Practicing what you preach!

by | Practice

I strongly believe in practicing what I preach so this first blog is to track a mini-experiment I have been wanting to do for awhile. I am interested to see how a mental training plan, on its own without any technical or physical practice, can prepare me for a golf tournament. I was presented with a perfect opportunity to put this to practice as I was urged to participate in the BCGA zone 5 ladies city amateur which (at the time) was two weeks away. However, due to a full time job, a few part-time jobs and coaching commitments right before the tournament, any actual playing or practicing of golf was just not feasible. So here presented an opportunity to put some mental training strategies to the test and I devised a 2 week mental training plan in preparation for the golf tournament.

Step 1: My first step was to devise the plan: Over the past 4 years I have had major struggles with my putting. I used to be a very strong putter and then out of nowhere this overwhelming fear of rolling the ball in the hole took over and has made for some very stressful rounds of competitive golf. I have read a lot about these weird feelings about putting in golf and although I don’t believe it is solely a mind thing (I have had these feelings on a mini-putt course where I wasn’t feeling any pressure), I felt that this would be a good place to start for my mental training plan.

I knew I would only have about 30 – 60 minutes a day for my mental training so it had to be quality. I decided the first step in my plan would be to watch one of the best putting strokes on the LPGA tour – Ai Miyazato (here – go to the 21 second mark!). I decided to watch her putt repeatedly about 15-20 times each night. I would then envision myself with her putting stroke, how it felt, rolling the ball on line, and really focused on the tempo. Using this combination of watching the video with imagery, I would incorporate all the senses, feel, sound, sight, smell. There is a lot of strong evidence to support that imagery is more effective when you incorporate more senses (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). So I would imagine feeling the weight of the putter, the tempo, how my feet felt on the ground, the sound the ball made as it rolled in the hole, I envisioned the tiny blades of grass in front of the cup that was my target and just feel the tempo that I had just watched from the video. This whole process took about 10-15 minutes. It is easy to just go through the motions with imagery, but in order for it to be truly effective, like anything, it needs to have a quality focus and incorporate as many senses as possible. It should be noted that like any other training, imagery takes practice to become really good at it. The Youtube clip also really helped me see and feel just how I wanted to roll the putt. I had also been doing a lot of reading lately on external focus (check out a fantastic review paper by Gabriel Wulf’s work on internal/external focus). So in addition to my imagery I tried to just focus on the target and what the putter head felt like after impact. I wouldn’t think about my hands or anything internal, but instead shift my focus to what the putter head felt like at the end of my stroke.

I then moved into more competitive simulation imagery. By this I mean I imagined rolling the putt that I might have on the first hole of the tournament (I know the course that I am going to be playing which helps!). Imagining I might have a left to right breaker about 4 feet, and rolling it right along my target line and hearing it fall into the hole, I imagined having a bit longer of a putt perhaps a straight uphill 15 footer for birdie, or imagined rolling in a 10 footer to save par that broke a foot from right to left. Before each putt I imagined myself going through my full pre-putting routine. I would go on to imagine certain putts middle of the round, and create different scenarios in my head, so that no matter what was going on (whether I would be 5 under of 5 over) I would go through the same routine and imagine myself making the putt and rolling the ball along my line.

This visualization exercise took about another 10 minutes. After I was content with my putting imagery practice I moved onto playing the golf course in my head. I imagined the start of the round, having my name called to the tee. I imagined what my target would be, how my pre-shot routine would feel, what the purpose of it was, the tempo I would have, I imagined the feeling of setting up to the ball, setting up my stance, my hips my shoulders square to the target. I imagined the last few moves in my routine – target-ball-swing, I could feel my one swing key and then just imagined the feel of my club swinging through to my finish and the ball flying to the target. No technical thoughts, just feeling the weight of the club swing through and the picture of the ball soaring through the sky and begin to descend down onto the fairway with a bit of roll. I would go on to imagine my second approach shot, again with pre-shot routine and target being the main focus. I would go through this every night for 15-30 minutes (depending on time available). I would play full holes, or as many as I would get through before falling asleep.

Part 2 of the plan: Ok time to decide how I want to feel and carry myself during the tournament. This is again more competition simulation. Planning out different scenarios and imaging how I will respond to them. Imagining how I want to feel on the first tee, how I want to feel after a birdie or after a bogey, if i’m 5 under and going for the lead or 10 back. A big part of KaizenMind consulting and my approach to peak performance is the MAC approach (Mindfulness- Acceptance-Commitment) (check out Gardner and Moore’s work on this topic!). Basically we are going to have a lot of thoughts come and go into our head. I use to think that we need to suppress the negative ones and always try and ‘stay in the present’ but more recently I have come to see the benefits in just accepting that those thoughts are part of being human, they come and go, and will not define my as a golfer or define my performance. So I accept them, I am aware of why they are happening and then I commit to my process that will help me perform to the best of my ability. So whether that means counting my breaths, enjoying the trees and the scenery, focusing on the feel of my club through the air, all of these thoughts help me perform to the best of my ability as a golfer. So as part of my plan I will imagine all of the different scenarios that might happen on the golf course and how I just accept whatever thoughts may happen, be mindful of why they are entering my mind and then commit to a process that will help me perform to the best of my ability. This usually took about another 15 minutes.

So this is the plan I devised and I would attempt to get through the imagination exercises each night and set aside about 45 minutes. I would finish with rolling in 5 different putts in my head with a full pre-shot routine.

Stay tuned for my next blog discussing the results of the tournament and how everything worked out!

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