For some golfers, competitions give them the ultimate buzz, they relish the challenge and in the heat of the battle, they often play their best golf.
But for a lot of golfers, this simply isn’t the case. More often than not – their nerves take complete control of them, they end up significantly under performing and they absolutely hate the experience of competition.
If this sounds something like you, then don’t worry…
In this article I am going to show you how to shift your mindset to handle these pressures and give you some practical techniques which will enable you to start loving competitive golf.
#1 Competitions are Just a Learning Experience
Firstly, to give yourself the best chance of performing in competition golf, it’s critical you view competitions as a chance to learn and grow.
Competitions aren’t something to be afraid of – they are a just a learning experience.
They are not for beating your mates, or shooting ridiculously low scores or wiping the floor with the field.
All that winning stuff is just a by-product of doing the correct things in your daily/weekly physical and mental practice.
When you shift your mindset to approach challenges such as competition as learning experiences, you see them in a totally different light.
- You start to go towards them and become far less fearful of failure.
- You start to not give a monkeys what other golfers are shooting and thinking.
- You start to care much less about the outcome and more about the process.
I used to detest competition. They were the be all and end all. They told me whether I was a failure in life or not. I didn’t see them as a learning experience, I saw them as an examination.
Who likes exams….?
And invariably I monumentally underachieved in competition. So this advice not only comes from the knowledge I have acquired but personal heartache as well.
#2 Chilling Out is a Learnt Skill
”That deep breathing malarkey doesn’t work for me, I tried it in my last competition and I didn’t feel calmer. In fact it made me feel worse”
It’s important to note that Learning how to relax when the pressure is on is just like any other skill – it takes practice. It’s not something you can only do in the heat of the battle and expect it to work. In fact, performing it in these situations without practice often makes you more tense.
Imagine a beginner golfer picking up a club for the first time and expecting to boom it 300 yards. Then when he didn’t, giving up because golf wasn’t for him.
This is no different from giving up learning how to breathe correctly after only a few attempts.
It requires a lot of practice.
It’s well documented that Tiger Woods put in a tremendous amount of work into this at the beginning of his career…
So how do you breath and how often should you practice?
A simple technique which I have learnt is called Ratio Breathing. You simply inhale through your nose and count to 4 and then exhale out of your mouth counting to 7. Once you learn how to do this properly, your body and mind will feel dramatically calmer.
If you want to know all the scientific jargon why breathing this way works – see here.
But the most important part to all this is practising it daily and eventually making it a habit.
And one proven strategy which is common through all my research – is the idea of attaching a habit to a behaviour we already do on a daily basis.
Not long ago I wanted to start doing some daily imagery practice. I wanted to start vividly visualizing myself playing 6 holes at my home course perfectly.
Imagery is proven to enhance confidence, relaxation, performance and various other awesome things.
Now relying on memory to do this daily is just a flawed idea and one that i’ll never follow through with. Life will happen and I’ll either forget completely or only do it partially (when I happen to remember)
And then I thought what do I do everyday which can trigger me into remembering me to do this short exercise?
Shower – I shower every day.
So now when I jump into the shower, instantly my mind tells me to do this imagery practice and subsequently over time, it has become a habit.
And this is how you can incorporate some breathing practice (and imagery) into your life. Find an activity you do every day which will trigger you into doing this.
I am only talking about a few minutes a day but these days really add up and eventually you’ll be able to calm down in pressure situations without even thinking about it.
If you are asking for breathing exercises the day before a tournament, it’s too late.
Make it a daily habit.
#3 Control the Controllable
I will talk about this until I am blue in the face. There are very limited amount of things you can actually 100% control whilst on the golf course.
But the issue is – us golfers try and control everything.
- We try and over control our golf swing.
- Our thoughts.
- The outcomes.
- Our playing partners scores.
- The weather.
All of this is very limited or totally out of our control.
And when the big day of competition (learning experience) arrives our controlometer (A word I just made up) goes through the roof.
- You start fiddling around with your swing.
- You start worrying about what you’re going to be thinking.
- You start worrying about the wind.
- You start worrying about who’s in the field .
- You start worrying about hitting bad shots.
All of these things are not in your control. In fact worrying or over controlling all of them will only add far too much tension, which as you know, significantly decreases your performance and enjoyment.
The number ONE reason for bad shots – TENSION.
So what can you control? Here’s some ideas…
- Sticking to your pre-shot routine.
- Allowing yourself not to react to negative thinking.
- 100% commitment to your game plan.
- Giving yourself the right preparation.
- Your on course demeanour.
These are the types of things you can 100% control and all you should be focused on.
Setting process goals prior to competition is vital…
So a little task next time you go and play. Write down 3 goals prior to the round which are 100% controllable and if completed, you win. Score and performance is irrelevant.
Obviously analyse performance to see where improvements are to be made, but the determining factor whether the round was a success, was the success of these three goals.
Fail them but shoot a good score – fail.
Do them and play not so great – win.
Having this mentality going into a competition is a total game changer and knowing your only worried about the stuff that you can actually control will lower your tension significantly.
#4 Give Yourself the Best Chance Possible
As I have mentioned, good preparation is something in your control. However, It doesn’t mean that just because you prepare well for the competition you have a divine right for success.
There’s no doubt, great preparation will give you a better chance of performing to the level you want but it shouldn’t raise your expectations.
Just see it as something you can control and that is it.
Golfers often say the better I prepare, the worse I play. This is because their expectations have increased.
They think just because they have eaten properly, practised loads that week, done their breathing exercises and hit a few pre-round putts – everything must fall in line.
This is just not the case. Good preparation is critical for you to perform at your best but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
So what is good preparation? Most of these you’ll be familiar with, but I’ll list them all in case you have missed any.
- A good night’s sleep. Avoid Caffeine and Booze the night before – both will affect REM sleep.
- A meal packed full of slow releasing carbs, quality protein and healthy fats, consumed 1 1/2 – 2 hours before tee off. Porridge with Fruit and a protein shake works for me. Pack the golf bag with at least 2 liters of water and a few healthy snacks – bananas, nuts etc.
- Arrive at the golf club around an hour before, 30-50 ball warm up and a good 20 minutes putting. I would avoid getting to the club too early – an hour or so is ample.
- A good session visualization great results. Vividly imagine yourself playing the entire 18 holes perfectly. This can be done the night before or in the morning. This takes practice, so make it a daily habit.
- Once you arrive at the club – phone is off. Any family things (unless life threatening) can wait. This will only take your focus away from your processes.
- A practice round is important for obvious reasons. Getting yourself familiar with the intricacies of the course can ensure you set…
- A GREAT GAME PLAN. Write down your game plan for every hole using your course management knowledge. Once written, you can use this game plan to visualise your success. Then set a process goal to fully commit to it for the entirety of the round.
- Write down your process goals. (A MUST) Look at them again during the round if you need to.
- Give yourself the ultimate commitment to achieving the goals you have written down.
#5 Nerves are Your Best Mate
Most golfers see nerves as the ultimate devil but when preparing/playing for a competition, they are inevitable. If you care, you will be nervous – there’s no way around it.
But It’s so important to realize that nerves are not only important but vital for you to play your best. They dramatically increase focus and concentration.
But when nerves become unhelpful is when you react to them negatively.
‘Oh my god I am so nervous’
‘I can’t stop my hands from shaking’
‘How am I going to play golf when I am this nervous’
These are the kind of reactions that take nerves to unhelpful levels. You become overwhelmed and the more you try and stop them, the more the adrenaline pumps and the more nervous you become.
It’s a vicious cycle – I know, believe me.
So, to break this cycle – it’s important you view them completely differently.
You need them. You want to be nervous. They are helping you. Your hands shaking is not a problem. Your stomach churning is cool.
If they become too much that doesn’t matter either, you can use the breathing exercise you have ingrained to calm your body and mind.
Once you get into this mindset, they will become your friend and not your arch enemy. You will start to relish competition and you’ll be playing with so much more freedom.
But again this is a learnt mindset so don’t expect to think like this tomorrow.
#6 Expectations are Your Arch Rival
The day of the competition is here and you have puts lots of work in. You have done all of the above and you now think this is your time to perform to your best.
Maybe it is maybe it isn’t.
But having any outcome orientated expectations not only add unwanted pressure but take the fun out of the experience.
They get your mind far too entangled in the outcomes.
(Outcome thinking is scientifically proven to increase tension)
The only expectations I would advise is you expect to give it everything. You expect to give 100% commitment to your process goals.
If things come off and you play great, then awesome.
But if not – what did you learn? And even if you did play great – what did you learn?
Summing it up
I don’t portray for one minute that changing your mindset in competition is easy.
But it’s like anything, learning how to relax, having a different mindset, preparing properly all takes practice over a period of time. It’s the build up of daily or weekly habits that really start to take shape.
Far too many golfers complain they can’t play in competition because they choke or they get too nervous.
And then when you ask them how much work they have done mentally, they say…
Please don’t be one of these golfers.
P.S I cover topics like this in our ‘Simple Mindset Habits to Unlock Your Best Golf’ Ebook which you can check out here.