Mental Skills for Competition
With tournament season upon us in the Northeast, we have shifted into the competitive phase of our periodization process here at The Golf Performance Center. For our athletes, now is the time when they take all of their off-season learning and apply it to competition. Their hard work in the gym, the countless hours honing their swings, the fine tuning their equipment, and the strengthening of their mental skills are now focused on actualizing the goals they have set for themselves.
From the perspective of Mental Game, there are numerous mental skills golfers can use during competition, however, here is a list of the ones we believe are most useful when the pressure is on:
Your internal dialogue, or how you talk to yourself, is important anytime, but during competition it can be especially helpful. Be positive, optimistic, accepting, and resolute. If you are someone who finds this challenging and prefers a more self-loathing dialogue, do your best to keep things productive, not destructive. For a more in depth look at self-talk, check out this article.
As the saying goes, “the mind follows the breath”. How you breathe can have a significant impact on how you think, especially when you are feeling the negative effects of stress and pressure. By learning to control your breathing, you can put your mind and body into a more optimal state to perform. For a more in depth look at breathwork, check out this article.
For the most part, the way our attention works is like a flashlight – whatever we shine the beam on is what we see, or grabs our attention. It’s not uncommon during competition for that beam to unknowingly move from our intended target, the shot we want to hit, to unintended targets like technique, score, anger, or out of bounds stakes. Not knowing where your attention is actually focused is one of the most common blindspots for golfers. We think we are focused on one thing but our attention is captured elsewhere. Unfortunately, we aim at what we see. The better you get at knowing whether you’re locked in to your actual target and when you’re not, the better your chances are to hit the ball where you want it to go. For a more in depth look at target focus, check out this article.
Although routines, in general, are helpful to performing well under pressure, I am talking more specifically about pre-shot routines. A well designed pre-shot routine can be a golfer’s best defense against the stress and pressure of competition. Your pre-shot routine should be repeatable, consistent and induce a state of target focus on the shot you want to hit. If it doesn’t, get to work. For a more in depth look at pre-shot routines, check out this article.
Visualization is the ability of an athlete to physically and psychologically experience and rehearse the various aspects of their performance before executing the behavior. In my experience, learning to visualize your shots before you hit them is a cheat code to better performance. There are very few sports that allow you the opportunity to mentally and physically rehearse an intended action before you perform it and golf is one of them. If you don’t already, make sure you are taking the time before you hit a shot to visualize what you want to do. Try and use all of your senses in this process so that when you step into the ball you can “see” and “feel” the shot you are going to hit. For a more in depth look at visualization, check out this article.
Mental Game Plan
For most competitive golfers, creating a plan for a tournament round is integral to their preparation. They play practice rounds, create detailed yardage books, and practice hitting specific shots they will need during the tournament. However, very few players take the time to include the mental game in their planning. Undoubtedly, you will face pressure, stress, and adversity during a tournament. How will you deal with it? By planning ahead of time, those moments won’t impact you nearly as much as they would if you hadn’t. By doing so, you will improve your resilience and increase your chances of playing your best golf under pressure.
By incorporating these mental skills into tournament planning, I have no doubt you will enhance your performance and be more successful during competitions.