Improving Distraction Control Through Mental Training

Coping with Distraction
Coping with Distraction

The one thing over which you have absolute control is your own thoughts. It is this that puts you in a position to control your own destiny.”

Paul G. Thomas



This article is about controlling our thoughts in order to cope with distractions such as stress, environmental noise, other people, and our own emotions. Distraction comes in many forms during a round of golf, but essentially it comes from our thoughts. Thoughts of failure or what others will think produce anxiety, which produces tension, which produces negative thinking, which produces bad shot making.

A young lady that I coached, during an important post-season event became totally distracted by the pressure of the situation. She became so worried, that it produced negative thoughts and fear of failure, eventually leading to extremely bad shot making and ultimate breakdown in her attitude and swing.

If she had learned coping skills through mental training, the result probably would have been totally different. What are the coping skills that she needed? How could these skills help her to deal with the situation and her negative thinking? First, she needed to be aware of what was happening to her. She needed a basic understanding of how an athlete’s arousal level affects performance. Depending on the sport and the athlete, each person has a level of arousal or energy level where they play their best. For example, on a scale of one to ten, with one being a very low, totally relaxed level and ten being an extremely high state, it has been found that a golfer performs best for a full swing around a five, six, or seven energy level (Graham & Stabler, 1999). This level needs to decrease as the player gets closer to the green. For example, putting requires more fine motor skills and a lower arousal level (Graham &Stabler, 1999). Once an athlete understands this, she needs to become aware of the signs of under arousal or over arousal. Our player’s energy level was definitely too high. Her physical signs, such as walking faster, talking to herself, a short stroke and a jabby putting stroke were all indicative of her overaroused state. Recognizing this, her first step was to apply relaxation techniques to lower her arousal level. Then, through her practice with mental techniques such as refocusing and imagery, she could have changed the channel in her mind, stepped back, taken a deep breath, and refocused her thoughts from the negative to the positive. She may also have used positive self-talk or positive affirmation drills to get her focus back on the relevant cues.

During her mental training, she would have built a pre-shot routine that used all of her mental techniques to control her thoughts and keep her in the present moment, instead of letting the fear of failure distract her. The value of a routine is shown to be extremely powerful in the following excerpt from David Duval as he had a putt to shoot 59.

         One of the most challenging putts I’ve ever faced was the one I had on the final green of the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. It wasn’t the length or the break that made it hard, of course. The putt was only about seven feet, with a little tail at the end. If I’d had it on Thursday, I probably wouldn’t have thought very much about it. But this wasn’t Thursday. This was Sunday afternoon. It was an eagle putt to win the tournament. And it was for a score of 59, which would be the first sub-60 score anyone on the PGA Tour had ever shot in a final round. I knew that I might never have another chance to set that record. The circumstances surrounding the putt challenged my mind. And putting, I’ve learned, is all about your mind and your attitude.

Fortunately, I had something to fall back on under pressure, something I’d been taughtby Bob Rotella—my putting routine. All that day, I’d been trying to do the same thing with every putt. For the first sixteen holes, it hadn’t been so difficult. I’d started the day seven strokes behind the leader, Steve Pate. All I’d been thinking about was hitting the ball close to the flag and making birdie putts. I was hitting it well that day, and the putts I’d had generally weren’t very long. It wasn’t until I made birdie on the 16th hole to get to 11 under par for the day that I became fully aware of how low my score was. It was then that I realized what I had to do both to win and to shoot 59.

Once I started thinking about those things, the challenge got harder. When I hit my five-iron to the 18th green and saw it roll up close to the hole, it got harder still.One of the principal elements of my routine is a decisive read. I don’t want to second-guess myself. My caddie, Mitch Knox, and I didn’t take a long time reading the putt. We both saw the same little break. I told myself to stick with my first instinct, not to waiver, and to concentrate on executing my routine. One temptation in such a situation is to try to be too precise. Another is to focus too much on the outcome, on whether the putt falls. I resisted both. If you watched the tournament on TV and wondered what was going through my mind at that moment, here’s the answer: I was telling myself not to think about the other putts outcome and not to question what I was doing. I was thinking about preparation and routine. I wanted simply to hit the putt the way I’d hit the other putts that day, the way I’d practiced thousands of putts before. I did, and it fell” (David Duval as quoted in Bob Rotella’s, Putting out of your mind, p. xvii-xix).

Contact Coach Neer today at Silent Mind Sports (559-360-6228) and begin your work on either building a routine or refining the one you have. As you learn the fundamentals of building a routine from Coach Neer, remember to experiment with the training he gives you. Include the use of imagery and relaxation in your final routine and then practice it until it becomes second nature, like taking a shower. Think about it, we take a shower the same way every day.(Can we get our routine and swing into that kind of repeating pattern—one of a silent mind?)

One other key point to pay attention to and help you to evaluate your routine is to be sure to time your routine. Write your times down for your full swing and putting. Then during a match, have your coach time your routine at different points in the round. If you are taking 15 seconds or 45 seconds to hit a shot and your average routine time is 27 seconds, then stop – you are out of routine.

This is a perfect example of how to use these ideas on the course to improve your score. Refocus or take some deep breaths and center yourself back into your routine. These are just a few of the tips you can gather from working with Coach Neer at Silent Mind Sports. If you are serious about shaving strokes off your competitive average, you must have a routine that is both physically and mentally sound. Call today at 559-360-6228.