Think Less, Play Better

Neurons in the brain - illustration

If you’re struggling to improve your game, try to “feel” instead of think your way through it.

Those of you that are familiar with my newsletters will know that my coaching technique is based around mindfulness. That is, learning the art of relaxed concentration. I believe that golf is a game that rewards feel: if you think less, you get more.

I recently received an email from a fellow coach, Brian Sparks, excerpts of which, I would like to share with you now. It seems that scientific facts are now realizing what some of us know to be true. Consider the following article written by Daily Mail Science Reporter Fiona MacRae:

Thinking: A Golfer’s Handicap

If you’re struggling to improve your golf swing or strengthen your backhand, it may be that you are giving it too much thought. A study shows that the masters of sport use less grey matter when in action than novices. A group of good golfers was shown pictures of potential shots and asked how they would play them, undergoing brain scans as they responded. The process was repeated with poorer players. With the better players, very little of the brain was lit up except for the areas that deal with choices and consequences. The novices, however, had difficulty filtering out irrelevant information, with lights on all over the brain. They were even using areas that process emotion, according to the Chicago University study.

In a similar study, which is still in progress, British researchers are scanning the brains of hockey players. They are being shown video clips of a match and asked to predict where they think the ball will go. Although the study has not officially ended, it already appears that the expert players are better at forecasting. And, like the good golfers, they are using less, not more, brain power in the process.

Zoe Wimshurst, of Surrey University and a former junior hockey international, is carrying out the study with Brunel University sports scientist Michael Wright. She said, ‘novices are distracted by everything going on around them. The experts are much more able to focus specifically with their eyes and, in turn, with their brains.’ She said that, when getting ready for a shot, the mind of the novice is often overloaded with problems, nerves, fear of failure and even the issue of what to eat that night. The expert players, by contrast, are single-minded and concentrate on the matter in hand.

Research from St. Andrews University also suggests it is best not to think too much at sport. Golfers who fret about their technique were found to fare far worse on the course than others.


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