How To Refine Your Mental Game

Two common myths surrounding psychology within golf are that it is only for ‘problem’ golfers and that mental skills are only important for elite players.

By Helena Bailey

In reality, the importance of mental skills does not differ based on the skill level of the golfer, which is why every player can benefit from taking steps towards improving their mental game.

Here, professional performance coach Helena Bailey provides her top tips for refining your mental game:

  • Have clear vision– ask yourself why are you playing golf? What do you want to achieve in the game?  People with a vision that they share automatically act differently, as they have created meaning and purpose to their golf.
  • Have clear measurable goals– It is important to have a mixture of both long term and short-term goals. For example, play to 18 handicap by this time next year; improve your driver speeds by 5mph; get 10 yards more distance on your driver in the next 12 months or win your club championship. A mixture of outcome goals, process goals and performance goals is beneficial for a number of reasons; they assist in mobilising effort and sustaining drive, can reduce stress and anxiety, and can help develop self-control, concentration and commitment. Goals that are realistic help boost confidence and motivation, and are an important tool in monitoring success.
  • Have a pre-shot routine that works for you– consistency over the ball is key.  Developing a pre-shot routine helps to keep your mind occupied by process and stops any fear creeping in.  Preventing your head from filling with fear and doubt is the key for so many golfers and a pre-shot routine is at the heart of this. Remaining positive is essential.

  • Visualise where the ball is going to go– pick a specific target and picture the ball flight. Ensure you keep an optimistic frame of mind; find ways to become and stay optimistic. Champions find a reason to keep believing in themselves and keep working hard. Pessimism leads to fear, doubt and concern. It also rouses the conscious brain and gets it engaged, but we actually want to quieten the mind on the golf course. While correlation between optimism and success is not perfect, there is an almost perfect correlation between negative thinking and failure. Why would you not choose to be optimistic?
  • Focus on the dimplewhen you stand over the ball and are about to hit it, what do you focus on? This is a moment when the head can become noisy, so focus on the dimple! Clear your mind by taking a deep breath and look at the dimple on the ball. 

  • Relax in between shotswhile walking between shots, talk about something other than golf. This will help you stay relaxed. If you struggle with this, counting backwards or counting the steps you’ve taken will help keep your mind occupied and calm.
  • Use StatementsUse two types of statements: encouraging statements and instructional statements that focus on skills. Encouraging statements bolster confidence; “you can do it” or “you’re good” are examples of this type of inner dialogue. Self-talk that focuses attention on performance skills provides the other positive form of internal dialogue. A golfer might say “stay focused,” “watch the front of the ball,” “create an image of the target” or “focus on the hole.” Remember that every golfer talks to themselves on and off the course, so when you do, make sure it’s helpful.
  • Let the bad shots go– give yourself a limit for moaning and chastising yourself and then let it go. A 30 second time limit or 15 metres walked will work. It is also really helpful when confidence goes and having a shot you can count on is beneficial. Having this shot will help build up confidence and momentum to get you back on track.
  • Hold it lightly– unless you're striving to make a living from playing golf, keep perspective about it and refer back to why you’re playing.

About the author: Helena Bailey

As a professional performance coach, Helena has been helping people make changes to their lives, their behaviours and their mindset for many years. When she started playing golf and subsequently working with others to improve their game, she was amazed by how little time most golfers spent on their mental game. She knew that it was essential that all players have a toolkit of mental skills they can call upon during a round of golf and know how to manage any frustrations that occur.

Helena founded Head Smart Golf so that she could utilise her skills and knowledge to help professional players to find their edge whilst also helping beginners and amateurs to improve their scores and increase their enjoyment of the game by applying simple tools and techniques.

Helena has worked with professional players, beginners and amateurs, and specialises in providing innovative golf psychology techniques and strategies to take straight out onto the course and transform a player’s game. These include breathing techniques, how to manage negativity, use imagery and how to make the most of goal setting.

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