by Dr. Lester Bouchard
“What separates great players from the good ones is not so much ability as brain power and emotional equilibrium.” -Arnold Palmer.
Tantamount to emotional control is emotional awareness. A player must be in touch with his/her emotions; in other words, a player must be familiar with his/her own emotional tendencies and reactions and the circumstances which invoke them.
He/she must recognize these situations when they are occurring and have a means of managing, counteracting or overcoming them. Without these abilities, a player is likely to be consumed by any one of a number of negative emotional reactions and thus devastate any chance of performing at one’s best. Players often experience negative emotional reactions prior to and at the start of competition.
They may also encounter them late in a round, when playing poorly, a moment of consequential importance is perceived, when distracted by some outside influence such as other players, playing conditions, or spectators or occasionally when playing well. Any of these situations may bring about physical and mental responses such as increases in heart rate, blood pressure, or respiratory rate, shortness of breath, clammy hands, butterflies in the stomach, muscular tension, flushing, twitching, sweating, losing self-control, feeling hot, doubt, awareness of unpleasant feelings, concerns about performance, negative self-talk or images and an inability to concentrate. Needless to say, all of this can be highly detrimental to performance.
To aid in this recognition process a player can make note of these events on a separate piece of paper or scorecard as they occur. List the different types of physical and mental reactions down the left hand column with the hole numbers across the top. Place a tick mark for each occurrence in the box of the hole in which it occurred. Make an independent column for pre-competitive reactions. Alternatively, a player can keep a post-round journal and reflect back on any negative reactions and the situations in which they occurred. This, however, may not be as accurate.
This process of merely recording the incidences alone will facilitate some attempt to control the reaction. Once you learn to recognize these situations at the time of their occurrence your own natural human tendency to self-regulate will initiate inherent mechanisms to attempt to overcome them. It’s a biologically conditioned response just like the reactions themselves. Regardless of the circumstances, it is imperative that a player stay cool, calm and collected.
A player must be thick-skinned and resilient. To enhance management, he/she can incorporate any one of a number of self-regulation and emotional control strategies; techniques such as deep concentration breathing, progressive relaxation, positive self-talk and imagery, affirmations, thought-stopping, the use of cues and triggers and modeling. The specifics of each of these techniques goes beyond the scope of this short article.
Define and Find Your Zone
by Dr. Lester Bouchard
“All seasoned players know, or at least have felt, that when you are playing your best, you are much the same as in a state of meditation. You are free of tension and chatter. You are concentrating on one thing. It is the ideal condition for good golf.” Harvey Penick
We have all experience moments of superior performance in one endeavor or another. This elusive high performance state has been most commonly referred to as the zone, but also the flow, peak performance, ideal performance state and other terms.
The zone is most often reached when an individual is faced with a challenging but attainable task, when confidence is high and when one has the appropriate arousal level and is immersed in the activity. In other words, when one is completely focused on achieving and his/her determination is strong and belief in success is unshakable. The ironic part of this, however, is that some individuals play best when they are relaxed, while others when they are excited, irritated or highly intense. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to teach players to get into or close to the zone. It’s individualistic, which brings me to the point of this writing.
To increase the chances of getting into the zone or the frequency of its occurrence, a player needs to identify the characteristic of his/her own zone state. No one would argue that exceptional focus, confidence, and determination are prerequisites. Which arousal state may be optimal for each player, however, must first be determined and then they can be taught the appropriate techniques to attempt to facilitate it and the zone.
One way of determining your ideal state is to keep a journal. When you experience moments of heightened performance or exceptional rounds record details such as when and where you were, how you felt, what you were thinking, how you were acting, or what you were doing that may have contributed. How was your attitude and intensity level and what were you focused on before, during and after shots? What were your self-talk and visualizations like? You may also want to list the quantity and quality of sleep the night before as well as the meal before the round and anything in between.
The more details that you notice and record the better. After several journal entries you should start
to see some commonalities. And these patterns will act as your guide to finding the zone. If you are a player that plays best when calm then you may start to incorporate more relaxation and calming exercises during your rounds. Likewise, if you are a player that performs better when excited, irritated or intense then you may want to integrate energizing exercises. Regardless of which, regulating breathing patterns coupled with self-talk and imagery can help you reach your ideal state. The pace and content of these techniques, however, will obviously differ dramatically depending on your own zone characteristics.
Dr. Lester Bouchard is a sport psychologist who works with athletes ranging from aspiring juniors to elite professionals. Dr. Bouchard is also the author of “Better Golf Solutions: Professional techniques, strategies and methods to break your scoring barriers and maximize your potential”