By Dr. Ron Cruickshank, Golf Mind Coach & GGA Director, Canada

Today was a good day. My son Blade, a collegiate lacrosse player at Guilford College in North Carolina, was requested this year to take up the goalie position.  Now, if you know anything about lacrosse you know this is like setting yourself up at the business end of a shooting gallery, without much padding. His first month was a regular series of phone calls asking Mom for some home remedies for bruises and bumps all over his body.

Most of his buddies questioned his sanity for taking up the goalie position, as it is common knowledge that this position can result in being ‘gun shy’ and developing an early case of the jitters as you are trying to avoid getting whacked on the shins with a ball about the same density as a hockey puck. Not fun!

So, why was it a good day when my son’s schedule calls for him to show up as the target for 30 top athletes with sticks?  The reason was a call we had today in which he shared he had a great day of practice, maybe his best ever at this level. That was a change from the last couple of months.

As we queried the reasons, he told us that he had pulled some advice from the past (meaning something his old Dad had told him) and decided to start humming whenever he was under intense assault from the opposing attack men. “It worked great,” he said. “Got a few strange looks from my teammates, but they liked the results.”  He further added. “I was able to quit trying so hard and just let it happen without thinking about it.”

Read carefully here and understand the message. What he was doing by humming was interrupting his own internal dialogue (negative, fearful, uncertain) and letting his body do what it already was programmed to do. That is, watch a ball coming towards him at 90 MPH and catch it in a net connected to stick in his hands. His body knew how to do that because he has practiced it thousands of times and has it stored in his brain within thousands of neural circuits. Yet, something was getting in his way.

What most often gets in the way is a negative internal dialogue that gets manifested as some self-defeating behavior. It gets more complicated when you attach real pain to this dialogue (he actually got whacked a bunch of times). It then becomes what is known in behavioral science jargon as a “kinesthetic or visual anchor’. That is, just the visual imagery of the ball or even a feeling or thought can cause the body to be less than resourceful and reduce overall performance.

Let me give you an example. If you will, imagine you are driving along a nice scenic highway on a lovely spring day. Your car is new and freshly washed, the windows are down and the trees seem extra green and vivid. The flowers are out, the air is crisp and you have a sense of well-being and things seem right with the world. All of a sudden a flashing blue light appears directly behind you and the Highway Patrol guy is motioning you to pull over.  Whoops! Now tell me what happened to your emotional state as you imagined this scene?  That is an anchor and the feeling you got is similar to what happens when you let your dialogue get negative under stress.

There is a memorable scene I love in the movie Star Wars.  Luke Skywalker is trying to raise his crashed ship from the primordial ooze and is unable. In frustration, Yoda tells him. “Do not try Luke, just do!” What a great statement by a great teacher. Yoda was telling Luke to get his preconceptions, his fears, his wishes and his wants out of the way and just let his mind and body do what it knew how to do. In Yoda’s sentiments, trying doesn’t exist, you either do or you don’t.

The lesson here, for each of us, is that performance is often inhibited because we care too much. We want to do well so intensely that the desire itself becomes a type of over care or stress and the toll it takes – is our performance.

If you are seeking to maximize your performance when playing golf, or any other aspect of your life, where you get into a state of over care, it makes great sense to reduce the significance of the event in any way you can.   My son is doing it by humming, because you can’t think and hum at the same time (try it, it is true).

You can practice reducing significance by trying the following:

  • Being truly in the here and now. Focus on what is happening this second.
  • Think of the game you are in as just a fun round without any real consequence to you. You dissociate yourself from the emotional meaning.
  • Focus on a physiological aspect, like your breathing.  This moves your thoughts of performance into the background.
  • Direct interruption of your internal dialogue – hum your favorite tune. This can be done sub-vocalized to keep the noise down, or perhaps you might be playing with the members of a rock band and they would enjoy it.
  • Develop and rely on a routine that allows you to minimize your thoughts beyond what you are actually doing. This is why so many Pro’s use a strict pre-shot routine for every shot, especially putting, because this is when they are most susceptible to minor muscle movement related to stress. When they get under pressure they have a familiar routine to fall back on that lets them compartmentalize their internal dialogue to the rehearsed procedure.

You hear this reflected often in post round interviews when a pro will tell the interviewer. “I was trying to not get ahead (a head) of myself.” What he is telling us all highlights his desire not to let distracting, and unrelated to the task at hand, internal dialogue begin to affect his performance. If you are thinking about getting the trophy in a hour, or your gracious acceptance speech, it is hard to be lining up and executing the perfect putt.

In general, if you reduce the emotional significance of an event, you will reduce negative emotional impact on your state of being and that translates into improved performance. Your body is a closed and connected loop and every part is interacting with the other.

So, as to my humming lacrosse playing goalie son, I will report that his team is off to its best start in 20 years, with 5 wins and 1 loss so far this season. Now that’s a tune we can all enjoy.

About the Author: Dr. Ron Cruickshank recently opened the GGA – Moe Norman Golf School as part of the GGA expansion program into Canada. He is headquartered at the Royal Ashburn Golf Club in Whitby Ontario. This years offerings include a variety of Specialty Clinics in addition to the regular GGA Schools. If you are serious about getting better this year call Ron at 647-892-4653.