The 5 keys to a better mental game!
As displayed by the worlds best athletes!
The 2019 season will be remembers for Tiger's sharp determination at the Masters, Brooks Koepka's confidence and Rory's carefree approach to pocketing a 24 million dollar season.
Earlier this year I visited The Leadbetter Academy in Florida, spending a full day with the Steven Yellin, The creator of the Fluid Motion Factor program and mental coach to some of the best athletes in the world. I gathered valuable information and was writing page after page of notes! I was understanding what separates the best from the pack.
Learning more about how the brain transmits its signals to the muscles and how you can best retain this information to make a fluid motion or swing. It was very interesting and a new skill I have adapted into my teaching.
I have listened to hours of press conferences, listening carefully to what the players are saying and thinking during tournament play. I have broken my research down to 5 areas, so here they are!
The 5 keys to a better mental game!
All the best players believe in what they are doing. It is the starting point to success, appearing super confident is built on belief. I will break down belief into 3 main areas:
- Sound fundamental movements: Having a good technique is a starting point, if the club is in the incorrect position and you have to manipulate too much you cannot believe in the swing. Building good fundamentals is an important component to trusting your game.
- Drawing on Past Experiences: Remembering a good shot you have previously executed is a great way to build belief as you know you can do it! I always try to access and vividly remember the last time I executed the perfect shot.
- Getting it done under pressure: Executing a task under a high amount of pressure is a great way to build belief. I always encourage practise to be done in an environment of added pressure. Eg: a putting comp for $5 builds an element of pressure, a great way to build belief.
2. Lowering Expectations
We have seen countless examples this season of players lowering their expectations and then over achieving. Just this last week Justin Thomas said he had the worst warm up of his career then went on to shoot a course record! He has thrown the game plan out the window and just gone out to play and 'see what happens' well he lowered his expectations and reeled off 5 birdies in a row!
Earlier in the year Scott Hend broke through for a victory after a string of missed cuts, he contributed lowering his expectations to his victory!
Brooks Koepka mentions this regularly in his press conferences.
Before each round, Brooks doesn’t set any expectations for his score or the end result. He knows from experience what usually happens when he does. When asked what he’s thinking before rounds, he said: “Well I won’t be thinking about winning, I’ll just be focusing on playing, hitting each shot, one at a time. When you think about winning, that’s when you get nervous”.
Key takeaway: Expectations serve no purpose in golf, they only add pressure. It’s one thing to believe you can win, but it another to think about that end result when you are playing. One of the great things about this game is that you never know what’s going to happen and you have to embrace that as something positive. All you can do is stay in your process (certainty) for each individual shot, and have that as the only expectation, instead of an outcome out there in the future (uncertainty).
3. Staying present
When you’re in the present moment, you’re a lot calmer as there’s no fear of what might happen next (future), and frustration from mistakes (past). There’s less emotional ups and downs. But keeping yourself there isn’t easy and requires practice. Instead of letting your mind wander to every thought that pops into your head, try to get into “sensing mode” by paying attention to what you see, hear and feel. See how long you can do it for. Either that or just chat to your playing partners about something light. Use the time in between shots to conserve valuable mental energy for your shot routines.
Brooks Koepka is another great example of this. Countless times in winning press conferences he talks about staying present. “I just stay in the moment…I never think one hole ahead. I’m not thinking about tomorrow. I’m not thinking about the next shot. I’m just thinking about what I’ve got to do right then and there.” It’s “very simple.”
His coach, Claude Harmon III, says you’d be surprised about what he and his caddie Ricky Elliot talk about in between shots, as most of the time it has nothing to do with golf. Instead they use the time in between shots to relax and and lighten the intensity that comes with playing in a major or on the PGA Tour. They’re in the present moment, not worrying about what might happen next.
Matthew Wolfe recently won his first title as a 19 year old, an impressive effort. It was on the back of some poor performances forcing him to sack his caddy, he pulled in one of his mates and mentioned they spoke about the recent NBA trade period in-between shots to help stay in the present. Wolff made it clear throughout the week that it was a team effort, crediting Lohmeyer for keeping him loose by talking about NBA free agency, among other things. The two were certainly in sync during Wolff's winning eagle on the 72nd hole.
4. Accepting errors
Accepting that you are going to hit some shots you don’t like in a round and have higher scores on some holes is key part of being able to play with more freedom.
Brad Faxon is the short game coach to some of the worlds best putters. He says it is difficult to work with great players because they are so determined to hole every putt. He states that he needs to educate the player of the probability of their putting stats and that if he can get them to accept that a putt may miss, they will produce a better putting stroke!
Your game will never be perfect. If you think it should be you’ll find it hard to rebound from (inevitable) mistakes, and you’ll no doubt be too hard on yourself, like Brooks used to be. Scoring yourself on how well you do (and being more mindful of) things like “Acceptance” is what myMental Game Scorecard is all about. To reach higher levels of performance you will need to hold yourself accountable and become more aware of how well you are doing at the mental aspects of the game.
5. Accessing Silence in pressure situations.
This is the big one. Can you access silence over the ball? Particularly under pressure.
If you are thinking of technical thoughts over the ball, you will not make a fluid motion and not be able to access silence over the ball. You need to have the ability to think of something very simple, like balance, hitting the middle or a smooth tempo or ideally, nothing at all!
Here is what is happening under the hood when you are accessing silence:
When you are swinging the club, the brain is transmitting a signal to the muscles often deemed as 'muscle memory'. The pre frontal cortex is a section of the brain that is implicated in a variety of complex behaviours, if you are thinking too deeply the signal is sent to the prefrontal cortex instead of straight the the muscle. Bypassing the prefrontal cortex gives you more time to make a motion. Players that experience this will generally say things like "I felt like I had more time". We hear this in a variety of other sports also!
After Rory Mcllroy won the Canadian Open with a 61 he said ;
“ I think when you play you can get into stretches like this, you get into some sort of flow state or in the zone or whatever anyone wants to call it. I definitely got into that a little bit today at the start of the back nine. It was the same that day at Port Rush all those years ago. It’s almost like you’re out of your own body and looking at yourself playing. For sometime today that’s how it felt.”
A lot of players in a range of sports mention elements of not remembering too much about the motion, in this state, they are bypassing the prefrontal cortex and sending the signal straight to the muscle.
'There have been key shots in Major tournaments where I took the club out of the bag and I didn't remember anything until I saw the ball land on the green'. Tiger
'I have no idea'- Maria Sharapova after being asked how she upset Serena Williams and won Wimbledon at 19.
'I don't know how. I don't know how I did it'. Amanda Anismova after upsetting Simona Halep in the quarters at the French Open this week.
What you need to do..
Over the ball we need to have a feeling of wholeness, silence, an abstract thought. This needs to be trained and by doing so you are experiencing shots where you are not overcomplicating things.
This allows proper use of the cerebellum. The cerebellum coordinates voluntary movements such as posture, balance, coordination, and speech, resulting in smooth and balanced muscular activity. In the golf swinging motion, it controls timing and syncing of the motion.
When you are practising your technique go through your checklist that helps you hit a better shot but then when you are over the ball, you need to train the ability to think of a more simplistic thought. Doing this in a training environment will give you the ability to access this on the course and then in pressure situations.
FINAL 5 THOUGHTS
1. It's not so much the motion that separates athletes...it's the quality of their silence during their motion.
2. It's not so much how focused athletes are on their respective goals that separates different levels of athletes...its how much they can bury their goals when playing.
3. The ones that usually win, especially in golf, don't think a lot about their swing in competition ... many are not trying to think about their swing at all.
4. When in pressure situations, the great ones don't do more...they do less.
5. If it was focus, determination and concentration that separated the winners from the losers, then whomever had the most of these, would always win. Then why do winners often say the whole affair was experienced as an effortless flow of motion and the whole thing felt automatic?
Book in a lesson today and turn your golfing potential into reality!