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Concentration in Golf
The power of concentration is probably the most important skill to have in Sport. According to Jack Nicklaus ‘concentration is a fine antidote to anxiety’ so as well as helping in the task at hand it may counteract the nerves so often associated with competitive golf. Tiger Woods when asked about a loss in form stated ‘I lost my ability to will things to happen’ presumably suggesting that a mental process is tied to his ability to perform well. He also stated that powers of concentration were responsible for his ability to pull through under pressure ‘your senses are more heightened, everything seems to flow better’ he said back in 2006 at the peak of his form.
I see it so often in lessons where a profound problem like shanking, slicing or the Yips seems to be controlled by a mental process. For example the old chestnut of ‘my practice swing is fine’ is so often true. So why is it that 5 seconds later the player swings with the ball there and all that was intended is forgotten about, and the old habit comes back? This is the question I am most frequently asked during lessons, and to me the most likely explanation is a change in the player’s train of thought, i.e. whatever they were thinking about a few seconds ago has changed (at times not knowingly to the player) and this is what makes concentration so difficult to improve. The fact is we only seem to be able to think and manage one thing at a time properly. Try listening to more than one conversation at a time, you will get some of both but not enough of either!
Below is a summary of the 3 key elements required to concentrate well.
- The player should focus on the most relevant thing
In my experience this is the biggest challenge, often when talking to players I find that they are attending to irrelevant issues at crucial points in the swing. It takes discipline to avoid ‘listening’ to the voices in your head which are well meaning but not helpful. For e.g. the player who is attempting to swing the club in the correct manner but forgets the key new move and thinks about something else and the old swing automatically kicks in! This is tough though and takes discipline to learn, I deal with people afflicted with the Yips a lot and they will tell you that if they can stay focused on something helpful for the 2 seconds it takes to swing the club, that the Yips don’t get as much of a look in.
- The player should stay focused in the present
Yes, this must seem obvious but very true. The main mistakes here are worrying about what is to come or what may happen as a result of the shot being played. The player may also be remembering past failures and focusing on that. The art of concentration by distraction is a possible solution here, for e.g. my dentist has a scene from the Walt Disney jungle book cartoon painted on the ceiling of his practice and when you lie back on the dentist’s chair you can see it really well. I asked for the logic behind it and he told me it is for the kids who are fearful of the dentist, they are asked various questions about the mural, e.g. who can you see in the picture? What is he doing? What other characters are there etc., etc. He says many kids get so interested in the mural that they forget to worry about the dentist and it makes his work so much easier. This is a classic example of concentration on certain things to eliminate others from your mind. What could be your ‘mural’ for the swing?
- The player should maintain this focus for the duration of the shot
Again not easy to learn but is possible. As stated above the swing takes 2 seconds from start to finish so it should be possible to hold your attention for one thing for that length of time, don’t you think? Having a ‘pre shot routine’ to follow is very important to assist in this endeavour and also your ‘in swing routine’. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different trains of thought in order to find your means of staying focused. It could be something technical but simple (like the direction the club swings in) and that’s ok or it may be a theme of using a controlled smooth swing. In lessons I ask players sometimes to rate their ‘smoothness’ on shots and give me a number, the reason for this is to control their attention and maintain focus. Try this but remember it takes time! The main thing here to have a train of thought that is relevant and stick to it for the 2 seconds of the swing.
Good luck with concentrating!