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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

Performance drop-offs and cliffs in sport: The example of Sergio Garcia in the 2018 US Masters Golf

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

golf psychology blog post Sergio Garcia

According to the BBC:

‘Defending Masters champion Sergio Garcia has an absolute nightmare as the 15th at Augusta, ending up in the water five times before carding a disastrous 13 to equal the worst score hole in the tournament’s history and finish his round with a nine-over-par 81.’

(You can watch a summary of Sergio’s 15th hole here)

Every day sports people go out there to do their best, whether in training, practice or competition. Some days things go great for them, some days are more middling, others can be shocking. If these are practice days, this is less of a big deal. But, if this happens on competition day, it can be a much bigger deal. For professional athletes, who compete under our watchful eye, then the athlete’s bad day, can be even worse as people are watching and reacting to what they are witnessing. We saw a classic example of a bad day at the (sporting) office yesterday at the 15th hole of the US Masters golf competition. There, Sergio Garcia, the expert golfer and defending champion, just couldn’t get things hooked-up enough to execute on the course. Through a combination of body and mind malfunction, he took 13 shots to finish that single 15th hole.

Sometimes these performance drop-offs can be small and recovered from. Sometimes they are big and take a while to recover from, causing more play to be affected than necessary. At other times the performance drop-off can be like falling off a cliff – sudden, massive and unrecoverable in that competitive situation.

Sports psychology can bring some insight and solutions to these situations. If you are the athlete, here’s what’s going on:

  • When our performance doesn’t go as expected, this gets your attention, and your mind tries to work out what on earth is going on

  • In Sergio’s case, he’d been playing okay up to the start of the 15th, so the problems on the 15th really got his attention.

  • The alarm bells that go off in your mind cause an increase in stress hormones (mainly adrenaline), which is associated with threat and survival. This changes how you think, how your body feels, your sense of timing.

  • In Sergio’s case, this can cause changes in the biomechanics of his golf swing, his sense of timing, even his decision-making on how to execute the shot

  • Your sense of threat, causes you to consider the consequences of what is happening and what might happen. You go into nightmare scenario predicting (How bad can this get?). This is distracting and can lead to further increases in stress hormones and performance drops.

  • In Sergio’s case, one bad shot is followed by another. Hearing, seeing and feeling the crowd’s reaction to his shots provides further evidence that things are going badly, which the brain receives and will likely lead to a further escalation of challenge and drop in performance.

  • With the body and brain operating in a threat or survival mode, things seem different, strange. Afterwards, your recall of the situation is affected and learning can be more difficult to extract to help prevent future repeats.

  • After the round, Sergio stated “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without making a shot. Simple as that.” Or, put another way, it’s not simple at all, he doesn’t know why it happened, why he didn’t make the adjustments that would have helped and what to do differently next time if he finds himself in the same situation once again.

If you have had these types of performance challenges – smaller drop-offs or cliff falls – then why not get in touch to see how I can help you to understand what is going on for you and develop effective solutions, so you become more resilient as a competitor. You don’t have to be Sergio, or even a professional to get help for your sports performance – just someone who’s sports performance is important to you.

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