Of the many therapeutic tools at the disposal of psychologists, biofeedback is one of the more intriguing, especially when applied to the field of sport performance. For those who are unfamiliar, biofeedback is a therapeutic technique that measures a person’s physiological response to psychological phenomenon. The information gathered is then “fed back” to the client in an effort to teach them to better recognize, and ultimately learn to control, the specific biomarkers being measured (i.e. heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, muscle tension, heart rate variability, etc.).
Biofeedback has been used for many years in the field of psychology and has proven to be an effective treatment for many disorders including migraine headache, chronic pain, hypertension, anxiety, chronic stress, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, and many more.
Not surprisingly, given the mind-body relationship inherent in athletic performance, biofeedback has also been of great benefit to the field of sports medicine. For athletes, biofeedback can be an especially effective tool in helping reduce the stress and anxiety so often associated with performance situations. One way we practice this at the Golf Performance Center is to hook our athletes up to heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) monitors during practice sessions. By doing so, we can provide our players with immediate feedback as to how their minds and bodies react to different situations. For example, in one exercise, we monitor players hitting balls on their own and then in front of a group of their peers.
I’m sure you could have guessed that both the HR and HRV numbers confirm the presence of stress and anxiety in front of the perceived judging eyes of the group, but that’s not the interesting part. Yes, a player will show increased biomarkers of stress and anxiety when performing in front of others, but when you ask them what their experience is, they report feeling much less stress and anxiety than the numbers tell us.
Why is this significant you say? Most people aren’t very accurate in their assessment of their internal states, this is called interoception, and grossly underestimate the effects of stress and anxiety on their minds and bodies. On the one hand, this is a problem because without an accurate assessment of the stress and anxiety, you are working with misinformation and most likely will fall victim to their crippling effects. On the other hand, if you have an accurate read of how stressed and anxious you’re feeling, you can make the necessary adjustments and minimize their impact on performance and biofeedback allows us to do this.
By training our players to grow their awareness of how their minds and bodies react to the many stressors that come along with being an elite golfer, they are better prepared to handle anything that comes their way. I would encourage anyone interested in taking their mental game to the next level to consider doing the same. Whether it’s as basic as a wrist wearable heart rate monitor or a more comprehensive measurement device like a Whoop band, deepening your understanding of how your mind and body react to the pressures associated with athletic performance is a necessary skill in the pursuit of expert performance.