Many junior golfers have the game to succeed but fall short of their best in tournaments because of weaknesses in their mental game. But help is at hand. In this article by mental coach David MacKenzie of Golf State of Mind, we’ll look at 7 easy ways to strengthen your mental game and make 2019 your best tournament season yet.
1. Adjust Your Expectations
Too many juniors expect to have their A game during every round and with anything less they won’t score well. Tour players know that they have their A game in less than 20% of rounds. However, that doesn’t mean that when they have their B, C or D game that they can’t shoot a good score. The PGA Tour TV coverage is very misleading – you’re only seeing the leaders (who have their A game) and their best shots. The reality is quite different. Tour players hit plenty of bad shots, but they are able to accept them quickly and move on. It doesn’t affect their mood or their confidence in their game. Too many juniors hit a couple of bad shots and immediately think that their swing is broken and that they are destined to play badly. This is why mental golf training is so important – we need a new measure of success for our rounds which is all about focus, acceptance, body language, self-talk and being more present. Go easy on yourself when you make mistakes it’s how we learn to become better players.
2. Be More Self-aware
Do you know your “optimal performance state”? What are you doing and focusing on when you are playing well? Conversely, what are you doing when you’re playing pooly?
Try this exercise: divide a blank sheet of paper into 2 columns. On the left side, write down those things you know you do and focus on when you’re not playing well. This could be, “get very technical”, “swing faster”, “spend less time thinking through shots”, “react badly to mistakes”. On the right side, write down those things that you do and focus on when you’re playing your best. This could be “chatting with playing partners”, “walking with a bounce”, “hit every shot with a clear intention”, “light grip pressure” etc.
The purpose of this exercise is to increase your self-awareness, so you’ll know be more aware of how you are behaving on the course and whether it’s helping or hurting you.
3. Learn How to Manage Nerves And Stress
We all experience the same feelings of doubt, fear, nerves etc. to varying degrees during our rounds. The difference is that the best players are better at processing them and being adaptable. By increasing your self-awareness from point #2, you’ll be more aware of what you’re thinking about or focusing on during your rounds and how it’s affecting you. You’ll get better at turning down the volume on those negative thoughts and turning up the volume on positive ones.
Additionally, you’ll be aware of how nervous you feel. If your heart is racing and your hands are shaking then clearly you’ve crossed the line from good nerves (excitement, butterflies, sharpened senses and heightened awareness) to a state of nervousness which inhibits performance. When you’re feeling too nervous, you’re muscles will tighten and you’ll find it harder to focus, resulting in bad swings. The good news, is that there are plenty of ways that you can lower the “stress response” and get back to your “optimal performance state” with good stress management techniques.
4. Have A Good Attitude
College coaches not only look at results, but the attitude of the player. A bad attitude doesn’t fit well into a team environment. If you’re a player than can have outbursts or affect other players with negativity and a poor attitude, you’ll need to change it. It’s not only affecting others, but it’s not conducive to performing well. Fortunately, attitude can be improved over time, so make this a measure of success for your next round.
5. You Are Not Your Golf Scores
Be careful not to equate your self-worth with your golf scores. Golf is something you do, not who you are. Too many junior add pressure to themselves by playing “ego golf”, thinking they will gain more respect from their peers, family and coaches if they shoot lower scores. This only makes them play with more tightness and to avoid making mistakes that will make them look bad. If you’re playing like this, you won’t reach your full potential. It’s important to notice if you are thinking this way and shift away from it by focusing more on the present moment and what you can control about your performances.
6. “Act As If”
Many junior players I work with have found it beneficial to act like one of their favorite players. By acting as if you are one of those players you aspire to be, it can achieve 3 purposes: 1) You can exhibit those same behaviors that will help your performance (body language, responses to bad shots etc.) 2) It can give you more confidence 3) It can help separate you the player/performer from you the person, which we know the benefits of from point #6.
Thanks for reading. Work on getting better at these 7 areas of the mental game, and I’m confident you will make 2019 a successful year of tournament golf!
About David MacKenzie
David MacKenzie has been a mental coach to golfers of all levels for over 10 years and currently resides in Washington D.C. He works one on one with his students in person and remotely. You can find out more about David’s approach via his website is www.golfstateofmind.com and his several books on how to improve performance through a better mental game.