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6 fundamental steps to building your mental game

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A big problem I see with golfers is that most players understand the importance of the mental game to performance, but don’t know how to develop it. There’s a lot of work required to build the necessary mental skills, just like there’s a lot of work that goes into building a proper golf swing.

Similar to the physical game, there’s a lot of information out there about the mental/emotional game that offers short-term tips, tricks and shortcuts. While those ploys are seductive, they aren’t a long-term solution.

Instead, we need to build a strong mental foundation from which we can build upon. Building the right foundation and then shaping that based on our strengths, limitations and triggers is the way to create sustainable performance and a stable mental/emotional platform.

foundation web

So how can you begin to work on your mental game each day so that you build it over time and it becomes a core strength? Below are keys to develop a long-lasting, stable mental approach to play your best golf.

The 6 fundamentals

Follow these steps to building a strong mental golf game:

  1. What’s your plan? Create a plan for exactly what you want and what you want to achieve in the game. What would you like to do and what might be the steps to accomplish it? So many players have no direction, no timelines and do not know what they want — so there is constant frustration and a feeling like they are on a treadmill, going nowhere. Have a plan and a long-term direction.
  2. Why do you play? It seems simple, but it is an important question to support your plan. The best, most authentic reasons for playing are because you love the game and enjoy the feeling you get from it. If these are your reasons, keep them fresh in your mind and be careful not to get caught up in all the negative little details that can distract you from these genuine purposes.
  3. Assess, assess, assess. Knowing where you are is important in taking the steps to improvement. We assess every athlete to understand where he or she might be mentally/emotionally and it provides a starting point in creating a development plan. Do you know exactly what you need mentally/emotionally so you can create your own plan? We use the Emotional Intelligence Sports Inventory (ESi) at newedgeperformance.org to help us get initial baseline readings from which we can build a game plan.
  4. Reflect. It’s very important to use the information you are creating in your game to always move forward. Take the lessons from each practice session and each round and evaluate what specific areas need work. The best players take at least one lesson from every practice session or round and apply it moving forward. Ask yourself what you learned from each of your sessions and rounds and how this information can be adapted moving forward.
  5. Create your own “emotional caddie.” Build your own positive support system — an environment within yourself that you can play in. The tendency for most players is to be negative and self-critical. Learn to build a conscience and voice that supports what you do and is your own best friend. Download my book, free to you, to learn more about building your emotional caddie. See johnhaime.com for download: Chapters 7 and 8.
  6. Always build confidence. Understand what confidence is, threats to your confidence, when you might have confidence and when you don’t, and create a plan to proactively build it. Fear is often the antithesis of confidence. What causes fear in your game and prevents you from having a positive, proactive, confident approach?

There are many skills required to having a solid, positive, authentic mental/emotional approach. Like the golf swing and the physical skills required to play the game, however, the fundamentals and foundation are the backbone of this part of your game, too. With a solid foundation and structure, you will still encounter the unavoidable low points, but you will have the skills to navigate these points and move out of them quickly.

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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

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Pingback: 6 fundamental steps to building your mental game - Dan Hansen Golf Instruction

  2. Ale

    Oct 15, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Hi john I just read your 6 steps and the comments. I am not sure why you need professional credentials as stated in one of the comments . I agree that practical experience is what helps .
    My grandson is a junior golfer and at times can’t move forward from a bad shot . Advice from his swing coach that we have had for 3 years helps him and he does not have a degree in psychology. Playing the game as a pro you find out what you need to move on from a bad shot.
    Thanks for the advice.

    • John Haime

      Oct 15, 2015 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Ale – agreed.

      I have found that performance goes far beyond the reaches of sport psychology – sports psyche is a small part of the puzzle. Professional credentials is a good starting point – and a step in the right direction – but applying learning in a very fast paced environment is very different – where results are demanded. Actively listenting, understanding people and what they need is also a skill that can’t really be taught. It really is about lifelong learning, learning from each situation and creating a process that can work in reality – and adapting that process to each athlete or team.

      Many of the best people in performance in sports, who generated consistent results, have been the great coaches. John Wooden might be the best example. He created a culture and environment for athletes to play in – and was able to give them what they needed to excel. John grew up on a farm in Indiana, attended Purdue, had great coaching influences (Piggy Lambert at Purdue) and created a new approach at UCLA when he arrived. UCLA was 3-9 in conference when he arrived, had a few average seasons and then won 10 national championships in 12 years.

      Thanks very much for the comment and story. The best to your grandson in his development as a golfer.

  3. marcel

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    there is a way to this. just go to your GP, tell its your marital issues, get the mental referral and then see shrink. with the shirk focus on mental strength related to golf.

  4. sally

    Oct 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Do you incorporate any mindfulness practices into your teachings?

    • John Haime

      Oct 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

      Hi Sally,

      Yes, with some performers very effective. Supports our work in self-awareness with the athletes. As you know, being able to focus in the moment is key in high performance. A focus on the past and future can be a major distraction and roadblock for performers depending on the degree.

      Thanks for the comment!!

  5. Thom G.

    Oct 14, 2015 at 7:01 am

    Being a retired Special Operations soldier of over 23 years, I’ve realized that E.I. played/plays a big part on how operators achieve success on missions. Through constant rehearsals, training and a fast paced operational tempo, gun slingers develop techniques to enable them to handle stress, make split second decisions and become highly proficient at their jobs during situations where most “normal” humans would freeze. Thanks for your insightful article.

    • John Haime

      Oct 14, 2015 at 9:31 am

      Great to have someone with practical experience make a great comment. You’ve been in the field under fire – so understand the value of controlling emotion and keeping things in perspective under pressure.

      Golfer and all athletes have nowhere near this kind of pressure as sports is not life and death. But, the principles of recognizing emotions and managing them under pressure apply.

      Thank-you so much for your service. Thanks also for thoughts and pleased you appreciate the article.

  6. CD

    Oct 14, 2015 at 3:53 am

    I think it’s a good topic area and you have the experience to talk about it. I didn’t like the plug for your own product because it sounds like an independent company ‘we use…’ implying that you’ve looked at other companies products and it’s clearly your company. That’s (extremely) disingenuous (at best). I’m not sure how much $99 is as I don’t live in the states. It sounds expensive for something that is pretty intangible and esoteric.

    I think the principles you espouse are very sound but they seem heavy on goal-setting and assessment and less on the content. What about practical steps for building confidence in a variety of golf specific contexts? What about effective suggestions for practice and development that marry technical and mental processes?

    What about context? I also think they play upon the desire in us to get better. Which is fine, and a positive attitude and optimism is obviously beneficial. But I think reference surely has to be made to time available and where golf ranks amongst life’s priorities. The tendency is for people to get carried away (especially if they love the game and if they’re in wrx they probably do) with an unrealistic assessment of their ability within the context of everything else in their lives.

    • John Haime

      Oct 14, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Hey CD,

      I think you’ll find some good info in the other articles I have written for WRX – confidence being one. They should give you some good ideas.

      Please note that assessment and goalsetting are critical to performance. They give people starting points (and end points) and a path forward. How do you know what to work on if you don’t assess it? How do you know where you are going if you don’t have a plan and steps to get there? This is the weak point of many athletes. They work and work and have no direction – and wasted alot of time going in circles. The focus of this article is on foundation and fundamentals not specific details. Please follow the articles in the coming months for more.

      FYI – I have given you a good article, my best-selling book and directed you to a world-class assessment that we have vetted as one of the best in the industry. Please note there are significant costs to a GOOD assessment. There are some that are online for free – but there is no science and validation behind them. The ESi is validated, has some great science behind it. It is also in a great format for you. It’s certainly a first for me to be called extremely disingenuous. I am only trying to help – and please realize we also have costs and it takes time and energy to produce great content for you – that you consume for free.

      Stay tuned for more. Thanks again for your giving your opinion.

      • CD

        Oct 14, 2015 at 4:15 pm

        What you say is fine, I’m grateful for your polite response too. I’m not trying to get things for free, no problem at all paying a fair price. I’m also sure your product is excellent and this article has already been very informative and a reminder too – thank you, genuinely. I just think if you say ‘we use’ and then point to your *own* product, that is very disingenuous; it clearly implies some impartiality which isn’t there and it probably detracts from how good (I’m sure) it in fact is. Just be straight.

  7. anon

    Oct 13, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    Rekt

  8. shimmy

    Oct 13, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    You should re-write your blurb to say that you’re “one of the world’s leading authorities in the (disputed notion of) Emotional Intelligence”.

    • John Haime

      Oct 13, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks for the comment. Would be great to have your name and background to determine if your comment is worth taking seriously.

      Everything can be disputed. Nothing in life is perfect or absolute. The only thing in performance that matters is results. We have the client list and track record to highlight that our interpretation of the principles around “Emotional Intelligence” work and move our performers to higher levels. There is nothing to dispute re: “being smart about emotions”. If you are a performer you know that emotions run the show in performance – so having knowledge and education around them might be a smart thing to do.

      Many of the world’s top business leaders and thinkers integrate “Emotional Intelligence” into their cultures and understand the value in leadership. See http://www.billgeorge.org – one of the world’s leading experts on leadership. “Emotional Intelligence” is woven through everything he does and he actively pronounces the importance. Bill is at Harvard, a former successful CEO at Medtronic and comments on leadership on the networks.

      Happy to take this offline if you would like more information and resources.

      The best to you.

      • shimmy

        Oct 14, 2015 at 11:12 am

        Let’s just say that I’m around psychologists every day and I respect their expertise. It’s a little difficult to trust someone who calls himself one of the “world’s leading authorities” in a (controversial) subject when, as far as I can tell, he lacks academic credentials and seems to be here to sell his wares.

        I am a performer for a living – not in golf – and I do recognize the importance of a deep understanding of one’s self and how that interacts with success “on stage”. I would just prefer people seek the help of a properly trained psychologist instead of an “interpreter” of psychological concepts.

        • John Haime

          Oct 14, 2015 at 11:37 am

          Thanks for the comment Shimmy – probably better to take this offline as mentioned. The social sciences is a long conversation.

          Please note that working with athletes and performers is not clinical psychology but coaching. I hire Sports Psychologists on a regular basis and very few have been able to get the results the athletes are looking for. And, as I mention – it’s about results and nothing else. Paper on the wall is great – it gets your foot in the door – but it’s not the real world of results. A pro athlete in his contract year could not care less about educational credentials – they want results and if you don’t produce them – you don’t last.

          See Thom’s comment above. Great comment that has value as he is in the field under fire under the most extreme conditions. Certainly gives EI some practical credibility.

          Thanks again for your opinion.

        • BW

          Oct 15, 2015 at 7:58 pm

          you get what you pay for, bro.

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The Big Shift: How to master pressure and the golf transition using prior sports training

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If you’re an #AverageJoeGolfer, work a day job, and don’t spend countless hours practicing, you might be interested in knowing that sports you played growing up, and even beer league softball skills, can be used to help you play better golf. We’re sure you’ve heard hockey players tend to hit the ball a mile, make the “best golfers”, while pitchers and quarterbacks have solid games, but baseball/softball hitters struggle with consistency. Did you know that a killer tennis backhand might help your golf game if you play from the opposite side? Dancers are way ahead of other athletes making a switch to golf because they understand that centeredness creates power and consistency much more efficiently than shifting all around, unnecessary swaying, or “happy feet.”

Lurking beneath fat shots, worm burners, and occasional shanks, are skillsets and motions you can pull from the old memory bank to apply on the golf course. Yes, you heard us right; your high school letterman jacket can finally be put to good use and help you improve your move. You just need to understand some simple adjustments different sports athletes need to make to be successful golfers.

In golf, shifting from your trailside into your lead side is what we’ll call the TRANSITION. Old School teachers refer to this motion, or shift, as “Foot Work”, New-Fangled-Techno-Jargon-Packed-Instruction uses “Ground Pressure/Force” to refer to the same concept. Don’t worry about the nomenclature; just know, as many GolfWRXers already do, that you must get your weight to your lead side if you want any chance at making solid and consistent contact. TRANSITION might be THE toughest motion in golf to master.

The good news for you is that TRANSITION happens in all other sports but in slightly different ways, depending on the sport. Golfers can more quickly learn TRANSITION, and speed up their swing learning process by understanding how prior sport experience can be applied to the golf swing.

[The basics of a solid golf move are; 1) you should have a SETUP that is centered and balanced, 2) you move your weight/pressure into your trail side during the TAKEAWAY and BACKSWING, 3) TRANSITION moves your weight/pressure back into your lead side, and 4) you FINISH with the club smashing the ball down the fairway. Okay, it’s not quite as easy as I make it sound, but hopefully our discussion today can relieve some stress when it comes time for you to start training your game.]

Baseball/Softball Hitters

Hitting coaches don’t like their hitters playing golf during the season, that’s a fact. The TRANSITIONS are too different, and if they play too much golf, they can lose the ability to hit off-speed pitches because their swing can become too upright. Golf requires an orbital hand path (around an angled plane) with an upright-stacked finish, while hitting requires batters to have a straight-line (more horizontal) hand path and to “stay back or on top of” the ball.

Now we apologize for the lack of intricate knowledge and terminology around hitting a baseball, we only played up through high school. What we know for sure is that guys/gals who have played a lot of ball growing up, and who aren’t pitchers struggle with golf’s TRANSITION. Hitters tend to hang back and do a poor job of transferring weight properly. When they get the timing right, they can make contact, but consistency is a struggle with fat shots and scooping being the biggest issues that come to mind.

So how can you use your star baseball/softball hitting skills with some adjustments for golf? Load, Stride, Swing is what all-good hitters do, in that order. Hitters’ issues revolve around the Stride, when it comes to golf. They just don’t get into their lead sides fast enough. As a golfer, hitters can still take the same approach, with one big adjustment; move more pressure to your lead side during your stride, AND move it sooner. We’ve had plenty of ‘a ha’ moments when we put Hitters on balance boards or have them repeat step drills hundreds of times; “oh, that’s what I need to do”…BINGO…Pound Town, Baby!

Softball/Baseball Pitchers, Quarterbacks, & Kickers

There’s a reason that kickers, pitchers, and quarterbacks are constantly ranked as the top athlete golfers and it’s not because they have a ton of downtime between starts and play a lot of golf. Their ‘day jobs’ throwing/kicking motions have a much greater impact on how they approach sending a golf ball down the fairway. It’s apparent that each of these sports TRAINS and INGRAINS golf’s TRANSITION motion very well. They tend to load properly into their trailside while staying centered (TAKEAWAY/BACKSWING), and they transfer pressure into their lead side, thus creating effortless speed and power. Now there are nuances for how to make adjustments for golf, but the feeling of a pitching or kicking motion is a great training move for golf.

If this was your sport growing up, how can you improve your consistency? Work on staying centered and minimizing “happy feet” because golf is not a sport where you want to move too much or get past your lead side.


Dance

My wife was captain of her high school dance team, has practiced ballet since she was in junior high, and is our resident expert on Ground Pressure forces relating to dance. She has such a firm grasp on these forces that she is able to transfer her prior sports skill to play golf once or twice a year and still hit the ball past me and shoot in the low 100s; what can I say, she has a good coach. More importantly, she understands that staying centered and a proper TRANSITION, just like in Dance, are requirements that create stability, speed, and consistent motions for golf. Christo Garcia is a great example of a Ballerina turned scratch golfer who uses the movement of a plié (below left) to power his Hogan-esque golf move. There is no possible way Misty Copeland would be able to powerfully propel herself into the air without a proper TRANSITION (right).

Being centered is critical to consistently hitting the golf ball. So, in the same way that dancers stay centered and shift their weight/pressure to propel themselves through the air, they can stay on the ground and instead create a golf swing. Dancers tend to struggle with the timing of the hands and arms in the golf swing. We train them a little differently by training their timing just like a dance routine; 1 and 2 and 3 and…. Dancers learn small motions independently and stack each micro-movement on top of one another, with proper timing, to create a dance move (golf swing) more like musicians learn, but that article is for another time.

Hockey

Hockey is a great example of the golf TRANSITION because it mimics golf’s motions almost perfectly. Even a subtlety like the direction in which the feet apply pressure is the same in Hockey as in Golf, but that’s getting in the weeds a bit. Hockey players load up on their trailside, and then perform the TRANSITION well; they shift into their lead sides and then rotate into the puck with the puck getting in the way of the stick…this is the golf swing, just on skates and ice…my ankles hurt just writing that.

If you played hockey growing up, you have the skillsets for a proper golf TRANSITION, and you’ll improve much faster if you spend your time training a full FINISH which involves staying centered and balanced.

Now we didn’t get into nuances of each and every sport, but we tried to cover most popular athletic motions we thought you might have experience in in the following table. The key for your Big Shift, is using what you’ve already learned in other sports and understanding how you might need to change existing and known motions to adapt them to golf. If you played another sport, and are struggling, it doesn’t mean you need to give up golf because your motion is flawed…you just need to know how to train aspects of your golf move a little differently than someone who comes from a different sport might.

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Clement: Effortless power for senior golfers

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Are you struggling with range of motion? Want more EFFORTLESS POWER? We are truly the experts at this having taught these methods for 25 plus years, while others were teaching resistance, breaking everyone’s backs and screwing up their minds with endless positions to hit and defects to fix. Welcome home to Wisdom in Golf!

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Clement: How to turbo charge your swing

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The shift in golf instruction continues and Wisdom in Golf and GolfWRX are right out there blazing a trail of fantastic content and techniques to get you to feel the most blissful, rhythmic golf shots you can strike! This here is the humdinger that keeps on giving and is now used by a plethora of tour players who are benefitting greatly and moving up the world rankings because of it.

The new trend (ours is about 25 years young) is the antithesis of the “be careful, don’t move too much, don’t make a mistake” approach we have endured for the last 30 years plus. Time to break free of the shackles that hold you back and experience the greatness that is already right there inside that gorgeous human machine you have that is so far from being defective! Enjoy!

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