Thursday, August 30, 2012

Consistency in golf


Form can be a mysterious thing; when we have it, we believe we will never lose it. When it is gone, we think we will never see it again. This happens to every player regardless of their level. Tour pro’s can go for months without making a cut, often soon after winning a tournament. And the average handicap player also experiences the same highs and lows. I talked about this extensively during THIS article, and how to keep working on things that will be productive to your future success rather than your immediate results. However, this article will focus on some strategies you can implement to ride the peaks and troughs a little easier whilst they are occurring, and even minimise the amplitude of the form.

Most players will call this idea ‘consistency’; I see this word as the biggest illusion of all in golf. Probably the number one goal of my clients when I ask them is “to be more consistent”. If questioned further as to what exactly this means to them, they either don’t really know, or in most cases they throw out an impossible dream of “to hit every shot well”. This idea alone is one of the biggest factors contributing to their lack of consistency. The whole philosophy that it is possible to hit every shot well all the time is very destructive; you could call it positive psychology gone wrong. Whilst I am all for trying (to a certain extent) to visualise positive outcomes, you simply cannot have this as an expectation.  

 
Even after 30,000 hours of practice, we never achieve anywhere close to perfection

The average tour player hits just over 60% of fairways, 60% of greens and gets up and down just over 50% of the time. When I tell clients that from 7 feet away, a professional holes out just above 50% of the putts, they are often surprised – yet they have preconceived ideas that they should hole every one of them and that they are doing something drastically wrong if they don’t. Even when it says 60%, this may be one day of 80%, and the next day of only 40% averaging out over time. It is not that a tour player is really any more consistent, it is that their overall level of play is of a greater standard. By following the advice from last week's post, you can ensure that your overall level is higher every year. 


Components of consistency

There are a million and one factors involved in how you play, but here I have identified some of the ones I feel are especially important. 

Ability that day – this is ever changing. Factors such as co-ordination, proprioception, balance, fatigue all have a massive influence on this. These variables can fluctuate wildly from day to day.
Emotional stability – a combination of arousal levels (anxiety, boredom, excitement) and your ability to control these levels.
Conscious thought levels – how much are you thinking? Too little? Too much? Too analytical?
Expectations – what is your strategy? Are you attacking the pins or playing safe? Are you expecting a certain score, or trying to hit a club further than normal? Are you playing for your best shots or your average ones, or even unrealistic ones?
Confidence levels – how secure do you feel over the ball. How easy was it to commit to your decision and block out danger/focus on what you wanted.
Perception of shot - Did the result surprise you in any way – good or bad?
Result – what was the result? Cold hard data relating to your average shots

This is a lot to take in, I understand. But you don’t have to. Just read it, then apply my suggestions at the end to get the benefits; understanding this will, however, help in the application of the suggestions. Form is a complex interconnected web of all of the above components (and many more). Let’s look at real world example of what happens when we ‘Have it’.

I’ve got it! The shortest joke in golf

As we are going through a good patch, our ability (for whatever reasons) is high and our results are therefore good. Our confidence goes up as the results are higher than our expectations at this current time. This naturally increases our expectations, and our strategy gets more aggressive (firing at tight pins, hitting one club less, but harder than normal). This can work wonderfully whilst our skill level is high, but it will always drop down to more average levels at some point. Whilst the results are better than our expectations, or at least match them, our emotional levels are good and levels of conscious thought are low, leading to good performance still. 

The fall from grace

So why do we lose it? If we stay in the above state for too long (sometimes it can be a single shot for beginners who don’t know better), changes occur. The main changes are in our ability and our expectations. It is simply a law of nature that our best play cannot be held for long periods of time (or it wouldn’t be our best play now would it). Unfortunately, when our play drops back down to average levels, we are left with higher than normal expectations and confidence that is too high. It could also be a case that our ability remains the same (high) but our expectations shoot up disproportionately faster. It would look something like this:

So we try to hit our best shots all the time, taking on tight pins and hitting irons harder, but this time our ability to produce that may be slightly lower, leading to more mistakes, leading to dropped shots, leading to frustrations and lowered confidence, leading to over thinking, leading to lowered performance, leading to the start of the ‘downward spiral’. 
The downward spiral can last days, weeks, months, or even a year or more. Players continue with their high expectations, get frustrated with their results and the whole thing compounds on itself until they finally reach their lowest ebb.

I want to quit – followed by the uprising

The amount of times I have said this, or heard other players say this is frightening. This is when you are at your lowest point – you put the sticks away as you feel you will never get it back. It feels like the end of your golfing career as the harder you try to get out, the deeper you dig yourself in (trying too hard is one of the mistakes here). But fear not, you will get it back (or if you have played golf long enough, you know that it does and has come back). It’s almost like a lightswitch going off, the turnaround can be very very quick. It is largely attributed to one thing – your expectation. 

As you have reached the pit of golfing depression, your mind basically says “that’s it, I can’t take any more. I’m just going to stop trying to search for that perfect golf game I had and settle for mediocrity – just be happy duffing it around and enjoy the walk and fresh air”. BANG – expectation lowered. Now the table looks something like this;


So now, when we hit a bad shot, it doesn’t bother us. Our expectation is very low, so it doesn’t matter. But when we hit even the most average of shots, as it is better than our expectations it jolts our confidence a little in a positive direction. “Maybe I can play this game a little after all”, you say to yourself. Confidence levels increase slightly, perception of results stay high, levels of conscious thought stay low – a perfect concoction for a raise in form out of a slump. 
Aaaaand the cycle starts again. 

So what can we do?

Once again, this article has turned into a longer one than expected, so I will add more to it at a later date. Unless you are Ritalin infused, you probably need to click on a different link to refresh your concentration. But I will leave you with this. 

We have looked at the interconnectivity of some mental and physical components of consistency. For most people, this cycle purely HAPPENS TO THEM. Maybe those of you who are new to the game can gain a lot of insight from this cycle; awareness of the cycle alone can help you deal with it and avoid falling too deep into a slump. If you have been playing golf many years, you will likely have laughed your way through the article as you identified with the information on a deep level. But stop being a victim of your external environment - the result. We are largely out of control with what result happens on a day to day basis - but we are in control of how we deal with that result in terms of perception, our expectations, our emotions and our conscious thought levels.

You do have some level of control over this 

Understanding that consistency is largely an illusion will help you greatly. You can relax a little more when times are tough, safe in the knowledge that it will come back. Understanding that being at your peak is not going to last forever can also help you avoid being overconfident – a strange concept which leads to over aggressive play and higher expectations and a potential fall from grace. Balance is the key here, avoid being too high and too low and you will maintain consistency and good play for a longer time, and get out of poor play much quicker too. Notice when you are on an upswing – take measures to control it. Notice when you’re on a downswing - take measures to limit it.

Part 2 will go through more strategies on how to control this cycle better.

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Currently working for the World famous Turnberry Resort at the Golf Performance Academy. I am a golf coach who specialises in not only what to learn, but 'how' to learn. I am always looking to further education of myself and others, and improve knowledge and understanding so that we can be better golfers and coaches