Winning the Mental Game

ElliotWaksman-minGo ahead; Hit the gym and count the carbs. Just remember that those daily push-ups won’t make up for self-doubt on your backswing this weekend. Unfortunately, the pillar of performance most people overlook is mindset. With golf having earned the label of “the ultimate head game”, isn’t it time you flexed your mental toughness muscles?

Battling the nerves: Despite what you might expect after watching top golfers from a distance or on TV, mentally tough people do experience nervousness. February’s CBS article, “How The Pros Manage Super Bowl Jitters” revealed “It’s a common misnomer. Pro athletes do experience anxiety, the same way everyone else does.” Who says you have nothing in common with those NFL heavyweights? Rather than sulking in self-doubt over feeling initially nervous, recognize that elite performers experience the same sensations. Accept it. Normalizing fear is a helpful strategy as your tee time approaches.

When golfers walk into my office searching for strategies to help them better handle their nerves on the course, I often share with them that most marathon runners spend many restless nights before races. Have marathon runners won races having slept poorly the night before? Absolutely, all the time! Similarly, have golfers won championships having experienced nervous sensations? Certainly, every tournament! I characterize progress when golf clients report recognizing that nerves simply signify that they care and are able to accept it, trust the process, and channel their self-talk to focus on what will go well.

Success Formula: Work to accept nervousness as part of competition—at least three times per round.

Using visualization: Not to worry, the Zen of a monk and the determination of an Olympian are not prerequisites to help you quickly benefit from this mental technique. Although, it should be noted that 99% of Olympic athletes use visualization and here is how they do it. While every clown you seem to get paired up with barks out, “see the shot in your head!” proper visualization involves adding sensory details, such as feeling how the club’s grip felt last time you nailed a similar shot. This helps to create an experience in your mind. The brain interprets the visualization as identical to the actual stimulus situation. In his prime, even Tiger Woods couldn’t completely eliminate mind-wandering while visualizing. Perfection is not the expectation. As the programmers of our own visualization scripts, we can build images from whatever pieces of memory we choose.

Success Formula: Work to consistently incorporate visualization into your pre-shot routine and spend at least five minutes the night before a competition visualizing shots in a quiet, comfortable room.

Acceptance and visualization are two sport psychology techniques that will give you the best possible chance of success this season. Welcome to a game plan with real solutions. With more trust, more enjoyment, and more consistent scorecards, the right mindset can make all the difference. Isn’t it time you flex your mental toughness muscles?

About the author:


Elliott Waksman earned his MA in Sport Psychology and maintains a private practice in Portland, Oregon, working with athletes and teams on the mental game of sport. He is the author of Waksman’s Sport Psychology Program. Receive his monthly mental toughness newsletter HERE or contact him directly at

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