, there are still what I consider to be significant mental errors.  Part of his focus when getting ready to swing is devoted to what he is trying to avoid.  As I noted in an earlier article, (Motivation in Golf), trying to avoid something on a golf shot actually increases the likelihood of a bad outcome.  And this golfer’s thought of aiming “somewhere up the right side of the fairway” involves much too broad of a target.  The larger the target, the larger the miss is likely to be.  And although he has a positive expectation for the outcome of the tournament, thoughts about something that is still several shots away have no place in the preparation for the shot at hand.  While this manner of thinking might not lead to a disastrous shot, the outcome of such thoughts may well produce the mental equivalent of a weak fade.

The golfer with what I consider to be “dead, solid, perfect” thinking, the one who is not “off” even one degree or one inch, is the one whose thought processes are along these lines:  “This hole has trouble on the left side; I want to go up the right.  My target is the right edge of that dark patch of grass out there about 300 yards.  I’m playing well and swinging well.  I’ve made this shot thousands of times.  I’m going to get set up and allow myself to hit the shot the way I know I can.  I’m going to trust my line, trust my ability to hit the shot, and let the outcome take care of itself.”

Although this golfer takes into account the hazard to the left, his final thoughts involve the small, precise target at which he is going to aim.  He’s therefore not trying to avoid something, and is instead working toward having his shot approach a specific target.  He reminds himself about similar shots he has executed successfully, and does not allow thoughts of past failure to enter his mind.  He further reminds himself that his focus needs to be on the process of allowing him to execute this shot, as opposed to having concerns about the outcome of the shot.  This manner of thinking is most likely to result in the mental equivalent of a tee shot that is pure and solidly struck on the sweet spot.

The distinctions between the thought processes of the three golfers above might seem small, but believe me, they have a powerful impact on how well each golfer will likely perform.  And in the end, when the trophy is awarded, it always goes to the golfer who has performed the best.

Golf is a game of inches, a matter of degrees, both physically and mentally. Continue to work on developing and implementing proper mental skills to give yourself the best chance of performing at your absolute highest level.  And isn’t your absolute best performance what you are striving to accomplish?      

 

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

Article #5 - Damning Demands vs. Beneficial Beliefs

GOLF’S DAMNING DEMANDS VERSUS BENEFICIAL BELIEFS

Small and sometimes subtle differences in the way a person thinks about a particular situation, or challenge, can have a significant impact not only on how that situation turns out, but also on the type of emotional response that is associated with that outcome.  This is true in golf, as it is in much of life.  Allow me explain what I mean, and let me give you some examples to clarify these subtle differences in ways of thinking.

In golf, you are always striving to improve your performance, to shoot a better score.  You want to hit the fairway on your first tee shot.  You hope to stick your approach shot close to the pin.  You want to sink that birdie. This is true for all of us, right?  And if we execute shots like the ones we desire, our scores will indeed improve, and we’ll be one big group of happy campers!  But what happens when we don’t hit that first fairway, or nail that approach shot?  What if you miss that easy birdie putt?  These types of mistakes happen all of the time, even to top level professionals.  So, how can you maximize the likelihood of having good shots, and how can you minimize the damaging effects of disappointing mistakes?  The best way I know of to accomplish both of these goals is to consciously take control over the way you think.  You want to decrease or eliminate your use of “damning demands,” and instead, regularly think in terms of what I call “beneficial beliefs.”

“I have to… I must… I need to… I’ve got to… I must not… I can’t… I shouldn’t ever...”   These are common elements of the thoughts I call “damning demands”.  And demands are exactly what these thoughts are.  They are demands in your head about how you have to perform.  Think about it.  You’re standing on the tee, and you’re saying to yourself, “I have to hit this fairway.”  The fact that you are telling yourself, you “have to” or you “must” or you “need to” hit this fairway is making a demand about your own performance.  The same is true if you say to yourself, “I can’t afford to miss the fairway.”  It’s a demand about the outcome of your shot, a demand about how you “should” or “shouldn’t” perform.

Perhaps after reading the above paragraph you’re wondering why I refer to this manner of thinking as being “damning demands.”  What is so “damning” about wanting to have a good shot, a good outcome? How should I be thinking instead?  Should I not care what happens?  Should I tell myself it’s fine to miss the fairway, fine to miss the green, it’s fine to yank that birdie putt?

Before I suggest alternative ways of thinking, those “beneficial beliefs” I mentioned earlier, let me explain why the “demanding” way of thinking is detrimental.

First of all, when you think in terms of demands, even though these are your own thoughts, it’s like having someone standing in front of you, getting right in your face, and demanding that you do exactly as they say.  Now, I don’t know about you personally, but for most people, having someone barking an order in their face is a pretty uncomfortable situation.  A typical response might involve thoughts such as, “You can’t tell me what to do!  You’ve got no right to boss me around!  I’ll show you!”  Associated emotional responses would often include anger, fear, resentment and anxiety.

Can you recall an actual situation when somebody was poking their finger in your chest, perhaps grabbing you by the collar, getting right up into your face, and telling you what you ‘have to” do, or what you “absolutely must avoid” doing at all costs?  It wasn’t very comfortable, was it? Have you ever had a parent, a boss, or a coach approach you like that?  And didn’t it cause you to feel tense, and perhaps, defiant?

The reality is that it is no different when we make demands of ourselves!  On some level, when we engage in “demanding” thinking, we feel tense, anxious, and resentful.  Not only are these types of feelings uncomfortable, they are highly detrimental to our ability to play our best golf.  I’ll bet you can’t ever really recall a single time out on the course when you told yourself, “I really need to be more tense right now!  I’ve got to increase that anxiety level!  Let’s really jack up this level of resentment!”  Internal demands about performance are “damning” in that they almost always produce emotional states that interfere with our ability to play our best golf.  These types of demands can literally “send your game right to hell.”

The other major way that “damning demands” hurt you in golf is when your performance doesn’t reach the level of the demand.  What kind of things do you say to yourself when you miss that tight fairway, your approach shot sails askance of the target, you leave the birdie putt short?  I’ll bet you’re not very kind to yourself, and that what you say to yourself in your head is much more critical and damaging than anything you would ever say to a friend, or to a fellow competitor.  “You idiot!  You suck!  What a wimp!  Choker!”

And when you say such things to yourself, how does that make you feel?  What type of emotional response typically results from such damning statements?  For most of us, we become angry, perhaps filled with self-loathing.  We’re likely to feel disgusted and dejected, and our confidence level plummets.  Not very comfortable feelings, to say the least.  Your level of tension and anxiety increases, and you become more and more  concerned about your ability to hit quality shots.  This fear makes it less likely that you will hit subsequent shots well, despite the demands in your head that you do so!  It’s a vicious downward spiral; the internal demands cause tension and anxiety, which leads to less than optimal shot-making, which leads to resentment and anger and disgust, which despite the continued use of internal demands, leads to lowered confidence, more poor shot-making, and on and on and on.  Downward, and downward, and downward.  Your golf game goes to hell!

Sound pretty damning to me.

So, what types of thoughts can you use to motivate yourself, giving you the best chance of performing well?  What types of thoughts will stop the damning downward spiral? 

The solution to this problem is to think in terms of “beneficial beliefs.”  To me, a beneficial belief is an expectation about what you are capable of, as opposed to being a demand about how you perform.  Generally, these beneficial beliefs are confident and positive expectations about what you believe will happen, how you anticipate you will perform, yet there is no implicit demand that the performance be perfect! 

Think of it this way: standing on the tee of a tight fairway, with very penal rough on both sides, you tell yourself, “I’ve absolutely got to hit this fairway.”  As I mentioned before, it’s very much like having a coach, or parent, or whoever is on the tee with you, getting in your face, poking you in the chest, demanding of you that you hit this shot exactly as they say, and you damn-well better not screw it up!

Contrast the above with being on the same tee, facing that same tight fairway, and saying to yourself, “I know I can hit this fairway.  I believe I’m going to send this shot to the middle of the short grass.”  Rather than having someone poking you in the chest, it’s much more like having a good friend, or a supportive teammate with you, their arm around you shoulder, looking you straight in the eye and expressing nothing but confidence in you.  They know what you are capable of, yet they make no demand about how you must perform.  They’re not telling you what you have to do, and instead are affirming their belief in what you are capable of doing.  They’ll still be a good friend, a supportive teammate, regardless of the outcome of the shot.  They believe in your ability, they communicate this belief, but they stay away from making demands about how you “must” perform.

Doesn’t that scenario just sound more appealing, more relaxed, to you?  And doesn’t the above scenario instill confidence in you?

That’s exactly how you want to think, how you want to talk to yourself, as you prepare for any type of shot.  Your thoughts will begin with phrases such as, “I believe I can…  I know I’m capable of…  I expect I will…  I anticipate that I’ll…”  For example, in facing that tight fairway, you want to have thoughts such as, “I know I’m capable of hitting the short grass.  I’ve done it thousands of times.”  Or, “I anticipate this ball will go directly toward my target.  I believe I can hit it precisely there.”  Doesn’t that type of thinking just feel more relaxed to you?  Doesn’t it help to boost your confidence?  Doesn’t it help to rid you of tension and fear?

The other advantage of thinking this way is in the emotional response that occurs when the shot does not at all turn out the way you wanted.  Yes, it’s still a disappointment, and yes, it’s unfortunate.  But it no longer becomes (in your head, anyway) a catastrophe, a tragedy, a cause for self-hatred and disgust.  The negative emotional response is significantly reduced.  And as I mentioned in the article, “How Emotions Help and Hurt the Golfer” (part two), the toned-down negative response makes it less likely that this particular mistake will play out in your memory, over and over again, haunting you constantly when you have a similar shot to make in the future.  You’ll be better able to maintain your composure, and better able to identify factors that may have contributed to the mistake.  Once you have done this, you can immediately learn from the mistake, which in essence also immediately makes you a better golfer than before!

Envision facing a tough shot, and imagine trying out the two different ways of thinking about what you want to have happen.  Do you want the feeling that “I damn-well better not screw this up,” or do you want the feeling, “I know I can hit this shot.”  Do you want to feel the pressure of a demand about how you “must” perform, or do you want to feel the calming effect of expressed confidence in your own abilities?  And what if the shot isn’t executed as planned?  Do you want to risk those terrible negative emotions associated with the strict demands about how you “should have” performed, or do you want to give yourself the best chance of learning from a poor shot, and therefore immediately becoming a better golfer?

The difference between these two ways of thinking is indeed subtle at times, but the difference in how they impact on our performance and emotions can be huge.  The vast majority of top athletes have learned to increase their use of “beneficial beliefs” and decrease their utilization of “damning demands.”  It is a powerful mental strategy that helps to distinguish the absolute best athletes from those that are simply really good.

So pay attention to how you think out there in competition, to what you are saying to yourself.  Make a concerted effort to decrease the “damning demands” and increase the “beneficial beliefs.”  You’ll be more relaxed, less tense, free from fear, and your confidence will improve.  You’ll be more composed and your enjoyment of your sport will increase.  Your scores will improve.  You’ll become a more competent competitor.  By taking control of how you think, you’ll take better control over how you play.  And that, my friends, certainly sounds like a formula for success to me!

 

 Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149

Article #4 - Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events (Published in 2010)

Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events:  Golfer Ben Crane wins the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open (Originally published in 2010).

 

Ben Crane won The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego without even realizing what he had just accomplished.  After sinking his final putt on the 72nd hole, his fellow competitor, Ryuji Imada, turned toward Crane and said, “Congratulations.”  Crane appeared somewhat surprised and responded by asking Imada, “Did I win? Did I win the tournament?”  And indeed, Crane had come out on top, notching his third win on the PGA Tour.

 

How do you explain a guy who wins a pretty big tournament, yet he doesn’t even know what he has just achieved?

 

Late in the season last year, Crane had a meeting with his “team,” consisting of his manager, caddie, fitness consultant, and several others, including mental game expert Lanny Bassham.   They discussed what had been going well for Crane, but also defined some areas that definitely needed improvement.  One of the results of this meeting was the conclusion that instead of focusing on the outcome of a particular shot (or round, or event), Crane would be better off focusing primarily on the mental process involved in each individual shot.

 

So for the past several months Ben Crane and his team have taken a different perspective on his golf game.  What they talk about after any particular round or tournament is not how well he fared, but instead how well he engaged in the mental processes of preparing for and executing each of his shots.  Crane and his team believe that if the mental preparation and mental execution of a shot is proper, then the likelihood of a good outcome is increased. 

 

He said that in the past, he and his team tended to let the results of a particular competition determine how they felt about his level of play and how successful he had been.  This year, the attitude they adopted was that if they focused on the mental process and worked toward improving that aspect of his game, then the results would take care of themselves.  In essence, their belief was that although results matter, the best way to achieve good results is by focusing on the mental process of preparing for, and executing, each shot.  

 

In an interview after he won the tournament Crane was asked about a three-putt he had on the 13th hole.  He stated, “Yeah, the one on 13, I lipped out the first putt coming down the hill there, hit a beautiful putt.  And then the second putt, I hit absolutely perfectly, and it hit something and literally took the hardest left bounce I’ve ever seen in my life.  So actually, it didn’t bother me on the par five (13th hole) there because it was like, hey, I did everything I was supposed to do, hit a good wedge in there, hit a good second putt, and it just hit something and bounced off line.”  

 

His comments about that three-putt clearly illustrate his decision to focus on the process, rather than the outcome.  Far too many golfers become unglued or overly frustrated when they three-putt.  They become angry, overly critical, and perhaps fearful of when the next three-putt will occur.  They might conclude that “This just isn’t my day” when a good putt gets knocked off line. 

 

But by making it his priority to focus on the process rather than the outcome, Ben Crane did not allow himself to think in such destructive and non-helpful ways.  He had played the hole well even though the result, the outcome, was unfortunate.  Looking back at the process, he said, “I did everything I was supposed to do.”  He reinforced himself for what he had done properly and did not dwell on the outcome.  Crane further explained that when he meets with his team after a round of golf, “We talk differently about the round.  We don’t talk directly about results, we talk about the process I went through before, during and after each shot and how that went.  And to judge myself based on that as opposed to the outcome.”

 

One of the keys, then, to Crane’s success is his ability to let go of concerns about the outcome, and instead use his mental energy to stay focused on the mental process of preparing for and executing each individual shot.  It’s a fact that we can only truly focus on a limited number of things at any one time.  Ben Crane has come to the realization that in order to play his best golf, he’s going to keep his attention focused on what will give him the best chance of succeeding.  And that means that he maintains his focus on the process at hand, and directs none of his attention to worrying about the results.

 

It’s a paradox of sorts, but it’s a great mental strategy for boosting your chances of success.  Strangely enough, the best way to increase the likelihood of an excellent outcome is by choosing to stay focused on the process at hand, giving none of your attention to what the outcome of the shot means.

 

If you choose to think like this, you too might just find yourself playing well enough that when your fellow competitors shake your hand and offer their congratulations, your honest response is, “Did I win?”

 

What a great reward for staying focused on the process; winning a tournament without even realizing it!

 

 

 

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

 

 

 

 

Article #3 - Confidence in Sports Part 1

 

Confidence in Sports (part 1):  How to develop confidence

 

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re likely to prove yourself correct.”

Many experienced coaches and motivational speakers have used some variation of the statement above to emphasize that the way in which one thinks can dramatically affect the way that one performs.  Haven’t we all experienced this to be true!  When we are brimming with confidence and allow ourselves to trust in our abilities, our performance tends to be among our best.  And conversely, when we doubt our abilities and begin to think, “This just isn’t my day,” our performance falls flat and leaves us feeling deflated and bruised.

It’s clearly no secret that how, and what one thinks, affects how well that person is likely to perform, in any type of competitive or achievement situation.  Virtually everybody accepts this idea and recognizes it to be a fact.  There is nothing stunning about this concept whatsoever.

But what is stunning, is that the vast, vast, majority of athletes (and other people as well) fail to realize that we virtually always get to choose how and what we think!  If you come to accept this idea, and embrace it fully, you will find that your level of confidence will be totally in your control.  Imagine the types of performances you’ll be able to consistently produce when your confidence starts out strong and remains at that level.  And that level of confidence will remain high, even if your performance doesn’t meet up with your desired outcomes.  While it might be true that “You can’t win them all,” this new way of always taking the responsibility for  choosing how and what you think will help you to increase your winning percentages and your proportion of exceptional performances in your chosen field.

I want you to conceptualize this idea of always choosing how and what you think as being no different than going to a restaurant with an extensive menu, and selecting an entree from among the various choices.  What would you choose to eat when you can have almost any item you can imagine?  For me, I might select a medium rare filet mignon, with a side of béarnaise sauce.  Or perhaps a nice New York strip with a cabernet peppercorn sauce.  My mouth is watering as I write this, imagining the hearty flavor of these two favorite dishes. I love the taste, the texture, the juiciness of properly cooked, high quality beef!

So, what would you choose to eat, if you could select from a menu that contained virtually every type of food?  Something that pleases your tastes, I’m sure.  And although our selections may be hugely different, I think it’s safe to say that whatever you choose, you’d expect that you too were going to be served a delicious, thoroughly satisfying meal.

However, there would also be several items I’d likely find on the menu that I would be sure not to order.  For example, I know I wouldn’t order squid, or oysters.  I’ve never had a good experience with either of these foods, despite the fact that other people absolutely crave such dishes.  And there is no way I would order steamed spinach!  I had a bad experience with spinach when I was a kid, and I’ve never gotten over it!  I’m sure you could definitely identify some entrees you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot fork, for your own personal reasons.  When we get to make a choice about what we’re going to eat, we’re going to make a selection that is pleasing and appealing to us.

Choosing how and what to think while out on the golf course, or in any competition or achievement situation, is really is no different than being in a restaurant, and having a wide variety of menu items from which to choose.  Certain ways of thinking will lead to pleasant, enjoyable, and more than likely successful experiences.  Other ways of thinking will likely lead to discomfort, possible disgust, and no doubt, poor performances.

Let’s first discuss how this concept of choosing how and what you think can help you to develop confidence.  In my sport psychology seminars I often ask the audience which statement they think is most true: “Success causes confidence,” or “Confidence causes success.”  Most people recognize that both statements are generally true, and I agree.  For example, when an athlete wins their first tournament, regardless of at which level of competition the win occurred (i.e. junior, high school, collegiate, professional), there is typically a large increase in confidence.  How many times have you heard an athlete or commentator on T.V. talk about the boost in confidence that comes after a first win, ones’ initial victory?  So, yes, success breeds confidence.

However, many athletes who have never won at a major competitive level, still exhibit great confidence in their abilities.  They believe they have what it takes to perform at an exceptional level, even though they have not yet achieved such a level of competitive success!  In essence, these athletes developed confidence by simply choosing to fully believe in their own potential!  And for people who think this way, then go on to succeed, it is clearly a case of confidence causing success.

Mohammed Ali and Tiger Woods come to mind in this respect.  The man who is regarded by many to have been the world’s all time best boxer was famous for unashamedly stating, “I am the greatest!  I am the greatest!”  And although Ali indeed became the greatest boxer of all time, he began shouting his slogan, “I am the greatest!” long before he won any major matches!  He chose to believe in his abilities, well before he had fully proven his own potential.  His belief in his own abilities led him to become a world champion!

And What about Tiger Woods?  As a youth he decided he would break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.  That was his goal, his belief, his dedication, even though he had not yet played in a single professional event.  He made up his mind he would surpass Nicklaus’ record, he chose to maintain this confident belief, and he is on target for completing this once unconceivable accomplishment.  Whether or not he eventually breaks Nicklaus’ record, Tiger’s belief in his own ability has led him to become the most dominant player in the current field of professional golf.

These examples underline the importance of developing healthy, confident beliefs in ones’ abilities, even before those abilities have been fully proven.  Mohammed Ali did it, Tiger Woods did it, and so have many other exceptionally successful athletes.

So, what do you need to do to develop such a healthy, productive, and confident mindset?

Mental game coach Patrick Cohn, Ph.D., suggests one way of boosting initial confidence is to create a “confidence resume.”  First of all, you want to take a close look at the best parts of your game, your strengths that you possess right now.   Make a list of them, and write out your strengths in as much detail as you can, using the most positive and powerful descriptions that you can think of.  Include any specific accomplishments of which you are particularly proud.  Try to identify the best shots you’ve hit with each club.  Think about some of the ways you’ve dealt with obstacles like a tree or bush being in the way of the shot you needed to hit.  In your resume you also want include any instances in which you recovered from a poor start, or were able to overcome rude, or distracting behavior from fellow competitors, or observers during your match.  Statements about how hard you are willing to work and how dedicated you are to improving should also be included.

When I work with athletes on developing confidence, I give them a list of over 20 items to consider in their confidence resume.  I have them discuss each item, and then select the five responses that seem most powerful to them in terms of their own confidence.  These five items become the “core” of their confidence resume, which they then “flesh out” using their responses to the other items, along with anything else they can think of that will help to boost their personal level of confidence.  I have my clients review their resumes before every round of golf, and certainly before any competitions.

If you are a relative beginner to golf, (or any sport which has captured your interest, your desire, your heart), it might sound like your confidence resume would be way too small to be of any benefit.  Not so!  If you are a beginner, items that you would still want to include would be your best score to date (whether it’s 100 or 140), the longest putts you’ve sank, your best tee shots on long holes, your best approaches to the green, best sand shots, greatest number of pars in a round, etc.  No matter where you are in your sports career, you always have accomplishments, personal little victories.  And it is these initial accomplishments that will lead you to bigger and better things in the future, as long as you choose to frequently remind yourself of what you have accomplished!

Another important part of choosing how and what you think, however, is to make sure that you in no way minimize the importance of your accomplishments, no matter how small they might seem.  The first time you play a round of golf without a triple bogey, for example, really is an accomplishment.  It means you’ve achieved something you had never achieved before.  Don’t fall into the trap of minimizing your accomplishment by comparing your performance to that of “a really good golfer.”  All golfers, even the “really good” ones, were once struggling to achieve the same things you are working on now.  So celebrate each little accomplishment, congratulate yourself for making strides in the right direction.  Be proud of your achievements and recognize that each small step will lead you to become a consistently better and more skilled athlete.  A huge part of confidence is the belief you maintain in your current abilities, and in your potential for improvement.

So, make the decision today to begin the process of writing out reasons that you have to be confident.  List your various accomplishments in the most powerful and positive terms you can think of.  Include statements about how hard you work and how dedicated you are to improving.   Review this list regularly, and add to it as your skill level improves.  Make the commitment to always take full responsibility for what and how you think.  Make the choice to always believe in yourself and your ability to improve.  When you are out there, practicing, playing, and competing, think about the choices you’d make in a fine restaurant, to ensure you would have a wonderful, enjoyable, and fully satisfying meal.   By consistently making good choices from your “thought menu,” you’re likely to find a high level of success waiting right there for you.

You’ll find that with the proper choices, you really can have your cake, and eat it too!

 

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP,   Las Vegas Sport Psychology  (702) 395-2170 www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com    drkev4golf@aol.com

Article #2 - Confidence In Sports (Part Two): Maintaining High Confidence

Confidence in Sports (part 2):  Maintaining High Confidence

In the first article on Confidence in Sports (part 1:  How to develop confidence) I discussed the idea that how, and what a person thinks, has a major impact on how well they perform.  More importantly, though, I explained the significance of recognizing that you always get to choose how and what you think.  I further suggested that making choices about how and what you think, during competition or in performance situations, was essentially no different than making choices from an extensive menu in a high quality restaurant.  In a restaurant, you’ll select an item that promises to provide you with a delicious and satisfying experience.  And once you recognize that during competition, you also have a wide variety of options to choose from in terms of how and what you think, you’ll begin to make better selections, resulting in a much more satisfying performance in your sport.

The first article discussed how to develop a healthy level of confidence regardless of your level of experience or skill.  The current article will highlight proper “thinking choices” can help you to maintain that healthy level of confidence, even during difficult situations in your sport.

One of the major mistakes golfers and other athletes make is allowing the outcome of recent events to determine their level of confidence.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with feeling confident if you’ve recently been scoring well, or if the last several holes or shots have been executed particularly well.  Indeed, give yourself a lot of reinforcement and praise, and continue to ride that strong sense of confidence.  There is nothing detrimental about making this particular “menu (thinking) choice” from all of the different types of thoughts you could possibly select.

On the other hand, some golfers, when performing very well, tend to make very poor “menu (thinking) choices.”  For example, they might ask themselves, “How long can I keep playing like this before the wheels start coming off?”  Or they might be thinking, “I hope I don’t mess this up at this point.”  Both such “menu (thinking) choices” are unhelpful, unpleasant, and are sure to lead to poor play.  Choosing to think like this quickly erodes any confidence you might have had before, and it sets you up for failure.  The reality of thoughts such as these is that they just don’t feel very good, and they’re likely to lead to a very unpleasant experience.

When playing better than usual, it really is your choice in terms of what and how you think.  To give yourself the best chance of continuing to play well, reinforce yourself, compliment yourself on your excellent play.  Remind yourself that your hard work is paying off.  Choose to think in a confident manner!  You’ve paid your dues, and right now, you are reaping your reward.  Trust in your ability to continue playing at this level.  Be committed to the idea of making a “menu (thinking) choice” that not only feels good, but will foster continued good play!  What a “tasty” way to choose to think!

But suppose you haven’t been scoring well or playing well recently.  Under these circumstances, it’s easy to make poor “thinking (menu) choices.”  “Man, I suck at this game.  I just don’t have it today.  These bogeys always come in bunches!”  And again, it can seem as though this is the only rational way to think, given how you’ve been playing.  But to think like this is a huge mistake!  It may not be readily apparent, but thinking along these lines is like selecting a dish from the restaurant, when even the mere thought of that dish makes you want to gag!  There is no way you would make such a choice if you knew there were better, much more pleasant options available to you. 

As I stated earlier in the article, a common mistake is to not recognize that all of us, virtually all of the time, have the option of choosing how and what we think.   Allowing your level of confidence to be determined by a string of bad shots, bad holes, or a series of disappointing rounds is a huge mental error.  And although you might find that you habitually get down on yourself in situations like these, it doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to think in a more helpful, pleasant, and confident manner.

If you’ve had a series of recent disappointing performances, and find these results hard to “stomach,” make it your personal responsibility to think in a manner that will be more beneficial, more pleasant, and ultimately more satisfying.  Thoughts such as, “I know I’m a skilled golfer.  I’m not going to let the recent past affect what I do now or let it affect subsequent shots.  I know I’m capable of birdying any given hole.  As long as I choose to be confident, I’m going to give myself the best chance I can to perform well.” 

These types of thoughts are much more healthy and beneficial to you and your performance.  They stop you from dwelling on the disappointment of the past, and they allow you to approach the task at hand with a fresh, optimistic perspective.  Your confidence remains high, and because of this, your performance will likely be improved.

The next time you’re in competition, or in a setting where you are striving to perform your best, keep in mind the idea that choosing what and how you think is no different than making a choice from a varied and extensive restaurant menu.  You always want to make a choice that is personally appealing, definitely tasty, and very satisfying.

I hope you’ll embrace these concepts, really “eat them up,” and take them out for a really great time!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP;  Las Vegas Sport Psychology  (702) 395-2170  

www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com    drkev4golf@aol.com         

Article #1 - A New Way of Keeping Score

  A New Way of Keeping Score: Process Focus versus Outcome Focus

 

As I explained in an earlier article (Process Focus versus Outcome Focus: A Crucial Distinction in Sports) one of the most powerful ways of improving your performance involves letting go of any concerns about the outcome of any shot, and instead maintaining your focus solely on the process involved in preparing for, and executing, each shot. 

Letting go of concerns about the outcome of any shot is difficult for a variety of reasons.  After all, how well each shot is executed has an undeniable bearing on our final score.  The more shots you have that produce a good outcome, the lower your total score will be.  And of course, lower total scores are what every golfer strives to accomplish. 

Here, in this article, I want to explain to you how you can utilize this powerful mental strategy each time you are out on the course.  We’ll start by allowing ourselves to forget about shot outcomes and scores for a while.  We’ll choose instead to focus exclusively on the process of preparing for, and executing, each individual shot.  We’ll still maintain a scorecard, but what we’ll mark down on the card is simply whether or not the process involved in each shot was “pure.” 

A process that is “pure” involves a number of elements, each of which should be a regular part of your preshot routine.  And although the process of preparing for and executing each shot will vary from player to player, there are many common elements found in almost every good golfer’s routine.  The process, therefore, involves tasks such as assessing the variables in the shot at hand, including distance, lie, wind, elevation, and so on.  The process involves always selecting a small, precise target at which to aim.    Developing an image of the exact shot you want to hit is part of the process.  Making a final club selection and staying committed to that selection is a component of the process.  Taking a rehearsal swing and feeling the exact swing you want to execute is part of the process.  Believing 100% that you will properly execute the shot you’ve chosen is part of the process.  Being fully comfortable with your stance, alignment and ball position are aspects of the process.  Narrowing your attention down on the target and then onto the ball is part of the process.  Having one final swing thought or swing cue, such as “tempo,” “perfect,” or “smooth,” is part of the process.  And finally, the last part of the process is simply allowing yourself to swing, while at the same time having no concern at all about where the ball is going to end up!

 

If you have gone through each of the above steps with full commitment and meaning, including the final step of simply allowing yourself to swing without having any concern about where the ball is going, then you can consider your process to have been pure.  However, if any part of the process was done halfheartedly or without full commitment, then the process was incomplete and cannot be considered to have been pure.

 

Incomplete processes can occur in many ways.  For example, often a player will go through their preshot routine, yet right before they’re ready to hit the ball, they’ll sense that their stance isn’t quite comfortable.  Maybe they are standing on an old tee imbedded under their foot, or perhaps the edge of one of their feet is touching an unfilled divot.  The degree of discomfort or sense of imbalance may be minimal, yet it is still there.   A part of the golfer’s brain is telling them they are not fully ready to hit, yet all too often the golfer will go ahead and swing anyway.  The result is almost always a poor shot.

 

Another type of  incomplete process occurs when the golfer has not let go of concerns about the outcome of the shot.  A common example of this is when there is trouble of some sort that might come into play on the shot.  Perhaps there is OB, or water or a large bunker that you want to avoid.  You go through your preshot routine, and even make sure to select a small precise target at which to aim.  You tell yourself you’re committed to swinging at the target, yet as you get ready to pull the trigger, you can’t help but think about how you don’t want to put the ball into the trouble.  Whether you realize it or not, you are no longer committed to the shot you had planned, with the result being a tentative swing that either puts you in the trouble, or avoids the trouble by such a wide margin that you end up nowhere near your identified target.  The incomplete process once again leads to a very poor outcome.

 

At this point you should have a clear idea of what I mean when I’m referring to a pure or complete process, and you should also be able to identify those types of things that indicate the process is incomplete.  The pure process involves proper focus, unwavering commitment, and a total lack of worry or concern about what might happen.  The incomplete or impure process almost always involves some degree of misdirected attention, a lack of total commitment, or allowing even the slightest of thoughts about what you don’t want to have happen.

 

So, how do you use these concepts as a new way to keep score?

 

First of all, you’re going to need an entire scorecard for yourself.  On your scorecard, draw a diagonal line across each of the boxes where you would typically enter the score for yourself and your playing partners.  Depending on the layout of the scorecard the course provides, you should end up with eight to twelve “half boxes” that you can use to record data for each hole.

 

The data you are going to record is simply one of three letters; a “Y”, an “N”, or an “X”.  You won’t be putting down any numbers at all, which means that you will not be keeping score in the traditional sense.  And of course this makes a great deal of sense, given that the purpose of this new way of keeping score is to help you focus on the process, not on the outcome.

 

Here’s what you do.  On your first shot of the round, you go through your entire process as described in the early portion of this article.  You assess the conditions, select a target, commit to the shot, and so on.  And of course, as you are ready to execute the shot, you have absolutely no concern or worry about the outcome of the shot and you simply allow yourself to swing.  Now, regardless of how the shot came out, you review and critique your process.  Did you really go through each part of the process? Was there meaning and commitment in the process?  Was the process complete and pure?  Did you allow yourself to swing without concern or worry?  If the answers are all “yes”, then regardless of how the shot turned out, in the first half box on your scorecard write down a “Y” to indicate the process was indeed pure.  If, on the other hand, the process was not really pure (again, regardless of how the shot turned out) then you write down an “N” on the scorecard.  A “Y” indicates that “yes” the process was pure, while an “N” indicates that “no” the process was not pure.

 

You continue to review and critique your process for each and every stroke, and you enter either a “Y” or an “N” for each stroke you took.  Suppose you make it on the green in two shots and you’ve recorded two “Y’s” on your card.  Your ball is only eight feet away from the cup and you think the putt will break about six inches from right to left.  When you examine the putt from a different angle, however, you think there will only be about three inches of break.  You’re not really sure what the putt will do, and you decide to go with your first read.  When you actually strike the putt, you’re still not sure of the line, but you hope your initial read was correct.  The ball rolls down toward the cup and drops right in the center.  Was the process pure?  Not really, because you weren’t fully committed to the line of your putt!  You thought it would break six inches, but you weren’t fully convinced you had selected the correct line.  So, even though the putt dropped into the heart of the cup, the process wasn’t actually pure.  On the scorecard, then you would place an “N.”  So, on the first hole, you’ve recorded three letters, two “Y’s” and one “N.”  And the lone “N” came from a putt you actually sank!

 

Conversely, you can have shots where the outcome is not at all what you envisioned, yet the process was still pure.  Perhaps you’re getting ready to hit an approach shot from 160 yards out.  You assess the conditions, select a small precise target, envision the shot, have total confidence in your club selection, and so forth.  You then allow yourself to swing without any concern about where the ball is going to end up.  The ball sails toward the green, but ends up landing about ten yards short!  What do you record for this shot?  Is it a “Y” or an “N?”  Obviously there was a problem somewhere.  Perhaps you misjudged the wind, or maybe your contact wasn’t as good as you wanted.  Nonetheless, and regardless of the outcome of the shot, if your review and critique of your process indicates the process was indeed pure, then you record a “Y.”  On the other hand, if before you actually swung you thought you might have had too much club so you eased up on the swing at the last second, this doubt and lack of full commitment indicate the process was indeed flawed.  Under these circumstances you would record an “N” on the card.

 

So when do you place an “X” on the card?  The “X” is used for any penalty strokes that must be assessed.  In the above example, let’s say that not only did your ball come up ten yards short, but it dropped into a water hazard fronting the green.  Again, you review and critique the process you went through for the shot.  You record either a “Y” or an “N.”  Then, in the next space on your card you record an “X” for the penalty you just incurred.  You take an appropriate drop and start a whole new process for the shot at hand.  And after executing the shot, regardless of the outcome, you review and critique the process to decide whether to record an “N” or a “Y.” 

 

You want to go through your entire round without ever writing down any numbers at all.  The idea here is to be totally focused on the process, and have no concerns about outcomes or scores. 

 

Once the round is over and you are no longer on the course, add up and record the total number of “Y’s” on your card.  Then add together and record the total number of “other” letters (all of the “N’s” and “X’s). 

 

To find out what your actual numeric score would have been, simply add up the total number of “Y’s” and “others” (the “N’s” and “X’s”).  Because you recorded a letter after taking each shot, and recorded a letter for each penalty stroke, the total number of letters recorded is an accurate reflection of your score.

 

More important than your numeric score, however, is the percentage of “Y’s” on your card.  This is what we are really interested in.  Since our focus is on the process, and not on the score (the outcome), we want to strive to improve the frequency of fully and purely focusing on the process.  One of the golfers with whom I had been working used this way of keeping score while we were out on the course for a nine hole playing consult.  He found that more than at any time before, he realized the importance of staying focused on the process.  At the end of the nine holes, he had recorded a total of 25 “Y’s” and ten “others” (consisting of nine “N’s” and one “X”).  When he calculated his percentage of “Y’s” on his card (25 “Y’s” out of 35 total letters) he discovered he was only fully focused on the process a mere 71% of the time!  This told him there was a lot of room for improvement.

 

What he didn’t immediately recognize, however, was that his 25 “Y’s” and ten “others” meant his numeric score was an honest-to-goodness 35, or one under for nine holes!  He had never before shot under par for nine holes, and his score even included a penalty stroke for landing in a water hazard!  Because he was striving to maintain his focus on the process, and letting go of concerns about the outcome, he had shot the best nine hole score of his life!

 

If you consistently utilize this new method of keeping score, several important things will begin to happen.  First of all, you will become much more focused on the process, and much less focused on the outcome.  You will have an accurate measure of how well you are maintaining your focus on the process, and you will find it easier to improve your process focus.  The more times you use this method of keeping score, the more likely it is you’ll improve the percentage of shots you execute with proper process focus. 

 

And most importantly, just like my client discovered, when you work hard to maintain a process focus, you scores will begin to immediately improve!   

 

 

 

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149
702-395-2170
www.LasVegasSportPsychology.com

 

 (August, 2010)