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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. 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

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

Learn to play like the pros by mastering course management basics

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The line that is drawn between amateurs and professionals certainly covers more than one aspect. However, there are some things that anyone can do in order play like the pros and shoot better scores. Knowing how to plot your way around the course from tee to green is something that not many amateurs take into consideration, though it is something that professionals do so well. Learning how to play to your strengths and learning to take what the course gives you will ultimately lower your scores, no matter what your handicap.

From the tee

-Use sound judgment when setting up on the tee box by knowing what your miss is and playing for it. For example, for those that fade that ball, teeing the ball on the right side of the box allows you to play for your shot shape with more room for the ball to work. This is also the case for playing away from trouble, in being that lining up on the side of trouble allows you to play away from it.

-In some cases on short holes, make a note to hit your tee ball to where you leave yourself with a comfortable yardage for your approach. You don’t gain anything from hitting a driver if it leaves you with a feel shot from 30 yards when you could hit a wood or hybrid and leave yourself with a full club in. (This is also the case when hitting your second shot on a par 5)

Hitting into the green

-Know which pins you should attack and which ones you shouldn’t. The biggest mistake that many amateurs make is trying to hit the ball at a tucked pin. Even the professionals choose which flags to go at and which holes to play safe, making sure they leave themselves a putt rather than short siding themselves.

Chipping/Putting

-The biggest thing that gets us in trouble around the greens or on them is trying to make the ball go in the hole. It’s easy to get greedy with your shot and create the mindset that you have to make it when, in reality, it’s much more feasible to play for a three-foot circle around the hole. Leaving you an easy tap in. There is nothing more infuriating than a 3-putt.

I hope these tips will benefit your golf game by allowing you to manage your way around the golf course. The pros use these same approaches when they step on each hole, and it is imperative that you do also. We all may not have the ability that professionals do, but we can certainly learn things from them that will lower our scores.

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Lesson of the Day: Improve right arm connection for a more consistent golf swing

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In our “Lesson of the Day” video series with V1 Sports, we match a different GolfWRX member with a different V1 Sports instructor. It’s extremely important to both V1 Sports and GolfWRX to help golfers improve their games and shoot lower scores, and there’s no better way to do that than getting lessons. While we not only want to provide free lessons to select GolfWRX members, we want to encourage and inspire golfers to seek professional instruction. For instructions on how to submit your own video for a chance at getting a free lesson from a V1 Sports instructor as part of our Lesson of the Day series, CLICK HERE.

About the pro

Clinton Whitelaw is the Head Teaching Professional at University Park Country Club in Sarasota, Florida. Clinton was a prolific junior player in South Africa before he attended UCLA on a full scholarship. He turned pro at age 21 and has recorded more than 55 top-10 finishes around the world, including winning the 1993 South African Open and the 1997 Moroccan Open on the European Tour.

Lesson synopsis

There are two main swing flaws identified in this GolfWRX member’s swing that can be improved. The first is a disconnected right arm in the body that causes the arms to be out of sync with the body. The second is a bent left arm in the follow through, which causes a loss in power. Two easy drills can be practiced to create a simple, repeatable, and consistent golf swing.

Student’s action plan

  1. Practice with a glove under the right right armpit to improve connection with the body
  2. Practice the “9 o’clock to 3 o’clock” drill demonstrated at the end of the video lesson

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Instruction

Should you strive for a flatter transition in your golf swing?

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A lot has been said recently regarding flattening the transition in the downswing. As a teacher for many years, I totally agree that this is clearly what highly skilled players do. Sasho Mackenzie, the great biomechanist from Canada, explains that when the center of mass of the golf club gets UNDER the hand path coming down, we get a much easier squaring of the club face.

There is, however, a difference in the players we see making this move and average amateur golfers. Nothing in the golf swing happens in a vacuum, so to speak. That is, every move has to complement the other moves and balance the equation. So when we see Sergio “laying the club down” (flatten) in transition, it complements or is in sync with the “delivery” he has into impact.

Sergio has Hogan-esque “lag” in his downswing. That is, his wrists stay cocked very late as he approaches impact. with a great deal of forward shaft lean. While this may be characteristic of all great ball strikers, his “flat” action is more pronounced than most. He lays the club down, downcocks his wrists and voila, strikes it solid.

The point here is when the shaft is laid off and flattened in transition, it cannot then be released early. Those who cast, or release early from a laid off transition are staring shanks right in the face, and feeling heel hits with the driver. The reason is the club is being cast out, not down when it is coming in on a more horizontal plane. When a professional flattens it, they then tighten the delivery with hands in and a narrowed arc into impact. This is a huge distinction, and one I feel is little understood. If you are working on laying it down, but are used to an early release, you may accomplish the former, but are asking for trouble on the latter. It has to be released later and tighter after the transition to work.

Another common error I see quite often is the hand path issue. Here I’m referring to to how far from the body the hands move on the down swing. If you are a player who transition steep (too vertical), your miss is very likely the toe of the club. As a result you develop a habit of sending your hands out and away from your center (the distal and proximal, in biomechanist terminology) to compensate for the toe hit and in an attempt to find the center of the face. That swing habit is common and will, at times, compensate for the steep transition.  So you can see why the club will be more likely to hit the heel if it is delivered on a more horizontal plane.

The point here is this: it’s the same theme that I have seen and written about for many years:  Golf swing corrections, if that be your goal, are rarely singular; the come in pairs.  And the reason it can be frustrating is because we have develop two new feelings, not one. Many golfers abandon the effort because the accomplish one without the other.

If, for example, you decide your transition is far too steep, and you flatten it but then cast the club (remember now OUT not DOWN) and hit the heel of the club or shank a wedge, you may say: “Hey, that’s just not for me; or that was WORSE, not better”. And you’d be right, the RESULT is likely to be worse- but maybe not the effort.  If you are committed to a swing change, it rarely comes with a singular correction.

Be sure you know what you’re in for when working on laying the club down ala Sergio, or Furyk, or Ryan Moore, when you are told you’re too steep starting down.  My advice would be to try and work on one thing at at time.  For this particular correction, I have my students ht balls on a sidehill, above the feet lie. This can orient you to a more horizontal swing feeling and then an only then can start to work on keeping the hands, arms and body connected (the “inside moving the outside”) for the completion of the swing change.

One final note on this: I want to repeat that any change is optional based on your current ball striking, not what your video looks like. Phil Mickelson is one of the best players EVER, and his swing starts down as steeply as any club golfer, and he swings his hand path out away from him as a result every time. Let me me ask this question: who among us would change the swing of a 44-time champion and five-major winner on the PGA Tour? Whatever works…

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