In all of my mental game seminars the first question I ask, “Is the mental game important for golf?” Everyone raises their hands in agreement, yes it is important. Then I ask, “how do you improve your mental game?” and they all look at me with a blank stare. Here is the disconnect with golfers. They understand the mental game is important; however they do not train it. I then ask what the mental game is and again I get a blank stare. The problem that arises with the mental game is that golfers don’t have a concrete idea of what it is and how to train it.
Mental Game Goals
My goal for all of my students is for them to be Mentally Focused- Emotionally Confident- and Physically Relaxed during a golf shot. Think about the opposite: distracted, doubt, and tension. We know that will produce poor shots. The mental game has certain fundamentals like teaching a golf swing that need to me mastered. These fundamentals include: motivation, goal setting, focus, confidence, emotional control, mental toughness, preparation, and evaluation. There are many subsets to each that use the tools and techniques such as visualization, anchoring, reframed self-talk, physiology shifts, belief change, body scans, etc. Working with a mental game coach provides guidance to what skills need to be improved and what technique can be trained to raise the skill set.
There is a definite cause and effect relationship between the mind and the body. Your mind gives directions to the body. If I fear hitting a shot into the water, my body will respond with tension. A tense body will affect tempo and feel of a golf swing. The first goal for a golfer who wants to improve is to honestly assess how the mental game is affecting performance. Think back to the last round of golf. Were there times you lost focus on to something that was irrelevant to the shot, yet hit the shot anyway? Was there a time you hit a shot believing you couldn’t pull the shot off? Or maybe a time you became so frustrated after a poor shot that is caused hit another poor shot immediately after? Start today to understand that golf is both a mental and physical game. You work so hard on the practice range to improve swing mechanics and now is a great time to practice the mental game.
How to improve your mental game
The mental game of golf can be trained the same way the physical side of the game. I also coach the swing mechanics and a lesson consists of identifying what a student is doing well, looking for patterns in the performance, seeing what shot needs to be improved, and identifying the main cause for the mechanical flaw. Once uncovered it is my role as the coach to explain the cause and effect of the shots and begin to replace current poor habits with new correct habits. I then give drills, exercises, and concepts for the student to ingrain through proper training. For most golfers this makes sense. We take a lesson to improve because we learn what specific habit is getting in the way and we know what new habit needs to be learned to make the improvement. Golfers then go to the practice range to create new “muscle memories”.For mental game coaching I use the same formula. I use my Take AIM system for training the mental game.
- Assess- Evaluate your game and look for your strengths in the mental game and some areas that are creating below average performance. The key areas to evaluate are: motivation, focus, confidence, emotional control, and practice/preparation. Look at how these mental game fundamentals are affecting your performance. Are there times you hit poor shots because of being distracted? And if so, where does your attention go? Do you commit to every shot on the course with complete trust? If not, are there certain types of shots you have more doubt over than others? The assessment stage is about asking questions and answering them honestly.
- Implement- This is the stage where as the coach I help implement the techniques to make changes. This may be learning a new pre-shot routine and using self-talk and visualization to stay focused on what is relevant to the shot. For this step it is important for the golfer to understand what is being changed and how to make the change from old habit to new habit. It is important to realize that committing to making the change is vital. So many golfers are seeking quick fixes and need to realize that changing some habits can take some time. With the implementation stage only work on 2 or 3 skills at a time as working on more can overwhelm you and then no changes are made.
- Master- Once you are clear on what you want to change and have been taught the techniques to improve the skill, it is time to master that skill. This is where you move from deliberate practice in a safe environment like a range or at home. Then when you have experienced the new skill you can take it to the course at a time when score doesn’t matter. This first stage of mastery is to repeat the new skill enough times that you don’t have to think about it. This is about making the conscious now unconscious. Once you have repeated the new habit enough time it is time to check it in a golfing environment that in the past has brought on the past poor habit. Rely on your repetitive training to trust the new skill. Mastery is about doing something at the highest level in all situations.
Today is a great day to start to train your mental game for better performance and more enjoyment. Take AIM by assessing current skills, implement new improved skills, and master these skills through deliberate practice. It is exciting to make improvements in your mental game like you do in your physical game. In fact, when the you improve your mental game, your physical game automatically improves.