Hello golfers, welcome to this weeks tips & tricks. I’m currently stuck in isolation so I’m going to give you some sports psychology insight that you can use next time you’re on the driving range and golf course. This week we are going to look at your arousal levels. I know some of you too well and will be giggling reading this but trust me this will improve your golf game.
Arousal is the level of activation and alertness experienced by a performer. This needs to be different between sports and also within sports. High energy sports, such as rugby, require higher levels of arousal because the movements are explosive and it is a contact sport. Sports such as snooker require a very low level of arousal because the skill is very fine and precise. The heart rates and energy levels are at two ends of the scale between these two sports.
There are many psychological theories considering arousal and one of them is the “Inverted U” Theory. Amongst all sports there is an optimal level of arousal. Too low or too high and performance level will not be optimal. Take a look at the graph for an example of this.
Based on the previous information I’m sure many of you have experienced all three parts of this. I know I have.
There have been times when I consider my opponent in a match too be “easy” and my performance has been poor because I thought I was in for an easy ride. Other times when I have been playing well in an event with lots at stake I have made silly mistakes towards the end because of the pressure in that situation.
There will also be times when everything falls into place and it feels comfortable and easy. Some call this being “in the zone”. There is no better feeling than that in sport. You look at a target, pick a club, and away it goes straight towards the desired target or you look at a putt and know it’s going in. Your breathing is steady, your muscles feel relaxed and you feel like you have it all under control. This would be somewhere near your optimal level of arousal.
We are all different as human beings and we are all different golfers. This means that each of our optimal levels of arousal is slightly different. Take a look at Ian Poulter for example. He plays some of his best golf in high pressure situations. The Ryder Cup is his speciality. We could say that he has very high levels of optimal arousal. If I was to ask you to tee it up with millions watching on the first tee in the next Ryder Cup we can both agree you’re not likely to hit a very good shot so your optimal level is much lower.
Within golf there are times when we might need both ends of spectrum and the levels of arousal might change. Hitting long drives for example requires an explosive movement so we might want to get a bit more “pumped”. Putting on the other hand requires a more delicate touch so the heart rate and breathing needs to be dropped.
Try to think of a time when you were on a golf course and it was all going well. Now try and remember what was going through your mind and how you were feeling. If it was on the tee you were probably relaxed but still felt as though you were powerful and explosive. When you were chipping or putting the movements would be very relaxed and passive with much slower breathing and consequently a slower heart rate.
If you were on the last hole and had a 10ft putt to win the Open it’s going to be hard to lower that heart rate. A mate of mine used to practice on the putting green and do push up’s once in a while. I thought he was crazy but looking back now he was practicing his putting with a raised heart rate. This meant that if he was in a high pressure situation on the course he would know what it felt like and how to deal with it. I’m not suggesting you do the same but there are ways we can practice so you’re ready for these situations on the course.
Controlling heartrate and breathing is a very effective way to improve your game. It’s not easy and does take practice but could help you maintain your levels of performance when it’s going well and keep you slightly more on track when it’s not.
As we saw previously too much excitement (playing well) and too little excitement (playing poorly) can both be detrimental to performance. Practicing breathing techniques and forms of meditation on the golf course and driving range can improve your game. Do some research and find the best ways of breathing to help you. Like I said it’s not easy and takes practice but being aware of it is the first step. I try to take at least one big deep breath before every shot in my pre-shot routine to try and control my heartrate. If there is a steep bank heading to a green I make sure a take a minute or so to get my breath back so my heart rate isn’t too high going into a putt.
Golf is funny. It’s hard, it’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it’s rewarding. Finding your optimal level of arousal is key to unlocking playing your best golf more often. Next time you’re on the course try to be aware of your breathing and heartrate. Take your time and steady it if it’s too high.
As a golf coach it’s my job to help you find ways of playing your best golf more often, not just helping you swing it better. Sports psychology fascinates me and if you would like more help with this aspect of the game you know where to find me.
My diary is back open from Monday 17th January and you can check availability HERE.
See you all soon.