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How great golfers build confidence

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You recently saw one of the biggest tests of self belief you will ever see. Jordan Spieth, just 21 years old, stood alone on the Augusta National practice tee before the final round of the Masters with the opportunity to win golf’s biggest prize and potentially change history.

Spieth was about to make the final walk to the first tee, through crowds of screaming people, and with his own voice reminding him that he was about to play the most important round of golf he’s ever played.

How can a 21 year old pull off something that would make most gag, choke and stumble, and what can you learn from Jordan’s experience to make yourself a better golfer?

One of the key areas I work on with any athlete client (golfers included) is confidence: understanding it and building it. Confidence is a golfer’s bullet-proof vest. It was for Jordan Spieth on Sunday at the Masters and it can be for you.

What is Confidence?

Well, it’s a feeling. It’s about trust and belief in your abilities and decisions, and expressing those beliefs and decisions in challenging circumstances.

You know the feeling of confidence. You’re playing great and everything is going right for you. There is an easy belief in what you are doing. You also know the other feeling. You just don’t have it and nothing is going right. There’s little faith in what you are doing.

“I’ve Lost My Confidence”

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When my phone rings, leading athletes or agents are sometimes on the other end. They or their player has “lost their confidence.” If it’s a golfer, the putter has gone cold and the ball’s not going in, or they can’t take their game from the practice tee to the course. They tell me there is little belief in what they are doing when it counts.

I always ask these players where they think their confidence has gone. Most are in the top professional leagues in the world and have risen to the upper echelon of their profession. It’s funny that these players don’t really know where the belief has gone. Something small has triggered some little doubts and the downward spiral begins from there.

This is where golfers get confused. Confidence requires some understanding, and some work. Sports, like life, are about patterns and cycles. Sometimes you “have it” and other times you don’t. No exceptions. So you must work on important areas like confidence and understand how to build it and how to find it. The mental/emotional game is like your physical practice. Do the work and it will pay off.

Is Your Confidence Proactive or Reactive?

So here’s a perspective of confidence I work on with leading players, helping them understand that maintaining confidence is within their control; and confidence is more of a choice than they know. They must take responsibility for their own confidence.

And this perspective can help you.

Great athletes are proactive with their confidence. When Jordan Spieth was walking to the first tee at Augusta before the final round, you can be sure he was reminding himself that he was playing great in 2015. He had built the foundation since he was 12 years old to handle a lead at The Masters on Sunday.

Proactive confidence is a decision that you will be sustainably confident from all of the great, positive experiences you have had in the game (and there will be many). All the work you have done on your game and the coaching and support from others is the foundation of your belief in yourself as a golfer. Your confidence will not be shaken by small, unavoidable cycles of not your best play.

On the other hand…

Some players insist on sabotaging their own belief in themselves. Reactive confidence is a decision that one small collection of challenging circumstances or difficulties will overcome your successes and support and crack your golf “foundation.” In this scenario, you declare that your confidence is shaken by small failures.

I don’t know how many times I have heard a great athlete declare after a stretch of poor play that their confidence is gone. Really? Where does it go? Golfers also allow others to have an impact on their confidence in a negative way — coaches, parents, other players. Reactive confidence is essentially a choice to lower your confidence and allow challenges and other distractions to penetrate your foundation.

Does this sound familiar to you?

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Spieth failed to close the 2014 Masters, shooting a final-round 72 and lost to Bubba Watson by three strokes. 2015 was a different story.

I see this everyday, even among the best athletes in the world. For some reason, they aren’t playing well and the foundation of confidence they have built over years suddenly disappears. A few mistakes become the basis for their confidence. After some reminders that their confidence is about everything they have achieved and all the work they’ve done, there is an “ah ha” moment and confidence mysteriously returns! The decision is made by the player to recover it. They take responsibility for their confidence.

This is important for you to know. If you can feel confidence slipping away, you have the choice to reel it in and not allow emotions to run the show.

Building Your Confidence

It’s important to continually build the foundation so small, short-term failures will not penetrate your long-term foundation. So what can you do to work on your confidence and build it?

Here are a few key ideas that you can use to build the foundation and create belief in your game:

  • Preparation. “Build it and it will come.” It is a secure feeling on the first tee. You know you’ve put the work and effort in each part of your game to deal with the shots you’ll need on the course. Make your practice functional, and related to the shots you’ll need on the course or in competition. Have a plan. Keep it simple.
  • Be proactive and allow all the great experiences you’ve had in the game to be the foundation of your confidence. Decide that temporary low points in your game will pass quickly and will not have any impact on your “foundation.”
  • Understand your strengths, limitations and triggers very well. It’s easier to win believing in something you understand versus something you don’t. Jordan Spieth believed in Jordan Spieth’s ability to play Augusta. The results followed.
  • Get great coaching matched up to your values and needs. The greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence. A great coach’s belief in you can matter.
  • Create a clear and defined goal plan. If you know where you are going and have the step in place to get there, there will be a sense of security that you are on the right track.
  • Create a positive, supportive internal voice. Your own voice should be the most supportive and create a positive internal environment. A negative voice can erode confidence in your abilities and create doubt in your capabilities.
  • Focus on your good shots, not the bad ones. Ben Hogan, the greatest ball-striker of all-time, felt he only hit about five or six shots in a round that were great. Ben had many misses and so will you. Focus on your good shots and accept there will be many misses.
  • Focus on your development as a player and the process to reach the next level. Focusing on a very solid process will inevitably lead to great results.

Working on your confidence is an investment in you as a golfer, but this skillset is transferable to everything you do in life: business, career, relationships and any other “performance” activity you engage in.

Consider it an investment in your future.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. James Fairbank

    Apr 25, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    Sigh. Another “psychology” article, written by a non-licensed psychologist. This is effectively equivalent to someone who has an interest in medicine giving medical advice online. Behavioural and cognitive change is incredibly difficult, and no article written online will be enough to eliminate long-standing patterns – especially without individualized and formalized assessment to understand the root of the issue. I guess this is why people such as Marcus above think psychology is a “bogus” science (which couldn’t be further from the truth).

    • John Haime

      Apr 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      Hi James,

      Sports Psychology and clinical psychology are very far away from each other. Often, the very best “sports psychologists” are coaches who communicate well, understand the psyche and motivations of an athlete. As an example, John Wooden was a farmer from Indiana with an English degree from Purdue – but his mental/emotional/spiritual platform for athletes was exceptional and he got incredible results – producing great athletes and great people.

      This is a long discussion so I won’t continue at length but I will tell you I hire students from sports psychology programs often and most do not generate results and help the athlete reach their goals. The real world of getting results with athletes and the academic world of fluffy theories are very, very different. Most athletes want someone who has been there done that at the highest levels in sports and can relate to their challenges, feelings and pressures. To turn your argument around – how can anyone who doesn’t have significant experience in sports competition, know the feelings or felt the pressure practically understand someone who has?

      FYI – People today want short, sharp well written content that will give them ideas and help them. It may also be the catalyst to explore further and gain real, long-term results. This is the value of WRX. Great content that can be consumed in a short period, entertain and give people ideas they can further explore or work on. Great communication and connection with athletes can generate results in a short time – I do it everyday and see athletes make major jumps to bigger heights in professional sports, college scholarships and great performances. My objective is always sustainability and creating an independent athlete/person.

      Sports Psychology is much more about coaching, development and motivation and not about clinical psychology – clinical psychologists assess and treat people with psychological problems. They may act as therapists for people experiencing normal psychological crises (e.g., grief) or for individuals suffering from chronic psychiatric disorders. I periodically deal with athletes who have deep rooted emotional problems and professional therapy may be necessary – but that is rare.

      I hope this explanation helps. The only thing that matters is results. Education gets the foot in the door – but the professional and elite athletes I work with aren’t interested in letters after a name – they want to develop, grow and get results.

      I hope this adds value to the conversation.

      The best to you and here’s to great golf!!

      John

  2. marcus

    Apr 17, 2015 at 9:51 am

    This is a great article. And I think psychology is largely a bogus science. But John Halme makes valid points here for sure.

  3. Andy

    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    A huge part of great coaching is creating an environment allowing the player to reach thier potential. This can be done by the parents or high school coaching or other. I too had aspirations of professional baseball, but bad coaching actually derailed that dream. And funny thing, this happened at the same high school Spieth went to only 40 years ago.

  4. Philip

    Apr 16, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    The only aspect I disagree somewhat with is “Get great coaching” as you described it. If the “greatest thing a coach can do for a player is believe in them and believe in their abilities, bolstering their own confidence” then I say the player has not reached a true level of self-confidence and is still relying on an artificial crutch. Of course, maybe the whole point is we all need a fail back whenever we falter and cannot seem to rise again. I suspect for many PGA professionals that great coach is their spouse and children to a large degree.

    • John Haime

      Apr 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Hey Philip,

      Great point – but would like to add something here to help.

      I agree with you that at some point athletes must be responsible for their own confidence – but his comes later. When athletes are young and developing their “foundation” of confidence, it is critical for coaches to believe in them and help them develop this confidence. Trust me, working with athletes everyday, there are issues with athletes related to coaches who do not build this confidence and in fact damage the psyche of the athlete. So, at young ages, the best thing a coach can do is care about the athlete and believe in them. This gives a young athlete permission to believe in themselves.

      Later on, when the foundation has be primarily built, athletes must be responsible for their own confidence. Negative impact of coaches etc. should not “penetrate” this foundation.

      Make sense?

      Thanks for your comment!!

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Walters: Avoid these 3 big chipping mistakes!

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Chipping causes nightmares for so many amateur golfers. This s mainly due to three core mistakes. In this video, I talk about what those mistakes are, and, more importantly, how to avoid them.

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The Wedge Guy: The importance of a pre-shot routine

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I believe one of the big differences between better recreational golfers and those not so good—and also between the tour professionals and those that can’t quite “get there”—is the consistency of their pre-shot routines. It is really easy to dismiss something that happens before the ball is even struck as irrelevant, but I strongly urge you to reconsider if you think this way.

To have a set routine to follow religiously before every shot gives you the best chance to execute the shot the way you intend. To do otherwise just leaves too much to chance. Indulge me here and I’ll offer you some proof.

It’s been a while back now, but I still remember an interesting account on this subject that used the final round of the 1996 Masters—when Nick Faldo passed a collapsing Norman—as his statistical proof. This particular analyst reviewed the entire telecast of that final round and timed the routine of both players for every shot. What he discovered was that Norman got quicker and less consistent in his pre-shot routine throughout his round, while Faldo maintained his same, methodical approach to every shot, not varying by more than a second or so. I think that is pretty insightful stuff.

A lot of time has passed since then, but all competitive tour professionals pay very close attention to their pre-shot routines these days. I urge you to watch them as they go through the motions before each shot. And notice that most of them “start over” if they get distracted during that process.

While I do not think it is practical for recreational golfers to go into such laborious detail for every shot, let me offer some suggestions as to how a repeatable pre-shot routine should work.

The first thing is to get a good feel for the shot, and by that, I mean a very clear picture in your mind of how it will fly, land and roll; I also think it’s realistic to have a different routine for full shots, chips and pitches and putts. They are all very different challenges, of course, and as you get closer to the hole, your focus needs to be more on the feel of the shot than the mechanics of the swing, in my opinion.

To begin, I think the best starting point is from behind the ball, setting up in your “mind’s eye” the film-clip of the shot you are about to hit. See the flight and path it will take. As you do this, you might waggle the club back and forth to get a feel of the club in your hands and “feel” the swing that will produce that shot path for you. Your exact routine can start when you see that shot clearly, and begin your approach the ball to execute the shot. From that “trigger point”, you should do the exact same things, at the exact same pace, each and every time.

For me (if I’m “on”), I’ll step from that behind-the-shot position, and set the club behind the ball to get my alignment. Then I step into my stance and ball position, not looking at the target, but being precise not to change the alignment of the clubhead–I’m setting my body up to that established reference. Once set, I take a look at the target to ensure that I feel aligned properly, and take my grip on the club. Then I do a mental check of grip pressure, hover the club off the ground a bit to ensure it stays light, and then start my backswing, with my only swing thought being to feel the end of the backswing.

That’s when I’m “on,” of course. But as a recreational player, I know that the vast majority of my worst shots and rounds happen when I depart from that routine.

This is something that you can and should work on at the range. Don’t just practice your swing, but how you approach each shot. Heck, you can even do that at home in your backyard. So, guys and ladies, there’s my $0.02 on the pre-shot routine. What do you have to add?

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

 

Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back

 

Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension

 

Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

 

The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.

 

In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.

 

If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

Nick Randall – golffitpro.net

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