How many times, after ‘grinding’ on the range, have you been told or said the words to your self “Now, go out on the course and trust it!”
Have you ever managed to trust your physical skills over a complete round of golf and just enjoy playing the game? When you hit those poor shots on course, what do you believe causes them? Golfers often react the same way and immediately evaluate their technique. Something did not feel right and attempts are made to correct it before playing the next shot. So what happened to the trust you spent hours ‘developing’ in practice? If one errant shot or putt is often enough for you to doubt your technique, how effective is your practice? For Professional’s especially, it is often straight back to the range after the poor round to ‘fix’ what was perceived to be at fault. This I call Golf’s Destructive Doubt Cycle.
Does it sound familiar to you? Unfortunately, trust is not like a magical cloak you can just throw over your shoulders when heading out to play. Trust has to be deliberately practiced at the practice range. Separate and independent from technical analysis. It also needs to become your DOMINANT behaviour in practice for it to become your dominant mentality in play. Many golfers can not understand why their great swing in practice disappears out on the course. The problem does not lie in how you play but in how you practice. So what is trust in golf? Why does it remain elusive regardless of the amount of effort you apply to developing your technical skills on the range?
If you are a dedicated golfer I am sure you own a number of technical training aids. They are an aid for training, NOT trusting. Have you ever owned a trusting aid? There’s a reason for this. Trust in golf (and life skills) only manifests itself when you STOP paying attention to your physical actions. What’s wrong with the ongoing use of training aids you may be asking? Every time you use a training aid, psychologically it’s like putting your training wheels back on your bicycle. What does this tell you at the subconscious level? I don’t trust my self. Consider this for 1 moment. HOW and when will you ever trust in competition that which is continually doubted in practice?
In order to PERFORM any life skill successfully we must remove the conscious mind from attempting to CONTROL our physical actions. Conscious swing thoughts inhibit physical flow and destroy your natural ability to swing or putt a ball. So how do you practice golf today? Many believe physical repetition is the path to mastery. Your many hours of range practice may demonstrate why this is not the case. What happens in every life skill we manage to perform successfully is our Attentional Focus switches from internal to external naturally. You can drive a car with total trust in your sub-conscious mind to control a vehicle where your life and that of others is at risk! So why can’t you ever trust your sub-conscious mind to manage your actions when putting or swinging a golf club? Well, let us look at how you are uniquely being taught and practicing the game of golf.
This may be difficult to acknowledge but traditional golf coaching promotes the polar opposite mentality to Trust and this lies at the heart of why so many struggle to play it and why so many walk away. From your very first lesson, when your attentional focus is removed from the target (external focus) and onto your grip, stance, posture, takeaway etc. you are now being coached to consciously control the physical actions of your swing or putting stroke (internal focus).
Irrespective of the technical ability attained you can spend your golfing life unwittingly switching your attention in practice from 1 body part to another, striving to find the answer to your inconsistent play. This approach actually PREVENTS you from achieving the golf state of mind where performance lives. If you need to read that last sentence again, please do so for many golfers have taken their game through this process and many continue to do so. So is there a more efficient way of learning how to practice and play the game of golf? There is now and it explains HOW to Train AND Trust for golf.
A popular theory in sports science is that mastery is acquired through deliberate practice and repetition and you need approx 10,000 hours to become an expert. How long did it take you to learn to drive a car do you think? 40 hours? How much longer would it take if you kept having your attention taken from the road ahead? Clearly it is not the number of hours which leads to mastery of a life skill but more significantly the focus of your attention which ultimately determines your ability to perform and access the flow state. The quicker you make the shift from an internal to external focus, the faster you’ll acquire the motor skills required to perform the task.
This shift of attention from internal to external happens NATURALLY in many life skills. Unfortunately, this natural shift from internal to external can be inhibited in sports by institutionalised coaching practices. From the first technical lesson when your attentional focus is taken away from the target onto improving your grip, stance, posture etc. you can get lost in the world of attempting to hit golf balls at a distant target whilst your conscious mind is focused on a body movement. Quite a challenge!
It is important to understand that you can not trust on the golf course that which you constantly doubt and consciously control in practice. There is no switch which allows you to turn on trust as you walk onto the course. Neither can you just “go and trust your swing”, no matter how many times you are told to do so. So how do you begin to learn to trust your technical skills in golf?
Tim Gallwey, the Inner Game of Golf, advocates using verbal mantra techniques like ‘back, hit’ which help you develop your self awareness and a natural golf swing. These techniques occupy your conscious mind and allow the subconscious to manage your physical movement. Unfortunately, your attention can not be on Target whilst you are occupying your attention with mantras but they are useful when learning a new procedural memory for movement.
Taking this learning concept to the next level, Dr Anthony Piparo of Mind Mastery Golf has developed a comprehensive training system which not only expedites the rate at which you acquire motor skills for golf but also trains your attentional focus appropriately whilst doing so. His work is the missing link in golf education which uniquely binds the mind to body when learning, practicing and playing.
Clearly, using verbal commands to occupy the conscious mind are useful when learning a motor skill but they also have a significant limitation. Unfortunately they also deny access to VISUALISATION, where the mind and eyes need to be quiet and the body responding to where you should have focused your attention – the Target.
What makes golf such a unique challenge psychologically, compared to shooting or archery, is that we also have to look away from our intended target just prior to execution. The elusive art of golf in my simplistic world of golf coaching is the ability to keep your attentional focus locked on the Target whilst looking at the ball rather than destructive swing thoughts, ball fixation, humming mantras or any of the other outcome oriented thoughts which often occupy your attention out on the golf course. The eyes AND mind need to be quiet at the moment of execution!
Clearly, golfers do stumble in and out of their flow state occasionally (it’s what keeps us going back for more) but ultimately it is with no real comprehension of why it happened or how to get back their consistently when required. “It was one of those days when I was in the Zone!” is commonly heard on the 19th hole. Does golf performance really have to be so ‘hit and miss’? What if the Zone was accessible on demand? It can be when you understand the difference between visual and attentional focus. So what is the best way to get into the Flow state for golf?
Unfortunately, you can’t hope to access the flow state, on demand, in competition if you don’t learn how to access the flow state in practice, on demand. You actually have to change the way you practice in order to change the way you wish to play. This involves you wanting to learn how to give up conscious control of your physical actions and fixate your attentional focus on a singular, external focus. What is the one thing which provides the solution to both challenges? The Target.
You may have been lead to believe that the Target creates anxiety and once aligned to it you should not have to pay any further attention to it. This leaves you attempting to play golf like a child plays the party game pin the tail on the donkey. However, your blindfold will not be physical but mental. Go and throw a ball at a target and see how much anxiety exists. None. It is Outcome Orientation which creates anxiety. This psychological differences between target and outcome orientation need to also be understood or you can easily find yourself playing anxiety riddled golf.
If this article has resonated with you, take time in your life to learn how to develop quiet eyes AND a quiet mind. You’ll find your flow state called the Zone deliberately and frequently. ‘Hit and Miss’ golf will then be consigned to your past!