Mental game´s value in performance enhancement of sports has been growing over the last years. If we analyze the different issues of an elite sportsman preparation today, we realize that most of them take mental part very seriously. We can also see that there are certain approaches to the mental behaviour that are increasingly used based on their results.
In sports, in the amateur world, the mental aspect has traditionally been downplayed, but there are some of these sports, such as golf, in which those who practice them know the relevance of having a skilled mindgame.
People who practice golf have been able to observe how our mental game has “played tricks on us”, has ruined our round and, what is worse, has ended up leaving us frustrated and with a feeling of not having enjoyed the golf course.
Being relaxed and game mindful are the two key factors that predispose us to do a good and effective swing, to score less and, what is more important, to feel we have enjoyed the golf course and our game.
Anything that makes these two factors difficult for us is going to rebound in our mind set and ultimately in our game.
Humans, even though we belong to the animal species, it is clear we are very different from them. One of the most important characteristics and on which more research has been developed is our ability to develop language and, with it, thoughts. Among the characteristics that language gives us are, the ability to “travel” to past and future, imagine, plan, categorize and judge, creates the possibility to feel emotions that belong to events that have happened already as if those events were happening right now, etc. In other words: It gives us the ability to not have our focus in the present moment.
And how do we use this to our advantage in our game? We might be tempted to think that a good way is to try to make the blank mind, delete thoughts and similar strategies.
But let’s do a practical exercise: try to spend a minute without thinking about a pink elephant…
As you can see, it is inevitable to think about the elephant and probably the more we try not to think about the elephant, the more it will chase our mind. From a Mindful perspective, a better way to approach it is to notice how those thoughts appear, but not to involve yourself into that conversation with yourself. Over time, attention training that Mindfulness entails makes thoughts and emotions affect us in a different manner that favors our game and our way of facing life in general. When we learn to relate to mental events in this way, with Mindfulness, we are increasing our chances of getting into “a state of flow” while playing golf.
We’ve all felt that moment on the golf course when we’re totally focused on what we’re doing, we’re brimming with confidence, we swing effortlessly, there´s no inner voice criticizing every move we make and everything goes smooth. Time seems to slow down and we don’t realize if we are hungry, sleepy or if we have any other needs. It is what we know as a state of “flow”. When we get into that state of flow, we´re adjusting to reality cues, thoughts won’t interfere with our sensorimotor system and mental resources can focus strongly on the movement so that the swing becomes much more effective.
Mindfulness requires the development of three skills: the first is to be clear about the intention with which we do things and to have the intention to pay attention to the present moment. The second has to do with experience, we have to connect more with experience and less with our ideas about experience. The third is kindness, a kind way to relate to others, to the world and to oneself; accept rather than fight and use this acceptance as a base to be able to change things in the future easily.
In golf, as in life itself, your mind can be your best ally or your worst enemy.
Make it your ally!
Luis Zavala, Psicólogo Deportivo experto en Mindfulness