Anxiety and Golf

Golfers Anxiety

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

What is it about anxiety in golf? Is it the fact that you’re alone against the course? Or that others may be watching? Why can one small swing fix work one day, only to leave us hanging the next?
While it may have many sources, we can all agree that anxiety in golf can be a crippling opponent. However, when understood properly, it can be negated, or even turned to our advantage. Part of the problem could be a general misconception about the nature of anxiety in general. Many may believe that any amount of anxiety or nervousness is abnormal or wrong. However, the truth is quite the contrary – everyone experiences certain amounts of normal, healthy anxiety before any performance task; this should not be our concern. Rather, excessive amounts of anxiety which cause serious distress should be seen as an area for improvement. Simply experiencing anxiety is a normal response.
For proof of this we need look no further than basketball great Bill Russell, who famously threw up before important games. In fact, his teammates came to use that as a barometer that he was prepared for a big performance.
So, it is time for a newer understanding of anxiety for golfers, and all athletes. Placing the expectation on ourselves that we should never be nervous or anxious can lead to a vicious cycle of fearing anxiety itself, then getting more anxious, then becoming self-critical, which in turn leads to elevated anxiety.
Instead, our understanding of anxiety should be that nervousness and anxiety is a natural response, experienced by everyone, to stressful performance situations. If we find ourselves becoming excessively nervous (as possibly indicated by some responses such as clammy hands, negative self-talk, or upset stomach), it might be time for some calming exercises such as a breathing-centering routine, stepping back from the ball and starting our pre-shot routine over, or some positive visualizations. The final key to understanding anxiety is to remember that different people experience anxiety differently. The key is learning our own anxiety responses and how we perform under duress, and modifying our routing accordingly.

Sleep Better to Train Better

Sleep better to play better

Ongoing research out of Stanford University is continuing to establish the relationship between athletic performance and sleeping habits. Sleep lab researcher Cheri Mah has now conducted studies with male basketball players and male and female swimmers for Stanford. The results are conclusive: more sleep for the athletes yielded better performance.
The athletes were asked to compare their performance results during periods of normal sleeping habits with 6-7 week trial periods of at least 10 hours of sleep per night. During the period of extended sleep, the athletes demonstrated improved quickness, speed, and reaction time. Furthermore, they reported better moods throughout the day, reduced daytime sleepiness, and increased energy.
Said Mah of her research: “These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance.”
Some tips for sleeping better for better performance:

  • Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
  • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.
  • Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  • Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.


Living Vicariously

Parent behavior in youth sport – nightmare vs. reality

Media coverage in recent years would make us think that violence and aggression among parents in youth sports is the norm, not the extreme. A simple google search for violence in youth sports will return hundreds of stories detailing such incidents. Certainly, such violent behavior among parents and family members is out of line and not the normal baseline for spectator behavior.

But what does parent behavior and comments actually look like? Athletic Insight, online sport psychology journal, has published a new study detailing the actual content of parent comments during youth athletic events. Their research, reviewing over 2,000 comments by over 100 parents, showed that 52% of observed comments were positive, while 32% were negative and 16% were neutral. Comments which were viewed as negative were those which were scolding, sarcastic, and instructional/correcting in nature.Some examples of these comments include “let’s see some hustle out there,” “Suck it up,” or “throw it to first”.

The study gives us an outline of the frequency and content of negative comments and behaviors – so what are some positive behaviors parents of young athletes can use? SPINW has compiled a list of positive traits for parents and coaches of young athletes below.

-Encourage, but don’t force – encourage children to play sports, but don’t force them if they really don’t want to.

-Set limits on participation – base participation of children on their physical and emotional readiness. Doing too much can lead to injury or burnout.

-Set goals – help children set realistic goals for performance.

-Winning isn’t everything – keep your child’s focus on having fun and giving their best effort, not winning at all cost.

-Let the coach coach – when a child is at practice or a game, parents should let coaches do their job, and avoid giving advice or criticisms.

The Effect of Anxiety

Anxiety and its Consequences

All athletes, performing at all levels of competition, are familiar with feelings of anxiety and arousal. Whether it’s a small child with a dry mouth before their first basketball game or Greg Oden’s first step onto the court for an NBA game that actually matters, everyone experiences some degree of anxiety relating to competition.

How can anxiety influence us during competition? Several theories have come out of sport psychology research over the decades. One theory of particular note was pioneered by British psychologist Graham Jones. His theory was simple: That our perception of how our own ability to control our anxiety, and our ability to control outselves and our surroundings, determines the anxiety’s effect. If an athlete feels they are in control, and that anxiety is manageable, than this level of arousal will likely lead to superior performance. However, the opposite can have negative consequences.

Another theory which has been well demonstrated in research is Yuri Hanin’s Individualized Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF). In a nutshell, Hanin posits that every athlete will have a different amount of anxiety or arousal which can lead to their ultimate performance. For example, one athlete may compete well at relatively low levels of arousal but not when extremely anxious or “pumped up”; alternatively, another athlete may perform poorly when unaroused but very well in high anxiety or tension situations.

So now that we know about anxiety, what can we do about it to maximize our performance? Check outPeak Performance’s guide to controlling and managing our anxiety. They have five key points for maximizing effectiveness:

1. Establish your ‘winning feeling’

2. Centering

3. The five breath technique

4. Thought stopping

5. Letting go