Golf Psychology - improve your performance with Sports Psychology
The game of golf and your performance out there on the course, has a huge psychological element – probably more than other sports. This is mainly because as a golfer, you have so much time to think, and trip yourself up mentally.
The best players have the most developed and robust psychological skills. The good news is that you don't need to be a pro to develop these skills and improve. On this page I give some examples of how sports psychology can help your performance. As a Sports Psychologist based in London, I have significant experience of helping golfers like you to improve your game.
Here you will learn:
Read on, or get in touch with me to book your golf psychology assessment appointment - remotely by video call (Skype, WhatsApp), telephone, or in London UK
10 ways Sports Psychology can help your golf performance
Better manage pre-event tension and worry so you arrive at the course fresher, confident and ready
Focus better on the elements that are key for your optimum performance, without getting distracted by the irrelevant details of your play or with what others are doing.
Develop pre- and post-shot routines, so you do what helps, are more in control and consistent
Manage your emotions – so anger or even the yips don’t wreck your round of golf
Maintain confidence in your ability to sustain your good performance
Set goals for the year, month and next round or practice to give effective focus and that your golfing abilities develop
Re-visit why you play, what motivates you, and set-up training so you increase motivation
Develop images and visualise your performance – speeding-up learning and improving performance
Learn from good and bad play, so you become more resilient and better prepared for the next day on the course
Make practice more effective and develop your ability to play in competitions and when it counts
Golf performance problems and solutions
As you can see there are many ways that sports psychology helps golfers. To give you a further idea of what sports psychology can do, I’ve listed some common problems below, along with some of the ways (but by no means all the ways) that I may solve them. Perhaps you will recognise your difficulties in some of the descriptions.
Problem: You get yourself worked-up into such a state before even minor competitive rounds so that you feel strange, nervous, and even have the urge to leave.
Solution: After a full assessment of the typical golfing situation and your responses, we can apply a tailored stress management programme to reduce your physical and mental stress. (Alternatively, try the Breath Control technique below, or order my Stress Management for Sport Program).
Problem: In your last competition you performed so badly that your confidence has taken a big knock.
Solution: We can look at that competition in detail to understand what sense you’ve made of why it happened, along with the impact it has had on you since. We then produce a stepped plan for you to get back on track, increase your confidence to its previous level (or even higher) for you to overcome the setback.
Problem: Your scores are inconsistent on your home course. You don’t know what you should be doing and thinking about before each shot.
Solution: There are sports psychology techniques that we can apply to help you identify your effective performance routine – this will lead to consistently higher performance. As a Golf Psychologist, I see 2 common errors with pre-shot routines: 1: The pre-shot routine is overly complicated, or 2) They don’t have a pre-shot routine at all.
Problem: Your performance has reached a plateau and hasn’t improved for a while. You set goals but don’t reach them.
Solution: Effective goal setting isn’t simple or a once a year activity. But with help you can learn to set goals that are tailor-made to you, appropriate and goals. We can set-up practice so it contributes to goal achievement. With regular reviews of progress, in order that your goals can be lowered or raised with time. You will then be much more likely to achieve more than before. (Read more about goal-setting below)
Problem: You get distracted at key times of a round. Perhaps, you suddenly become aware that you are behind in a head-to-head, when it is too late to bounce back.
Solution: We can work on techniques to improve your golf concentration skills, identifying the factors that typically distract you. We also identify the times when you don't need to concentrate so fully on golfing elements, thus saving your concentration ability for when you need it.
Problem: You’ve been playing and competing in golf for several years and it has become rather repetitive, boring and mundane. Your motivation has gone. You wonder if there is any point of doing this for another year. Just like last year…
Solution: We can review why you play, why you got into golf in the first place, and plan the year so it is better focused, fun and interesting. These and other techniques can help you to boost motivation and enjoy your golf again.
Free Sports Psychology tips for golf
Here are some free tips, to give you more of an idea of what a Golf Psychologist can do for your game, and to give you some things to work on. The first section provides quick sports psychology tips for your golf , then there is a more detailed section on how to set goals for golf.
Below are golf psychology tips for helping you to:
Boost motivation for golf
Increase golfing confidence
Manage golf nerves
Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills to help your game
Develop better concentration and focus for golf
1. Boost motivation for golf
If motivation is low, you are unlikely to work as focused, diligently or regularly on improving your game. You are also likely to have less golfing highs. This might just be your remedy:
A. List the factors which motivate you to play, practice and compete.
It may also be useful to think about:
What do you gain from practicing/competing? (e.g., better health, competitive outlet, etc.)
What do you want to achieve?
If you didn't practice/compete what would you miss/lose?
Why did you take up golf?
Why did you start to take you golf more seriously?
Why are you still playing golf?
B. During practice and competition think about and observe what you like and do not like about what you are doing. Write these down.
Highlight the most important reasons for you. Keep these nearby and read them before each practice and competition. Assess whether these are helping you to feel more motivated and driven to play. If not, review your reasons or get in touch.
2. Increase golfing confidence
If you are not confident, your golf play will be poor. In the golf situations where you are lacking confidence, allow yourself to become more aware of the thoughts (i.e., self-talk) you are having. Highlight the ones that may be negative and/or unhelpful. With these ones, ask yourself:
Am I thinking accurately?
Is this thought helping me?
Can I see things in a more helpful and accurate way?
What would a more helpful thought be?
Can I express my thought in a way that includes what I want, not what I don’t want (e.g., “I can..” or “I will…” rather than “I won’t…” “Don’t…”)?
3. Manage golf nerves and yips
Nerves, anxiety, stress and tension will limit what you think about and how you move on the golf course. The impact on performance – even if you don’t have the golfing yips – can be massive. If this is you, try this:
When you notice physical tension on or off the course, try the following:
Take a slow, deep, in breath, until your chest is filled
Hold your breath for 5 seconds, or so
Then, exhale slowly for 5-10 seconds, while thinking to yourself the word relax, calm, easy or one
As you exhale, notice your body becoming more and more relaxed, as any tension dissolves from your body
Repeat this inward and outward breathing technique 5 or more times, each time striving to deepen the state of relaxation you are experiencing
If this is a problem area for you, it sounds like a great time to:
Learn the breathing-based relaxation technique – and other physical relaxation techniques – on my Physical Stress Management Program
Or learn the physical relaxation techniques AND how to calm your active mind, on my Complete Stress Management Program
4. Develop powerful imagery and visualisation skills for your golf performance
Imagining how you want play, in a controlled and vivid way is a key golf psychology skill. We can start to develop this by developing your imagery skills outside the golfing context:
Part A: When not in your lounge, imagine you are at home in your lounge. Imagine looking around, taking in all the details. What is it that you see? How does the furniture look? How is it shaped? What are the fabrics and textures? If you are sitting in one of your living room chairs, what does the chair feel like? Where do you feel pressure as you sit – on your legs, on your back? Are your hands on your lap or resting on the chair? What sounds do you hear? What is the temperature like? Is there any movement in the air? What do you smell? Use all your senses and take it all in.
Part B: Later, when you are at home, go to the lounge, to the chair or place that you had imagined in the exercise above. Look around and notice what do you see from your position? What do you smell, hear and feel? Do you notice elements that you did not ‘see’ when your imagined the scene? I imagine that there will be a fair few things that you missed, or that you mis-remembered (shapes, colours, textures…)
Repeat A (and B again if you like) and see how your ability to generate vivid and detailed images improves.
5. Develop better concentration for golf
If you are not focused or concentrating on the right things when playing golf, you are distracted and vulnerable to playing poorly.
Here is one tip for improving your focus: Develop cue words that trigger the correct focus when you need it. How? List the key aspects of your golf performance that you want to sustain. Next, write down the individual words or short phrases that capture the essence of such a perfect movement, your position or posture, or perhaps what you want to be thinking or feeling. Here are some examples: "smooth swing," "keep tall," "see it go in," "let's go," "follow the line," "relax" or "just do it."
Test-out one of these word or phrases at a time, at every practice or competition, to see which one(s) create the best focus and help you establish the movement or performance you want. Find one to three of these.
Next, identify something that will act as trigger for these words. For instance, you might use the Velcro on the back or your glove as a reminder (open and close the glove’s Velcro), or perhaps place a mark on your golf bag or on some other equipment you use. Then, when you notice your trigger, this will trigger you to think the words that you know can help. Not only does this help you to focus on the right things at the right time, it may also boost your confidence, which will have an additional positive impact on your golf performance.
If you want more tailored help for any of these areas, or another area, then get in touch to find out how Golf Psychology can improve your game.
Set effective goals for golf
Goals give your year, practice and even tournaments, more focus and better results. Goals help to increase your motivation to get out there and play. It has been argued that setting goals is the most important thing that you can do to develop as a golfer. Why is this? It’s because goals, when set properly, provide appropriate targets and give focus to your training, so you work on the right things, in the right way, and then get the results.
Most golfers know that goal setting is important, but many don’t do it, or do so ineffectively. Many set the same ‘woolly’ or vague goals each year. We often hear them expressed like these:
“I’m going to do better in competitions this year”
“I’m going to play better”
“I’m going to lose weight”
These statements alone aren’t enough, because:
How will you know that you have reached your target, as these goals don’t have a ‘finish line’?
How do we know if there is a deadline for these goals, as there is no timeframe?
How will we know if we are on track, as there are no review dates?
I could say more but won’t. Instead let me show you a better way.
There are three types of goals to consider for your golf:
Outcome goals relate to your final position or result (e.g., to win, qualify or beat someone). Outcome goals can be motivating but achieving them is often determined to a large extent by factors outside your control (e.g., who else turns up for the competition and how they do) and therefore outcome goals can often lead to disappointment.
Performance goals are more useful because they are based on your own golf performance and are unaffected (or affected only a little) by other golfers (e.g., a round of golf in a certain number of shots).
Process goals concern what you are doing at that moment. These may include physical aspects (e.g., level of tension), your actions (e.g., level of effort, biomechanics), your thinking (e.g., positive, focussed on relevant factors), and your emotions (e.g., helpful ones such as excitement and enjoyment).
In my experience, the majority of golfers focus too much on outcome goals, with only sometime on performance goals. Process goals rare things. This is exactly the reverse of how it should be. By focusing on process goals – what you are doing moment-to-moment on the course (or in practice) – you will be more likely to reach your performance goal, and consequently to have your best chance of achieving your outcome goal (depending on who else is there!).
Take away message: Set and focus mostly on process goals.
Set short, medium and long-term goals for your golf
It’s best to have goals that cover a range of timeframes. For instance, first set a goal for the year. Then set three sub-goals for different times of the year (maybe mapped onto key competitions). Then, set performance goals for each 3-4 week block. Check that each goal links to the others. With the 3-4 week goals acting like acting as stepping stones to your bigger goals. Finally, consider how to set up your practices so you are working on aspects of your play that will lead to you achieving your goals. These aspects will include a fair degree of focus on process goals (including psychological skills).
If you would like further help with generating your key goals and on setting up training to accelerate your improvement, then I’d be happy to hear from you.
If you want more tailored help for then get in touch.
Manage golf stress, tension, yips...
Your frame of mind when out there on the course has a large bearing on how you play, the final score and how you feel about your day. Much of this depends on how stressed you are as you approach the first tee. By stressed, I mean:
How much tension you hold in your body. Muscular tension will impair how you move and your biomechanics – causing you to feel strange, to miss-hit.
How much adrenaline has been released into your bloodstream: some is good, moderate-to-high levels are too much, putting you out of your comfort zone, distracting you from your game as you wonder what on earth is going on with your body.
How positive you are: are you expecting things to go badly, to start poorly, to go behind, make a fool of yourself, let yourself or others down…?
Of course, pre-competition tension builds in the hours and days before an important (to you) event. Your mind, sleep and diet are impacted on by your rising levels of stress. How you manage this lead-up, warm-up and first few holes will have a big impact on the two most important areas:
Your enjoyment and satisfaction (or frustration, embarrassment…)
If you wait to competition day to start managing your stress you are likely to be too late to do anything productive to manage it. If golf stress is something you could do with better managing, I’ve three possible solutions for you:
Try-out the Breath Control breathing technique above
Order a Stress Management Program
Get in touch for your Golf Psychology Assessment