Archive for the ‘Golf’ Category

The Crucial Role of Imagery in Golf Psychology

Special Report by Dr. John F. Murray – May 12, 2013 – I’m often asked what the most demanding sport mentally is and my answer is always “golf.”  The types of demands placed upon a golfer define the fact that managing thoughts, feelings, and sensations are essential while the potential distractions are immense. The brain must figure out how to do this consistently all day for anywhere from 65 to 80 shots.

A top priority in golf psychology includes having a well thought out pre-shot strategy. Note the emphasis on “thought out.” It does not just happen by osmosis. It must be envisioned and envisioned clearly and properly to work. The golfer must choose the proper club for the task at hand. He or she must also learn how to bounce back from bad shots while staying extremely calm and centered. It goes against nature when the mind and body just want to explode in anger following an errant shot.  But without proper stress management and steady mood states, you might as well take up another sport.

Analogies between golf and cerebral board games like chess and checkers have long been made. I personally think hitting a ball and walking in a gorgeous part of the world is a lot more fun and better physically than sitting in a stuffy room, but the mental demands can be similar. Proper mental skills are needed not only for match day competition, but also in training and developing physical tools for the game (e.g., building a solid swing, getting to the gym).  Without solid fundamentals gained in lessons it’s very hard to move forward in this challenging sport. It’s not like you can just run faster, jump higher or hit harder to get that little ball to fall into the cup. It’s far more refined than that. Athletic ability of course is important in any hand/eye sport, but the mental demands call for more advanced brain development and training that is acquired through proper imagery.

One of the most important aspects of golf psychology is imagery, or “making movies in the mind”. This is a mental technique that programs us to respond as planned, using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery.  Golfers use it to rehearse new skills, practice and refine existing skills, and prepare for particular situations such as the first tee shot. Research in the area of imagery shows that it is very useful in in a number of ways such as reducing the time it takes to warm-up, decreasing tension and fear, and boosting hope and confidence.

Imagery, like many physical skills, needs to be practiced frequently to become effective. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Golfers are notorious for the time that they spend eagerly refining their swings while neglecting the importance of golf psychology.  But the greats were well aware of the benefits of imagery even before the scientists were talking about it.  Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery.

Be careful not to sabotage your game. If your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient, or if you are total beginner, you’ll likely just reinforce bad habits if you try to use imagery. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are solid. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should take lessons and watch plenty of video before getting started.

Imagery can be done while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed.  A longer version of imagery can last anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes and is often used prior to a match. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete round shot by shot. A much briefer form of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to teeing off, the golfer visualizes an ideal shot to the perfect location. Imagery can also help familiarize a golfer to high percentage shot sequences.

Some golfers are better at making images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images or seeing vivid details:

(1)  Begin thinking in pictures instead of words.

(2)  Review photos or videos of proper technique before using imagery.

(3)  Remain in a peaceful state to avoid losing focus.

Here are some good ideals to practice imagery in golf:

(1) Make sure that the imagery is perceived as realistically as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context.

(2) Like any skill, practice is needed, so practice imagery frequently as it may take months before seeing great improvement.

(3) Half of the battle is just having the confidence that imagery will help. Your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect more than you might realize.

(4) Stay relaxed, calm, focused and centered while using imagery.

(5) Sometimes see yourself hitting the shot (from your mind’s eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in as you would see in a movie or picture. At other times, the outside picture view (called the external imagery perspective) is just fine. Mix it up.

(6) There is little point in visualizing mistakes. Imagine great shots. This boosts self- confidence and helps you develop great habits.

There is no doubt that imagery works. It is a very potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game by helping you build positive habits. Habits then rule our behavior and the beauty is that we don’t even have to think about it. You don’t want to be thinking too much. Isn’t it amazing that to become mentally strong in the most demanding sport mentally, you kind of want to turn down the computer!

I hope that you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Psychology of sport: how a red dot swung it for Open champion

London Independent – Steve Connor – July 20, 2010 – The strategy employed by golfer Louis Oosthuizen demonstrates the growing importance of mental techniques in the field of competitive sport

A small red spot on the glove of golfer Louis Oosthuizen is credited with playing a critical role in his winning of The Open Championship at St Andrews last Sunday. The coloured spot was a visible manifestation of the growing influence of psychology in sport – it was designed to help the 27-year-old South African concentrate on his swing in the crucial moments leading up to a shot.

Sporting professionals are increasingly turning to similar mind-training tricks to improve their performance on the field. It may involve mental imagery that allows them to rehearse a game in their heads, or psychological blocking techniques that stop them from dwelling on past mistakes. In the case of Oosthuizen, an outsider who was widely expected to collapse under the pressure on the final day, it was a simple dot on his glove to make him focus on his swing.

The idea came from a sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

The idea came from Karl Morris, a Manchester sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

“His pre-shot routine was all over the place. I suggested he changed his whole game plan after he told me that when he played in the US Open last month he was making split decisions instead of thinking about what he should have been doing. One of the tips I gave him was to put a red spot on his glove and to focus on it during his swing.”

The ability to focus on the task in hand is one of they key techniques that sports psychologists try to refine when dealing with professional sports people. “There is a lot of evidence that the best sportsmen and women have a lot of psychological skills that allow them to concentrate and to control anxiety,” said Tim Rees, a qualified psychologist who specialises in sport at Exeter University.

Psychological skills may be more important in some sports than others. Endurance sports such as rowing, for instance, require a very different psychological approach from less physical sports like golf where the actual playing of shots constitutes a tiny fraction of the time it takes to complete the course. Rowing and other endurance sports involve intense activity for prolonged periods, whereas there is so much more time for psychology in sports like golf. There is a lot of evidence to show that once someone gets to a certain level of skill, it is the differences in their psychological approach that differentiates people at the very top,” Dr Rees said.

The red spot on Oosthuizen’s glove was one way of focussing his mind on the process of playing a shot, rather than thinking of the consequences. It is a classic example of what it known as “process goals” in sports psychology, when the athlete is asked to focus on something, however minor, to stop them thinking of what happens if the shot goes wrong – it brings them back to the here and now before the shot is actually played, Dr Rees explained.

Other mental tricks may focus on “thought stopping”. Instead of dwelling on a missed shot, whether it is a failed penalty or disastrous return on the tennis court, the athlete is trained to put such negative thoughts into a mental “black box” that can be dealt with after the match.

A simple trick is to get the athlete to think of a stop sign immediately after they make a mistake. “It allows them to park the problem so they can deal with it later. It takes a lot of practice to get it to work but it allows them to focus on what they have to do next rather than what they have just done,” Dr Rees said.

Almost all sports involve what psychologists call imagery. Athletes often describe how the day or night before a crucial game they mentally rehearse what they intend to do – even to the point of walking up to the winner’s podium. (According to Rees this is why so many first-time winners often look relatively relaxed and at home on a podium because they have rehearsed the moment so many times in their heads).

David Beckham, for instance, is said to have stored and replayed mental “video clips” of how the ball will bend when he takes a free kick at goal. Skiers at the top of a run often close their eyes briefly and sway from side to side just before they take off down a slope, as if they are rehearsing the difficult movements they are about to make.

“Imagery is most effective when it is used in conjunction with actual practice,” Dr Rees said.

Physical perfection, skill and technique are obviously critical to athletic performance, but the whole point about sports psychology is that the mind can so often be employed to overrule matter. This is never more true when it comes to the sort of psychological support that can decide whether a player wins or loses.

Several studies have shown that the emotional support given to an athlete from family, friends and even professional managers can make a significant difference to sporting performance. Olympic gold medallists Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Chris Hoy, for instance, have both cited the support of their loved ones as a major factor in their success, and this is supported by empirical research.

In one study of 197 male amateur golfers, for example, Dr Rees found that the social support they received before a game affected how well they did. “While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or kind gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal, or a sprinter achieving a record time,” he said.

Even the emotional support of a relative stranger can boost performance, according to another study by Exeter colleague Paul Freeman. Just listening to an athlete’s problems and offering simple advice and encouragement can make a significant difference to an athlete’s success, Dr Freeman said.

“It is significant that the support I offered, as a relative stranger, had such a marked influence on their results. The findings suggest that amateur and professional athletes would benefit from seeking social support, whether this is from a friend or family member or even from a professional,” he said.

This is why even a manager can make a psychological impact that makes the difference between winning and losing. Tell that to Fabio Capello.

Mind games

Howard Webb

Only 19 men have refereed a World Cup final and with each one the pressure has grown greater and greater as the global audience has expanded . Howard Webb cut a remarkably calm figure in Johannesburg despite issuing a record number of 14 yellow cards as the time he spent ahead of the game with a sports psychologist paid off. “We understand the stakes and how important it is to everyone involved but we also try to put it into some perspective,” said Webb.

Chelsea’s “mind room”

It’s top secret, but somewhere hidden in Chelsea’s Cobham training ground in Surrey is the Mind Room – it exists, but exactly what’s in it and what it does is jealously guarded. It was set up by Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea’s manager, who had used something similar during his time in charge of Milan in Serie A. It is overseen by his assistant Bruno Demichelis, who is also a sports psychologist. The Italian version was designed to relax players and then encourage them to stay calm as they watched their performances, good or bad. “It allows players to improve their resilience through mental training,” said Demichelis.

Lindsey Vonn

The American skier was earmarked as the pin-up girl of the 2010 Winter Olympics before a ski had even touched the slopes. The pressure as she took the lift to the top of Whistler was immense and not helped by injury problems that had dogged her build-up. She used a technique taught to her by Sean McCann, the senior sports psychologist with the US team, visualising how she felt the race would pan out. It worked for Vonn; she swept downhill to a gold.

Victoria Pendleton

Britain’s Olympic cyclists are regarded as one of the best prepared teams in any sport and have a record of spectacular success at the last three Games. They won seven of the 10 events in Beijing, and it is Steve Peters, the team’s psychologist, who is credited with a key role in putting the riders on the mental road to gold. Dave Brailsford, the performance director, describes him as a “genius”. Pendleton was a particular triumph. She has been overwhelmed by the Olympic experience in Athens and spent some intensive time with Peters in the build up to the 2008 Games. “I was a mess, I was really down,” said Pendleton of Athens. “It took me about a year of working with Peter to get my head working in the right direction.” That direction was straight to the top of the podium.

And when it doesn’t work…

“Own the podium” was the decree issued to Canada’s Olympians ahead of this year’s Winter Games. The team was equipped with 14 “mental performance consultants”. Kristi Richards, already a world champion freestyle skier, was told to write all her negative thoughts on a piece of toilet paper and flush them away. She qualified fourth for the finals, but on the big night ended up in a heap after her second jump. She finished 20th, and last.

Hope you enjoyed this article about sports psychology.

We Can Forgive Tiger But Not Forget

Los Angeles Daily News – Jill Painter – December 12, 2009 – Sports Psychology Commentary – Let’s forgive Tiger Woods already.

‘Tis the season of giving, and Woods could use a hearty dose of forgiveness.

It’s not to condone the litany of mistakes he made. Not a chance.

But he didn’t kill anyone, did he?

E-mail jokes, “Saturday Night Live” skits and ongoing cocktail waitress revelations surely can’t compare to the inner torture he’s facing from the revelation of his double life.

No yacht named “Privacy” or banged-up Escalade or private jet could take him to a corner of the world that would provide him a safe haven from his demons that have been exposed.

Woods is a billion-dollar athlete, but money can’t buy his happiness.

He’s surely living in a very dark place.

He is in danger of losing his family and would have no one to blame but himself. He’s soiled his reputation and legacy. He’s losing sponsors. He might never be the same golfer.

He seems like a robot, but he’s not.

Woods finally admitted “infidelity” on his Web site Friday and said he was taking a break from golf.

“I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness,” he wrote. “It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try.”

Woods is asking for your forgiveness.

We forgave Michael Vick for running the Bad Newz Kennels in which innocent dogs were murdered, some by his own hands. The Eagles quarterback was applauded when he ran into the end zone for a touchdown on Sunday.

We forgave the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who was ruled by drugs, alcohol and women. Once sober and with his career back on track, he became a wonderful comeback story. He hit home run after home run in the Major League Baseball All-Star home run derby in 2008. That he did drugs didn’t matter anymore.

We cheer for Kobe Bryant and have forgiven him after his infidelity. The woman alleged rape, but the charge later was dropped.

Doesn’t Woods deserve our forgiveness, too?

“A lot of how we might forgive him as individuals differs greatly as how we’ll view him as a role model for society,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist. “Those are two separate issues. We don’t forgive someone in that he’ll be the same role model as before, but you can forgive him on a human level and realize even great presidents had multiple affairs.

“In some ways, it’s very shocking to us. In other ways, it’s the same old same old.”

Woods isn’t perfect. He’s far from it.

We realize such as the parade of women who allegedly had affairs with him continues to grow. There’s so many we’ve numbered them. No. 14 is a 48-year-old fitness instructor from Florida.

Whether it was one or 100 doesn’t matter. His behavior was unacceptable with his first affair.

It’s so bad that Jamie Jungers, one of his alleged mistresses, claimed she was with Woods the night his father, Earl, passed away.

Who trumpets that as though it’s some badge of honor?

Let’s forgive him and hope he emerges a man who has atoned for his mistakes and does more good with his money and power. He’s done many charitable endeavors, especially with the Tiger Woods Foundation, but maybe he can do more.

Golf fan Nick Weiss, a 27-year-old who lives in Santa Monica, doesn’t condone what Woods did but he’s willing to forgive him.

“Everyone, including me, thought he was superhuman – a machine,” Weiss said. “He preached moral values and family and always put on a show. He was clearly hypocritical. He got a little crazy, and I lost respect for him.

“Everyone has demons in their closet. Unfortunately for him, he’s in the public eye. He made numerous mistakes, just like A-Rod and God knows how many other athletes. I forgive him. I want to see him back on the tour.”

Murray doesn’t believe Woods’ image ever will be the same, but he believes forgiveness is possible.

“He wasn’t accused of raping anybody,” Murray said. “It was immoral, but it wasn’t illegal. More than anything, I think it’s the shock of the fall. He was on this incredibly high platform and he’s obviously fallen from it. He is probably under enormous amounts of stress and so are his wife and everyone involved with him.

“Let’s have a little compassion.”

We can’t pretend we’ll forget.

But we can forgive.

I hope you enjoyed this insight from the world of sports psychology.

Might Tiger Woods Morph into the Bad Boy of Golf Now?

Reuters, Times of India – December 12, 2009 – Tiger Woods is making a wise move by taking a break from the sport but faces major challenges when he returns, sports psychologists said on Saturday.

Woods has announced an “indefinite” break from golf and admitted being unfaithful to his wife after a series of short-term relationships with women were reported in the media.

“I think that is a sign that he wants to send a strong message to his family that he is serious about addressing the problems,” Casey Cooper, a California based sports psychologist said. “It really is impossible to do that when you have the travel schedule of a competitive professional athlete.”

Palm Beach-based psychologist John F. Murray, who has worked with professional tennis and NFL players, said Woods’ hiatus could also be simply a case of allowing him to escape the stress.

“It’s the only possible thing to do when you are facing such amazing pressure. … It is too much for him – he needs an escape, some kind of relief from the stress. He definitely needs a break,” said Murray.

“Tiger isn’t just a golfer, he is an empire and he has lots of people advising him. He has probably been advised to take a break, to come up with a plan, come up with a strategy.”

Cooper added she doubted the public scrutiny of his private life would affect Woods’ performance when he returned.

“For the typical athlete, these types of distractions can obviously impact performance but Tiger has shown time and time again that he can manage his off-course life separately from his performance,” she said.

“I think his step away isn’t about protecting his performance, it is about how he is going to address his family situation. That requires time and his physical presence which he just can’t do if he is on the tour.

“Athletes are very all or nothing people, so if he is … going to fix his marriage he is going to fix his marriage and pour himself into that.”

Most observers expect Woods to be back playing some time next year, but a major question remains how he will cope with the loss of his previous image as clean-cut family man and Murray said one way of dealing with that could be to embrace the change.

“He could do what John McEnroe did (in tennis) and become the bad boy of golf,” Murray said.

“There are ways to do it, I don’t know if he could be the bad boy but I don’t know how he is going to keep that clean image.”

Imagery in Golf is as Important as Shot Selection

Golf Psychology – November 11, 2004 – Dr. John F. Murray – Golf is perhaps the most “mentalâ€? sport of all. What does this mean? In my opinion, it accents the types of demands placed upon the player.

For example, high priorities include having a well thought out pre-shot strategy, selecting the right club, recovering from an errant shot, and staying calm and focused in the most stress-inducing situations. It’s much like playing chess, but a whole lot more fun and better for the body! Mental factors are also essential in developing physical tools for the game (e.g., efficient swings, proper footwork, fitness), for without quality instruction and knowledge, progress can be very difficult. Unlike in some other sports, sheer athletic ability and brute strength play a less prominent role. What is really needed in golf is more advanced software. Enter imagery.

Imagery, also called visualization, was described by Vealey and Walter (1993) as a mental technique that programs the human mind to respond as programmed, by using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Mahoney (1977) described imagery as one of four categories of cognitive skills important in athletic performance, and Suinn (1984) developed a popular version of imagery called visual motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR). Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery. Although research into the merits of imagery lags far behind the practice of the technique, many golfers find imagery helpful. It is used for rehearsing new skills, practicing and refining existing skills, preparing for particular situations and readying for an entire round. Studies have shown imagery to be helpful in a variety of ways such as reducing warm-up decrement, lowering anxiety, and increasing self-confidence.

How is this technique implemented? First, it should be recognized that, like any skill, practice is necessary. Most golfers spend enormous time and energy improving their swings and other physical skills, while neglecting mental practice. Ask yourself what percentage of your practice time is spent hitting balls versus developing essential mental skills through techniques such as imagery. You may discover that you are ignoring this crucial part of your game. Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery. Are you even spending 10% of your practice time using mental techniques?

One note of caution, imagery may hurt your game if your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient. In fact, you’ll just reinforce bad habits. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are intact. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should schedule regular lessons with their local professional to monitor their progress.

Imagery can be practiced by lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed. This longer version lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. It is often used prior to a match and helps prepare the player mentally. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete match point by point. A shorter version of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to serving, the player visualizes a perfect serve to a strategical location. Imagery is also useful to familiarize the player with high percentage shot sequences, developing anticipation skills for a quicker and more effective response during the actual point.

Some individuals have a more natural ability to form visual images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images:

(1) Try thinking in pictures rather than words

(2) Look at pictures or videos prior to using imagery

(3) Stay in a quiet, relaxed and calm environment to avoid distractions

Here are some general principles to enhance imagery:

(1) Make the imagery seem as realistic as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context

(2) Practice imagery regularly as it may take months before seeing improvement

(3) Believe that imagery works, as your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect

(4) Keep a focused yet relaxed attention while using imagery

(5) Internal imagery is most effective. Picture yourself actually accomplishing the feat (from your minds eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in.

(6) Only imagine perfection. This will boost your self- confidence and reinforce good habits.

In closing, imagery is a potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game if your basic skills and understanding of golf are solid. Just don’t let your opponents know what you’re thinking!

I hope you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Golf

Dr. Murray works with lots of pro and amateur golfers to help them improve their mental games and we all know how important that is in this wonderful sport. Stay tuned as this page is under develoment