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5 Mental-Game Myths That Might Be Holding You Back

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I have the wonderful privilege of working with some of the world’s leading athletes in many different sports (including professional golf at all levels). These athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to training and performance. They understand that performance starts in the mind — that it frames all of the “performance pieces” — so building their mental and emotional muscles is a priority for maximizing their abilities. Spending equal time on all the key areas of performance enables them to have a healthy, proactive approach to their sport.

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In an athlete-performance model, there are four key areas:

  1. Technical: Your skill development or fundamentals.
  2. Physical: The physical development to support your technical skills.
  3. Strategic: Applying skills, course management, and understanding how to play the game.
  4. Mental/Emotional: Critical fundamentals and tools that drive the physical performance.

In the game of golf, there’s been a recent emphasis on technology and perfecting technique. This has been due to new tools that have allowed us to better quantify, isolate, and measure the impact of physical training and the equipment factor. The formal training of the player’s mind is being talked about more than ever, but it’s still pushed down the list and not getting the attention it deserves.

This lack of training of the mental/emotional component can inhibit golfers from truly bringing maximum value to their own game, as a strong mental and emotional game often ignites the other performance pieces. An organized, self-aware, confident player is one who can maximize the impact of fundamental technique, training, and equipment.

The traditional nature of the game of golf has facilitated an environment of late adoption to new approaches compared to other sports. Most players and coaches have not embraced the exponential benefits of a mental and emotional high-performance program. The late adoption is potentially being driven by some myths about performance that are not entirely understood. These myths may be ultimately holding players back from progress in the quest to reach their potential and fully maximize their experience in the sport.

5 Mental-Game Myths That Might Be Holding You Back

myths and facts balance sign

I’d like to highlight and dispel a few myths that may prevent you from working on and developing your mental and emotional muscles. Ultimately, these myths may keep you from being the best player you can be.

Myth 1: There is something wrong with me if I need to work on mental/emotional skills in my sport.

Fact: Mental and emotional high-performance development in sport is not about fixing an athlete. It’s focused on helping athletes develop skills that are required to maximize abilities. It’s an educational process that’s similar to building your technical, physical, and strategic skills each day. The same effort must be made to develop the mental and emotional aspect.

Myth 2: Mental and emotional high-performance training is for players who are mentally weak.

Fact: Mental and emotional training is for all players. Any player at any level should be developing the skills that more fully allow them to express their technical and physical training. Consider that almost every great player is coached, no matter what level. Why? So they can continue to improve and ensure sustainability and consistency.

Myth 3: Mental and emotional high-performance development is only for elite players.

Fact: No matter what level or age, any golfer can benefit from mental and emotional high-performance development. Parents and coaches can also benefit. Not only will mental and emotional high-performance development help you on the course, but the skills are highly transferable to all areas of life like school, business, leadership, and relationships.

Myth 4: Mental and emotional training is a quick fix and a short-term thing.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in golf is a process to build independence and confidence in the client athlete. Like any skill, it takes time and repetition to build competency and confidence. Tricks and tips never work. Mastery of mental/emotional fundamentals and a great process does.

Myth 5: Mental and emotional training is too much like therapy: lying on a couch talking about my feelings.

Fact: Mental and emotional training in golf is about high performance and developing performance skills. A great performance coach has a defined, quantifiable process that includes assessment, building detailed plans, communicating with coaches, and using the latest technologies to help the player improve. The work is done through conversation, watching, reviewing, and planning at a convenient location or on the course.

Don’t Wait for Things to Fall Apart

I encourage you to be an early adopter and take the next step to maximize your golf abilities so you can more fully enjoy the sport you love. Be proactive and don’t wait for your mental/emotional game to fail before you give it attention. Take a developmental stance and build the skills to maximize your abilities and gain an edge in the game.

As a major added benefit, you’ll take these skills and become a high performer in everything you do.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. There is a reason that John Haime has been published in leading publications around the globe. People believe his story. And so will you. His highly anticipated first book, You Are a Contender! Build Emotional Muscle to Perform Better and Achieve More … in Business, Sports and Life, was released in December 2009 by Morgan James (New York) and became a bestseller in the United States in mid-2010. It was re-released in 2016. From 1985 to 1991, John successfully competed on international golf tours in Canada, Australia, Asia, South Africa and the United States. Along with several professional victories, career highlights include a career-low 62 in a professional event in Melbourne, Australia. Before turning professional, he was one of Canada’s top amateur and junior golfers. As a world-class Coach in the area of performance and a leading authority in Emotional Intelligence, as it relates to performance in sport, John coaches top athletes, executives and artists in a variety of performance areas. His client list includes some of the world’s leading athletes in a variety of sports, including professional golfers on all tours. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org Twitter: @johnhaime

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. John Haime

    Sep 23, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Thank-you Tom – that was the intention of the article – to point out the lack of attention to a critical piece in the performance puzzle – thanks again for the great comment!

  2. Bob Jacobs

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    Sorry, not helpful. Why not give us some “here’s what to do to improve the mental side of your game”, vs here’s why most people don’t seek help for the mental side.

    Read too much like a “why people don’t see a therapist” article from Psychology Today.

    • John Haime

      Sep 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks for the comment Bob.

      I do think it’s important to point out why golfers don’t work on a very important part of the game. What do you do to work on it? I have written many articles for WRX (you can see them) that can offer some ideas for you. But first – I think it’s important to point out why golfers aren’t doing it.

      More articles coming to help.

  3. Bob Jacobs

    Sep 18, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I’m personally not a fan of these articles and their titles that are just teasers and don’t offer any real input or advice.

    I’m expecting to hear a few pearls of wisdom about how to use some mental tools to shoot lower scores or a program to focus more on the mental side of golf. For me this was just must too obvious and read like a “why do most people not go to a therapist sort of article”…give me some beef, give me something I can use, give me some knowledge!!

    • John Haime

      Sep 18, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Lol Bob – here’s some beef for you – athletemind.johnhaime.com. Love your passion! As you know an effort has to be made to improve any area of performance. Thanks!

  4. John Haime

    Sep 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Hey Walter,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Here’s my bio with my experience – http://www.johnhaime.com/bio. Purdue was a nice experience and ignited a desire to learn – that’s all. Graduated in Management.

    The next 25 years have been a wide education in human performance in corporate, athletics and the arts – all helping the other with new ideas.

    I also played Professional golf for 7 years – helping me understand the intricacies of sport – consider that as part of my education.

    I have found that Sport Psychology is a narrow area and much more needed to get results with performers. It is also perceived as negative – athletes thinking there is something wrong with them if they need it – a problem! No one goes to a Psychologist when things are going well or to develop skills – and that is what athletes need – a well-rounded learning experience with Sport Psychology being a piece of it.

    Hope this helps your curiosity.

    J

  5. WalterG

    Sep 15, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    “Sport psychology is an interdisciplinary science that draws on knowledge from many related fields including biomechanics, physiology, kinesiology and psychology. It involves the study of how psychological factors affect performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors.[1] In addition to instruction and training of psychological skills for performance improvement, applied sport psychology may include work with athletes, coaches, and parents regarding injury, rehabilitation, communication, team building, and career transitions.”
    —————————————–
    According to your bio you are a graduate of Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA. Could you tell us what you graduated in and when?
    You present yourself as someone who understands and applies sport psychology. What are your academic qualifications? Thanks.

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Instruction

How the Trail Arm Should Work In Backswing

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Stop getting stuck! In this video, I demonstrate a great drill to help you move your trail arm correctly in the backswing.

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Self-discovery: Why golf lessons aren’t helping you improve

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Of all the things I teach or have taught in golf, I think this is the most important: It’s not what we cover in a lesson, it’s what you discover. 

Some years ago, I had a student in golf school for a few days. She was topping every single shot. Zero were airborne. I explained that she was opening her body and moving forward before her arms and club were coming down. “Late” we call it. I had her feel like her arms were coming down first and her body was staying behind, a common correction for late tops. Bingo! Every ball went up into the air. She was ecstatic.

Some time later, she called and said she was topping every shot. She scheduled a lesson. She topped every shot. I asked her why she was topping the ball. “I think I’m picking up my head,” she said to my look of utter disbelief!

I had another student who was shanking the ball. At least 3 out of 5 came off the hosel with his wedges. I explained that his golf club was pointed seriously left at the top of his backswing. It was positioned well OUTSIDE his hands, which caused it to come down too wide and swing OUTSIDE his hands into impact. This is a really common cause of shanking. We were able to get the club more down the line at the top and come down a bit narrower and more inside the ball. No shanks… not a one!  He called me sometime later. The shanks had returned. You get the rest. When I asked what was causing him to shank, he told me “I get too quick.”

If you are hitting the golf ball better during a golf lesson, you have proven to yourself that you CAN do it. But what comes after the lesson is out of a teacher’s hands. It’s as simple as that. I cannot control what you do after you leave my lesson tee. Now, if you are NOT hitting the ball better during a lesson or don’t understand why you’re not hitting it better, I will take the blame. And…you do not have to compensate me for my time. That is the extent to which I’ll go to display my commitment and accept my responsibility. What we as teachers ask is the same level of commitment from the learners.

Improving at golf is a two-way street. My way is making the correct diagnosis and offering you a personalized correction, possibly several of them. Pick the ONE that works for you. What is your way on the street? Well, here are a few thoughts on that:

  • If you are taking a lesson at 10 a.m. with a tee time at 11 a.m. and you’re playing a $20 Nassau with your buddies, you pretty much wasted your time and money.
  • If the only time you hit balls is to warm up for your round, you have to be realistic about your results.
  • If you are expecting 250-yard drives with an 85 mph club head speed, well… let’s get real.
  • If you “fake it” during a lesson, you’re not going to realize any lasting improvement. When the teacher asks if you understand or can feel what’s being explained and you say yes when in fact you DO NOT understand, you’re giving misleading feedback and hurting only yourself. Speak up!

Here’s a piece of advise I have NEVER seen fail. If you don’t get it during the lesson, there is no chance you’ll get it later. It’s not enough to just hit it better; you have to fully understand WHY you hit it better. Or if you miss, WHY you missed.

I have a rule I follow when conducting a golf lesson. After I explain the diagnosis and offer the correction, I’ll usually get some better results. So I continue to offer that advice swing after swing. But at some point in the lesson, I say NOTHING. Typically, before long the old ball flight returns and I wait– THREE SWINGS. If the student was a slicer and slices THREE IN A ROW, then it’s time for me to step in again. I have to allow for self discovery at some point. You have to wean yourself off my guidance and internalize the corrections. You have to FEEL IT.

When you can say, “If the ball did this then I know I did that” you are likely getting it. There is always an individual cause and effect you need to understand in order to go off by yourself and continue self improvement. If you hit a better shot but do not know why, please tell your teacher. What did I do? That way you’re playing to learn, not simply learning to play.

A golf lesson is a guidance, not an hour of how to do this or that. The teacher is trying to get you to discover what YOU need to feel to get more desirable outcomes. If all you’re getting out of it is “how,” you are not likely to stay “fixed.” Remember this: It’s not what we cover in the lesson; it’s what you discover!

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Jumping for Distance (Part 2): The One-Foot Jump

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In Part 1, I wrote about how I think this concept of jumping up with both feet for more power may have come about in part due to misinterpretation of still photography and force plate data, self-propagation, and a possible case of correlation vs causation. I also covered reasoning why these players are often airborne, and that can be from flawed setups that include overly wide stances and/or lead foot positions that are too closed at setup or a re-planted lead foot that ends up too closed during the downswing.

In Part 2, let’s look at what I feel is a better alternative, the one foot jump. To me, it’s safer, it doesn’t complicate ball striking as much, and it can still generate huge amounts of vertical ground force.

First, set up with an appropriate stance width. I like to determine how wide to stand based on the length of your lower legs. If you go to your finish position and stand on your lead leg and let your trail leg dangle down so your knees are parallel, your lower trail leg should extend only as far back as it will go while being up on the tip of your trail toe. If you roll that trail foot back down to the ground, viola, you’ll have a stance width that’s wide enough to be “athletic” and stable but not so wide you lose balance when swinging. You can go a little wider than this, but not much.

To contrast, the stance below would be too wide.

Jumping off the ground can be caused by too wide of a stance and lead foot position that is too closed at setup

Second, make sure your lead foot is open sufficiently at address. I’ve previously outlined how to do both these first two points in this article.

Third, whether you shift your weight to your trail foot or keep a more centered weight type feeling in the backswing, when you shift your weight to your lead foot, be careful of the Bubba replant, and then push up with that lead leg to push your lead shoulder up. This is the one-foot “jump” and it will take advantage of parametric acceleration (read more about that here).

But also at the same time, shift your lower spine towards the target.

From a face-on viewpoint, this can look like back bend, but in 3D space it’s side bend. It kind of feels like you are crunching the trail side of your mid-section, or maybe just bending over to the side to pick up a suitcase, for example. This move helps lower your trail shoulder, which brings down the club (whereas this is more difficult to do if you try to two-foot jump with your trail leg). It also helps you to keep from getting airborne off your lead foot. Further it doesn’t change your low point (by not changing the relative position of the C7 vertebrae in its general orb in space) and complicate ball striking like a two-foot jump does.

At this point, the club releases and you can stand up out of the shot (you don’t need to transition in to any sort of dangerous back bend) in balance on your lead foot having generates tons of vertical ground force without having jumped off the ground or putting yourself at risk for injury.

“Movember” mustache… not required!

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