You are standing at the tee. It is a beautiful day with a clear, blue sky. You feel a slight breeze on your body. You are calm and focused. Your knees are slightly bent. You are looking confidently down the middle of the fairway, picking the spot where you want the ball to land. Your head is down throughout your swing. You watch and feel the club make contact with the ball as you follow through, shifting your weight from your back foot to your front foot in a fluid motion. You watch the ball sail down the fairway and land in that perfect spot. You smile as you advance to finish the job. It's easier than you think.
The subconscious mind is part of the brain that controls physical movement like breathing, your heartbeat, and yes, the golf swing. Sometimes you have to get out of the way of conscious thought and direct control to the subconscious. With suggestions, we program new ideas to increase focus, confidence, positive self-talk, and greatly enhanced superior performance. The subconscious mind takes over and allows you to play with increased confidence, accuracy and enjoyment. Remember it is a game.
Your subconscious mind communicates with your brain through the senses, and imagery. It doesn’t reason, the mind responds to programming you give it. For example: When you are concerned about a hazard on the golf course, it receives a picture of the hazard and automatically guides the ball there. Focusing only on where you want the ball to go, the ball then following the path, ending up at the target you have visualized.
To play excellent golf, you can “turn off” the conscious mind, and let the subconscious mind swing the club. Your swing is already “wired” into your subconscious mind. When you are tense on the golf course, you are using mainly the conscious mind, trying to control the swing. When you relax, and clear your mind of distracting thoughts, you let the subconscious mind swing your club, and your score automatically improves.
When you enter this state, time seems to disappear. Usual distractions vanish and you feel in a flow or “the zone”. Your game becomes effortless.
The Mind in Sports – A Question of Focus
How often have you heard a post game interview with the losing team captain that went something like this. Interviewer: You guys were favoured to win this one. What’s the story, what happened out there tonight? Player: We just lost our focus. We’re in good shape and are capable of some great hockey. It’s just a question of focus.
Focus sounds as if it comes and goes of its own accord; sometimes it’s there and some times it’s not. What exactly is this focus; where does it come from and where exactly does it go when it’s lost? Like a lot of things that occur in the mind it all seem pretty mysterious. Like why on earth would you dream of Aunt Martha’s cat riding your bicycle or why do you wake up feeling pretty darn good one day and not so great the next? The bigger question of course is can focus be consciously maintained or found again when it’s lost?
The ability to focus, to narrow awareness and perception is completely natural and in fact necessary for survival. Imagine standing on a crowded train platform with the noise and images of hundreds of passengers, billboards and buskers; a literal avalanche of millions of bits of information. Now imagine trying to carry on a conversation with a friend or simply buy a magazine or read a train schedule without the innate ability to filter out the vast majority of input. Our ability to focus awareness is natural and necessary. In truth we are always focused on something .
In 1972 a book called The Inner Game of Tennis by W.Timothy Gallwey appeared. It was sports psychology before the two words were used in the same sentence together. In it Gallwey wrote, “Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. The outer game is played against opponents, and is filled with all kinds of physical input and experience; the inner game is played within the mind of the player and its principal obstacles are judgement, self-doubt and anxiety.” Gallwey's book was really a primer on how to get out of your own way to let your best game emerge. "No matter what a player’s complaint, I have found the most beneficial first step is to encourage him to see and feel what he is doing--that is, to increase his awareness of what actually is." Gallwey is talking about focus. To see and feel what is actually going on in real time, right here, right now. To react smoothly and efficiently to constantly shifting patterns in the game, is the essence of focused play. But what about judgement, self doubt and anxiety?
The mind cannot be turned off. A player may start out fine in a game, make a couple of basic errors, start worrying about them and have a terrible game as a result. Another player may have some kind of personal concern nagging her; the more she tries to stop thinking about it the more the worry interferes in the game. A team may have the technical ability to beat another team but worry about a poor result because of previous losses. Although the mind cannot be turned off it is also true that it can only be aware of one thought at a time. The fact is, the players in the previous examples all are only a shift of awareness away from focusing on the game at hand. There is an incredibly simple and elegant technique for instantly and reliably focusing awareness on the game.
Follow the breath. Simply bring your awareness to your breathing and play the game. Becoming aware of the breath instantly shifts awareness from thinking to what’s actually happening. Breathing like thinking is always occurring. It’s a kind of permanent anchor available at all times.
Although deceptively simple, it always works. Ongoing concerns brought to the game will wait until the game is over. By becoming aware of your breathing right here, right now, especially during breaks in the action, you become entirely focused on the game. If you make an error during the game just shift awareness from worry about the error and its significance to simply watching your breath and playing the game. It really is as simple as it sounds and the benefits can be astounding.
When you notice you are thinking or stressing just bring your attention back to your breathing. This kind of training can be practiced at any time on and off the ice. The thinking mind is tenacious and will reassert itself over and over. Just remember you are on the ice to play hockey; just shift you inner awareness to your breathing and play the game. It’s just a question of focus.