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Performance Factors
Mental Aspect

"The aim of sports psychology is to help produce the best performances possible. It can be a fantastic tool as long as it's used properly. Things have to be simplified, not made more complicated. Actually, very few golfers know how to think out on the course."

"It's not the ideal thing for a golfer to remain concentrated all through a round. No one can pay continuous attention for four hours without the quality of his concentration suffering. So golfers have to learn to manage their concentration by simply using it when it's appropriate to do so."

From 1997 to 1999, Maurice studied for a scientific Master's degree in sports psychology with the objective of exploring a subject that was both important and little known: the mental aspect of the game of golf. His research in the field and his thesis, using 20 professional golfers from the European Tour (including 7 winners) as subjects, enabled him to gain valuable knowledge about the topic.

In order to improve performances, he developed a special program for golfers. Whether top-level professionals or amateur golfers, they can profit from a number of principles that are enduring, easy to apply, and highly effective. One of his "little secrets" is a conviction that golfers can derive great benefit from knowing how and when to use their full powers of concentration.

Here are 4 articles written by Maurice for you to read. They were published in Golf Suisse, the official magazine of the Swiss Golf Federation, when he was teaching in that country.

  1. Visualizing your Strokes

  2. Parasitic thoughts

  3. A Matter of Confidence

  4. Performing in the Zone

Visualizing your strokes

Is your game hit and miss? One of the most effective mental techniques to help improve golf performances is the use of mental imagery, also called "visualization." This method is a common practice for the majority of golf professionals, and amateur players can also profit from its use. Whether you want to sink a six-foot putt or hit a 240-yard tee shot into the middle of the fairway, visualizing the trajectory you want your ball to follow will help you make a successful shot. When you form a mental picture of what you want to do your brain sends your body a precise message telling it what actions it has to perform, and this is part of the programming process.

Try it next time you're playing a round! Before you play each stroke, stand behind your ball and try to imagine its flight path right up to the desired target. "See" your ball flying through the air, bouncing on the green, and rolling into the hole. Initially you will find this a difficult exercise to perform and that it requires a high level of concentration. But if you persevere in your attempts you'll find it becomes easier to visualize, and visualization will become an integral part of your routine. The more clear and precise your image of the ball flight, the better your chances of making a good shot.

However, take your personal limitations into account. For example, it won't be any use visualizing a 280-yard tee shot if you don't normally hit the ball more than 190 yards! Don't forget that even if visualization alone doesn't enable you to bring off all your shots successfully, using it will help to improve your game. You'll see, you'll surprise yourself!

"Parasitic" thoughts.

"Oh, no! I fouled up on that shot because I wasn't concentrating." We often hear words like this coming from a golfer who has just made a shot he's unhappy with. The reality is that the golfer in question is probably right, for poor concentration is often the root cause of many missed shots.

But what exactly do we mean by "concentration"? Being concentrated means that all your attention is devoted to what you want to accomplish, at the exact moment you are doing it. For example, for an optimal level of concentration, 100% of the attention would be focused on the shot while executing it. Very logical, you say! Yes, but it's not necessarily an easy thing to do. For beginning and intermediate golfers and even the best professionals it isn't always a simple matter to maintain one's concentration, for an inconceivable number of "parasitic" thoughts can intervene. In fact, very few golfers are concentrating really well just when they are shooting the ball. Here are a few examples of these "parasitic" thoughts"

Beginner: "There's a lot of people watching me; I hope I don't flub my shot!"

"There are some golfers held up behind me, I'd better hurry up!"

Intermediate: "I hope I don't end up in the water like last time."

"I can't afford to miss this shot, for I'm already 4 over par after only two holes!"

Professionals: "I've got to put this ball up to the flag, for I'm only one up on the next three players."

"This birdie putt has to go down; I've missed two of them already!"

It's quite normal for thoughts like this to occur during a game, but you have to put them right out of your mind when the time comes to make your shot. It makes little difference whether these thoughts are positive or negative, they divert your attention from the stroke you have to make. To help yourself, try to visualize the trajectory you want to give the ball just before you prepare to play.

A Matter of Confidence

George is a 9-handicap golfer. He plays three rounds a week on average, but his scores are very uneven. On a good day he can score as low as 75. On the other hand, when he plays badly he scores around 90. What happens is that when he does well over the first few holes he says to himself: "Today it's going well; it's going to be a good day," and his confidence is high. He's convinced he's going to play well, and so he does. But if he scores high early in the round he tends to lose confidence, and says to himself: "I'm having a bad day; nothing's working." He continues to play poorly and finishes with a very high score for the 18 holes.

Just like George, a lot of golfers allow their results early in the round to influence their confidence level. Scientific research has shown that golfers who manage to keep their confidence level high will perform better. Some golfers' confidence is so fragile that when they bungle their first tee shot they tell themselves: "It's going to be a bad day!"

The best advice I can give you is to learn to play in the present. Like George, a lot of golfers make the mistake when playing a round of allowing their thoughts to dwell on the past, or the future, or even both:

"I've missed my first tee shot. This is going to be a bad day!"

"I've already had three double bogeys. I'm not going to play to my handicap."

"I've hit it in the water. I can't do better than a bogey."

"I've missed all my short putts. Will I ever get one in?"

In playing your next few games, make it a resolution not to think about the shots you've already played, or the scores you've already made, or the ones you're going to make: just play one shot at a time. Approach each of them with a positive attitude, as if you are sure to play them well. Don't forget to visualize the trajectory you want to give the ball. You can't do any better than give the best of yourself in every shot. There'll always be bad days, but they'll be less bad and less frequent if you keep trying to approach each shot with a positive attitude.

The optimal performance zone

Among your fellow golfers you certainly know a few who almost always seem to play better when they're under a lot of pressure. Others, on the contrary, always tend to go to pieces at important times. Some golfers are never able to hit the ball straight on the driving range but a few minutes later, on the course, they manage to put most of their tee shots on the fairway. Others are able to strike the ball well in practice but come apart when they have to play an important game. In fact, each individual has his or her own zone of optimal performance.

Although the level of stress required to reach this optimal zone may vary from person to person, a lack of challenge can result in a poor performance just as much as too much pressure.

In golf the majority of poor results are caused by excessive stress. To illustrate the way that pressure can affect performance, here's a simple example: Imagine you have to walk all the way along a wooden beam 6 inches wide and 30 ft. long, set 18 inches from the ground. Now imagine the same beam set 100 feet above the ground. Most people would have no trouble in the first case, but fail in the second. (Please don't try this at home!) So even if the task to be performed is the same it becomes much more difficult to carry out under a lot of pressure because our concentration becomes re-focused onto the consequences of falling. The same principle applies to golf. When there is too much pressure (but also when there's a lack of motivation), you don't concentrate properly on the task in hand.

To help you approach your optimal performance zone, whatever is at stake, visualize the trajectory you want to give your ball and try to keep your mind fixed on the action that will allow you to make a successful shot.

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