WHAT’S the secret to improving your mental game?
This question is crucial to appreciating and developing the fundamentals of the game being played inside your head. Along with technical and tactical skills, the mind is an important aspect of succeess in any sport, at whatever level. Statistics show the mind impacts performance by 75 per cent.
The very nature of competition dictates the tone of the sporting environment. The mindset needed is one that will withstand these challenges, maximise strength, be focused and decisive, generate confidence and consistency so the golf player can enjoy their game.
Firstly, you should acknowledge that your mental game can be learnt and improved. Improvement in this case means enhancing the psychological approach to your game with same attitude as you approach your physical skills.
Your mental game should be approached with an attitude of continuous improvement; you should practise your mental game as much as you practise your swing. Golfers spend hours training the body to memorise a swing, but research has shown that the brain can also be trained to behave in a specific way.
So how do you practise your mental skills?
The fundamentals of the mental game are motivation, focus, confidence, emotional control, preparation and evaluation. Mastering the fundamentals can enhance your game to a level where you can turn up mentally focused, emotionally stable, confident and physically relaxed to play your shots.
Successful golfers have a high degree of self-awareness. Having a clear perception of your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs motivation and emotions allows you to appreciate and have confidence in your strength.
Successful golfers have identified what they are good at and have spent time developing their strengths. Self-awareness allows you identify your “weaknesses”, too. This can be challenging when you find the dark areas that are holding you back.
If emotions control your game, or you become highly anxious during a crucial putt/drive or that final hole, you need to learn to develop positive self-talk. How golfers think and what they say about themselves has a direct impact on their performance – as the saying goes, “where the mind goes the body will follow.” The body and mind are intrinsically connected and one does not react without the other. Mastering self-talk allows you to regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviour during your round. You are in control, instead of the emotions controlling you and your game. You are then physically relaxed to allow your body to move and swing as intended.
To improve your mental skills you have to practise again and again with the new technique until you become the master. There is no quick way out, or secret to mastering mental skills. Implementation will take practice and removing old habits may be challenging, but with repetition, consistency and time you can create a new habit. You will learn to ignore the negativity that creeps into your mind. Self-doubt, negative thoughts and feelings will eventually fade away as you gain more confidence in positive self-talk. So when a negative thought enters your mind, you counteract by remembering an achieved outcome or some success you have had before.
By remembering these achievements in comparison to the negative thought you are experiencing now, you will find that your achievements/successes will outmuscle the negative thought. So much so that negative thoughts will lose their impact on you and your game, allowing you to focus at the task at hand.
When the voice in your head becomes your biggest supporter and motivator, you will have mastered the fundamentals of improving your mental game.
Mabble Munyimani is the founder and CEO of The Athlete’s Mind Coach and a certified practitioner in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), with more than 10 years experience in mental health.