Tiger Woods' Dad, in a book he wrote on teaching Tiger golf, describes using irritating
and distracting situations to teach Tiger to block out everything except what is
important for making the shot. This article talks about this process and how you,
too, can learn to play well regardless of distractions.
In law school there is an old saying, "If you're drunk when you study, you better
be drunk when you take the test". This means that the state of mind you are in when
you study is the best state of mind for recalling the information you learned. In
golf we might say, "If you practice without pressure, you better play without pressure".
Of course you cannot play without pressure because pressure is one of the normal
aspects of competitive golf. So how do you successfully bring pressure into practice
without causing it to slow down or damage the practice itself?
The answer is to drill hard on the basics and then bring pressure into the practice
session in a controlled and positive manner. Breaking the physical basics down into
their basic moves and practicing these over and over allows the golfer to perform
without having to consciously go over the basics or having to rethink each move
before it is accomplished. What this does is create a larger chunk of behavior by
combining several small basics into the one, larger, chunk called a putt or a wedge
shot. This process begins with the simple and moves into more complicated shots.
For instance you might begin with a short flat putt and then add distance and slope
to the putt. After each session the golfer is asked to talk the instructor through
the process of handling the shot and what was needed. The instructor gives positive
and corrective feedback, focusing on the positive aspects of the practice and on
positive expectation of change and increased success. Doing poorly and getting upset
is not the kind of pressure we are talking about. Frustration and anger are not
competitive pressures; they are self-generated and usually destructive pressures.
These pressures are caused by a loss of appropriate focus and should not be allowed
during practice or competition.
After the basics have been practiced, the pressure is increased by systematically
adding "pressure" elements. These elements can be part of the shot, like increasing
the difficulty, or by adding outside distractions, such as talking or asking the
golfer to ignore distractions like golf balls being rolled across the golfer's putting
line. While practice can be fun, preparing for competition has a serious side. In
order to bring a sense of "pressure" into practice, the golfer must learn how to
react to an entire gamut of pressure simulations. Giving the golfer only one chance
to make a specific shot or putt is one example of practicing under pressure. Attaching
a prize of desired reaction is also a way of bringing in the "pressure". Another
way to increase practice pressure is to create games so that a scoring system is
set up and the winners are acknowledged. All of these techniques simulate at least
some of the pressure that will be encountered in competition. If you are basically
training yourself, you can still bring these pressure situations into the practice
by simply setting a time at which you will automatically assume that the next shot
is the one. If you miss, you do not get a second chance. If you miss, you must pick
up the ball and begin a different practice exercise. This "do or die" challenge
adds to the pressure so the golfer, and his or her coach, can ascertain exactly
how the golfer reacts. Does the golfer become too involved with the distraction
or possible outcome? If they do shift their focus to irrelevant factors, they can
be coached on how to hold their focus on what is important and how to let go of,
or ignore, the rest. A golfer is always focusing, so the question becomes: is the
golfer focusing on that which is most helpful in making the next shot? Other questions
such as: "Is the golfer practiced enough so that he or she does not have to think
their way through each piece of the action?" and, "Does increased pressure alter
the golfer's ability to make his or her best shot?" are both being explored when
practicing under pressure.
Make pressure a part of each practice. Make sure that you have mastered the physical
aspects of each shot and that you are able to perform physically with great consistency.
Then add pressure to the practice so you are more prepared to handle the pressure
in competition. Make the feedback frequent and positive. To be even more specific,
and to paraphrase what was said at the beginning of this article, "If you are under
pressure when you play, you better be under pressure when you practice". If you
make playing and practicing very different, your response to them will be very different.
Are you a great practice golfer, but a poor player? Perhaps you need to turn up
the pressure in the practice session.