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The Mental Game in Two Words


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2 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

I think the term was it’s overrated. And at the highest levels of the game, I don’t think it’s overrated. I’ve stated my reasons why ... 

When someone like Hal Sutton says something like (paraphrasing) "the only thing separating guys at this level is the mental game," he's not only completely wrong, he's vastly over-rating the importance of the mental game.

That's enough for tonight.

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Here is a quote from Tiger, This is the best golfer of all time acknowledging he feels pressure. He feels nervous. He just knew how to deal with it. The worst thing a person can do is go apathe

I'm not talking about your pre-shot routine. I'm not name-dropping and telling you to shoot "aggressively" at "conservative" targets. I'm not going to tell you about deep breathing techniques, visuali

Enjoying competition/pressure may have a genetic component, but I feel it is mostly learned/nurtured. Success breeds success. Surround yourself with quality, successful, competitive people and you h

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2 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

I never said that. These same athletes are playing against other superior athletes. Little edges matter ... 

As to casual golf, I don’t think it matters much if at all.

How is this different than my work? Under stress, I invented new things, came up with new solutions, solved complicated problems. How? Because I’m better at math and chemistry and science.  Not because I manage stress better. The best players in sports are the same. They are just physically better, more accurate, hit farther than other players.

I agree, too, that we're done for the night.

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I think there are players who's physical talents make mental deficiencies mostly irrelevant.

I also think there are players who's mental deficiencies make their limited physical talents less than what they could be.

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One of the things I like about TST is that it has really interesting topics. It encourages me to learn more about subjects I don’t normally think about. This is one. 

So the thread began with a recommendation to simply “enjoy pressure”. Is it really that easy?

In some cases, yes. Harvard psychologists demonstrated that moderate levels of anxiety improve performance in humans and animals: too much anxiety, obviously, impairs performance, but so does too little.

But research also determined that 1 in 5 suffer from anxiety and one outcome of anxiety is stress which often has physiological effects (tense muscles, breathing, etc.) which in turn, affects performance. Why? Why can’t people just relax and play their best?

Apparently, a person’s allotment of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates stress responses, among other things, is relatively fixed from birth, more a function of heredity than of learning. People high in NPY tend to be unusually psychologically resilient and resistant to breaking down in high-pressure situations.

It’s possible that those who thrive under pressure (and become world-class athletes) have learned to be resilient—that their high levels of NPY are the product of their training or their upbringing.

Others however (20%), are unable to do so. They have insufficient levels of NPY to deal with high pressure and their physiological response is any of a number of things …sweaty palms, labored breathing, tense muscles, etc.

 Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago cognitive psychologist who specializes in the topic, stated that to achieve optimal performance—what some psychologists call flow—parts of your brain should be on automatic pilot, not actively thinking about (or “explicitly monitoring”) what you are doing. Beilock has found that she can dramatically improve athletes’ performance, at least in experiments, by getting them to focus on something other than the mechanics of their stroke or swing.

So pressure (and some anxiety) produces better performance than not having the anxiety. The open question is … how much is too much? The very best athletes seem to either naturally resilient to stress or how to manage themselves “in the zone” … either chemically or through coping mechanisms. 

Interesting topic!

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44 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

So the thread began with a recommendation to simply “enjoy pressure”. Is it really that easy?

You're also missing out on the other topics that discuss the mental game. This is not the only one. Nor is it the best one, or the most recent. This topic is nearly a decade old, in fact.

This topic is particularly dumb:

The 32% who voted for "mostly mental" are, well, I'll just say I can't disagree more. Golf is almost entirely about your physical skills, your physical abilities. That's why "Hal is full of shit."

There are others, too, many of which are not nearly a decade old.

44 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

But research also determined that 1 in 5 suffer from anxiety and one outcome of anxiety is stress which often has physiological effects (tense muscles, breathing, etc.) which in turn, affects performance. Why? Why can’t people just relax and play their best?

This is a pretty lousy study and/or application.

I can be stressed about something with my wife and yet find refuge on the golf course and almost be "freed up" to play well. Or, I can be stressed about golf and my performance might elevate.

Life is stressful. Everyone has stress from time to time. It doesn't always affect your golf, and when it does, it doesn't always affect it negatively.

44 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

It’s possible that those who thrive under pressure (and become world-class athletes) have learned to be resilient—that their high levels of NPY are the product of their training or their upbringing.

Two things:

  • You just said it's relatively fixed from birth. This almost contradicts this.
  • You are not allowing for the fact that you can succeed in spite of being super stressed, having horrible thoughts, etc.
44 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

Others however (20%), are unable to do so.

I don't think you've shown this at all. You're taking one study and applying it to high level athletics. This topic isn't even about high level athletics.

44 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

Beilock has found that she can dramatically improve athletes’ performance, at least in experiments, by getting them to focus on something other than the mechanics of their stroke or swing.

Who is saying "coming down the stretch of a major you should definitely be thinking about the mechanics of your swing"?

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I wasn't looking at the issue of "Is golf a mental game or a physical game" as much as I was "why are some people more affected by stress than others?" 

So, reading up on the subject, I came up with a framework that works for me. And that is ...About 20% of the population is subject to anxiety and responding to that anxiety is a function of the degree of natural resilience, use of a chemical management, and/or behavioral changes. 

So, it's a continuum and it's a personal thing and different people need different things. Some don' need anything, some need yoga and breathing, others need drugs. It helps me pull together and explain people that I know and it seems to fit. 

Is it the best way to look at it? I don't know. But I know someone who does and I'm going to run over to her lab tomorrow and ask. I'll let you know. 

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16 minutes ago, Vespidae said:

I wasn't looking at the issue of "Is golf a mental game or a physical game" as much as I was "why are some people more affected by stress than others?" 

I'll admit to finding this tiring: I never said you were looking at it that way. But that is a topic, and a thought or a feeling, with some background. It'd be helpful if you, rather than jumping in and taking one or two comments and trying to build a case for your position, did some more reading to find out what I and others have already said about this, considered the context and timeframes, etc.

Also, this topic is not really about "why are some people more affected by stress than others," in part because… stress is not the same as "pressure," and "stress" in one area of your life, as I've said, doesn't necessarily translate to how it affects you playing golf. The studies you're citing don't really seem to apply, per se. Some people will freak out (major stress) about popularity, but can be a stone cold killer on the golf course. Or some people are overly sensitive to money. Even competitively: play for a trophy and they're a killer, play for $40 and they perform worse.

Everyone's different, and your 20% is not only not related to athletic performance, it ignores that you can "have stress" in a given year… and then get over it. Your study and citing of 20% might just also be called "20% of people encounter major stressful things in a given year."

Either way, its application to golf and athletic performance is weak at best, IMO, and so I'll ask that you not "let us know" unless you can tie it to that. This is a discussion about golf, not people who are stressed over paying the mortgage or getting fired or divorce or illness or moving across the country or whatever.


Were I to go back to re-write this nearly a decade later, I'd make a few basic points:

  • Pressure isn't necessarily "bad." If you feel pressure, or butterflies, it's a sign that you care. That's a good thing.
  • If the pressure is "crippling" or something, then you need to learn how to handle it.
  • One of the best ways I've found to handle it: learn to enjoy it.
    • Again, pressure means you're playing well. There's very little pressure in the golf situations we face unless you're playing well enough for it to "matter." Nobody feels much pressure finishing 41st out of 57 in the club championship.
    • Pressure gives yourself a chance to test yourself, to learn more about yourself, to push yourself to new and greater heights. That's a good thing. Etc.
  • "Enjoy" doesn't mean you won't still feel pressure. It just means you can recognize it and see the positives in it.

That's the topic here. It's not about whether some people are better at handling stress.

P.S. And, I'm not going to engage in a semantic debate about whether what you're saying is on topic or not. Your next post in this topic, should you make one, should be so far within the topic it's obvious to all. It should not require any explanation or discussion, or argument. The "tiring" part is that you don't seem to read what others write and take it in. You're (seemingly, from my perspective) misunderstanding what others are saying. It happened in the "ballstriking" topic repeatedly. Numerous people told you things, and you ignored them and kept carrying on. I feel that's happening again.

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On 9/26/2011 at 6:01 AM, newtogolf said:

I agree you have to enjoy pressure but in my past experiences to enjoy the pressure of the moment you need the confidence in yourself to perform under it.  I like pressure - do some of my best work under pressure but on the course I find that because I don't have full confidence in my swing the addition of pressure to a situation is enough to make things go bad.

I completely agree with this. Enjoying pressure is one thing, but not having confidence adds on to the pressure. No matter how much I enjoy the pressure on the tees, if I can't hit a shot it's going to suck. 

With practice comes confidence. With confidence, I enjoy pressure.

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11 hours ago, Golf With John said:

I completely agree with this. Enjoying pressure is one thing, but not having confidence adds on to the pressure. No matter how much I enjoy the pressure on the tees, if I can't hit a shot it's going to suck. 

With practice comes confidence. With confidence, I enjoy pressure.

Definitely agree with this. If I'm not confident in golf, I won't like hitting on the first tee with three groups right behind me.

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