A common question I get asked when coaching players is: “What should I be thinking about over the ball?” This is a very good question with a surprising answer. The short answer is you want to be thinking about nothing. I hear you thinking … nothing? How can I think about nothing? Shouldn’t I be thinking about a swing thought, visualising the ball flight or thinking about a small target? To a degree all of the above are acceptable as long as they are not a dominating and “loud” thought. Let me explain.
On his DVD, Tracking the Tiger, Tiger Woods explains; “There have been key shots in major tournaments where I took the club out of the bag and I didn’t remember anything until the ball landed on the green.” This quote sums up the ultimate experience of being free of mind and in what we all know to be ‘The Zone’.
What Tiger demonstrates here, is that through all of his physical, and the more important mental training, he was able to free his mind of thought. This allowed all the work he had done to flow through to his body, to execute shots without dominating thoughts. In other words, he has learned to be silent. There is no over thinking about any one thing. We need to learn to get out of our own way and let our game happen.
You have probably all heard the quote, “Golf is 90% mental.” This is part of what the phrase refers to. When you learn to silence your thoughts, relax the mind and body, you will have greater access to all the great swings you have made over the years. Think about the good rounds and shots you have played. What were the thoughts? What were the feelings? Most of us will conclude that our best shots and rounds were when we didn’t think much, we knew what we wanted to do and it felt easy. On poor days, the mind is over dominated with technical thoughts. We are trying something new on each shot, focusing too hard and attempting to steer the ball towards the target. These days our mind is noisy and the movements seem out of sync and harder.
You will not access a smooth motion when you have dominating thoughts. Think about the last time you compounded a poor shot with another one. Were you holding onto frustration from the previous result? Were you gripping tighter, getting more agitated and then trying to make the ball do something? What happens to your shots when you are thinking about posture, alignment, transferring your weight, hitting down on the ball, an intermediate target, all over one shot? Chances are you get a result you don’t like. Below is very brief explanation of what is happening in the brain when all of these thoughts are occurring.
In his book, The Fluid Motion Factor, Steven Yellin explains how the brain stores motor patterns and how our brain can access these movements. Put simply, each time a golf movement is performed our Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC) is engaged and active during the process. The movement created is stored in the basal ganglia which houses the Motor System. Once enough movements have been stored in the Motor System it is then important for the PFC to disengage and become silent so the movements can be freely accessed. When the PFC is engaged, the message back to the Motor System will be distorted and a movement will not be as fluid as it could be if the PFC were silent. (The Fluid Motion Factor- Steven Yellin).
Silencing the mind during the round is the most important thing you can learn to do for your golf game. Technical thinking and change is important and this thinking should be done at home, in the gym or on the driving range in a proper way for continued improvement. Your technique will not change on the golf course during your weekly round. So the best way to get the most out of your shots during the round is to reduce the noise of technical or dominating thought processes.
Have you ever had a swing thought that worked one day but didn’t the next? Visualised the ball flight the entire round then couldn’t do it the next round? Or perhaps saw the target clearly in your mind then couldn’t the next day no matter how hard you tried? What is happening one day to the next is the thought becomes the dominating factor in trying to make the ball do what you want it to do. “When the thoughts become the dominating factor we are not accessing the Motor System as efficiently because the Pre Frontal Cortex has become involved.” (Steven Yellin, The Fluid Motion Factor). What we proceed to do is tense up and try too hard, to try and make something that has worked previously work again.
On a day to day basis our goal is to learn to be silent. The best way to learn to be silent is to learn a process where you can control your breathing, become mindful and centred in the moment. When you do this process correctly thoughts become quieter and motion is allowed to freely happen.
Athletes of all levels use mindfulness training to centre themselves in the moment and to give themselves the best chance for effective execution of their learned skills. One of my favourite apps for mindfulness training is the Smiling Mind app. This app is completely free and teaches you mindfulness from beginner to advanced and from ages 7 to adult. The app offers short 1 minute sessions up to 60 minute sessions.
- Start your mindfulness training today using the above app or other mindfulness resources. Learn to become as silent as possible. Reduce dominating technical, target or disastrous thoughts.
- Once you have some level of understanding of mindfulness and completed at home training, book a session with me so I can guide you on how to integrate mindfulness into golf related scenarios and shot execution.
- Play with the motion you have on that day. Do not fight it, silence it. Continue to improve your game off the golf course with professional advice and a professional practice program.