Stress management can cut sports anxiety
His sand wedge descended from its slow, graceful arc and entered the sand about 2 inches behind the golf ball. With a calculated explosion of sand, the ball emerged from its resting place and lifted above the putting surface – coming to rest a few inches from the cup. This whole procedure was finely executed in the minds eye of the golf professional who is preparing to execute this same shot moments thereafter. Such golfing greats as Jack Nicholas, Tom Kite and now Tiger Woods use visual imagery to enhance and improve their proficiency in a sport that epitomizes the term Mind Game.
Visual imagery, sometimes referred to as mental rehearsal or visualization is the process of creating (visualizing) an experience in the mind. This technique is used for rehearsing new skills, practicing and refining existing skills and even preparing psychologically for the whole sporting event or match itself. By lowering anxiety, increasing focus and self confidence and enhancing warm-up techniques, visual imagery is one of the many techniques utilized in the growing area of sports psychology. This marriage between psychology and golf was spoken about in the 1920’s by golfing great Bobby Jones who discussed the “mental game” of golf. Professionals in golf and other sports such as tennis, basketball, football, and bowling seek out the assistance of professionally trained sports psychologist to enhance their skills. Other psychological techniques used by sports psychologist include relaxation and stress management. Intense competition, large crowds, television cameras, and huge monetary rewards can all contribute to a great deal of stress and tension.
Athletic performance is often improved by normal increases in energy and arousal. However, many motor skills, especially those fine motor skills utilized in activities such as putting, can be greatly impaired by overarousal. By utilizing techniques such as self hypnosis, athletes are able to reduce tension and guard against overarousal thereby increasing their focus on desirable outcomes. Simply closing one’s eyes between shots can assist in focusing on the task at hand and screen out undesirable external stimuli such as noisy crowds. Other psychological assistance such as anger management, fear reduction of intrusive and unrealistic worries, and reframing of emotions such as nervousness are taught by sports psychologists.
So the next time you go out for your weekend game of “duffers” golf, consider taking along the techniques taught by the sports shrinks. Who knows, you might knock enough strokes off your game to have something to brag about in the 19th hole.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright 2000