By: Arlen Bento, WGCA contributing writer
I have been teaching and coaching golf to skilled junior players for many years, and one of the things that I always want to keep learning about is how to get my players to play their best went it really counts. I like sharing these lessons, because it can help many players and coaches to play their best golf.
For years, I have tried all types of motivational talks, ideas and game plans, and it seems that under pressure, most players struggle and shoot higher scores than they would in a practice round or internal team match.
Over the past four years, my high school team has been fortunate to win three state district titles but no regional titles. Each time we advance to the regional we don’t play to our capabilities.
So, this year we had the opportunity to work with John Denny, a professional mental coach who works with a computer program called Heart Math that has really helped my players. The website is http://john-denney.com/blog/cat/heartmath/
The program is based on making players understand what emotion does to the body’s heart rate, and how an increased heart rate makes the body’s nervous system react. This increase in heart rate under pressure makes it extremely difficult to make a good golf swing with confidence when the heart is racing. Usually in golf, the increase in heart rate is caused by factors in golf like hitting a bad shot, being upset, feeling nervous, or playing in front of a large crowd.
With the help of the Heart Math program, each player was hooked up to a computer to help them monitor their heart rate. They were each asked to think of a bad shot or some memory of a bad golf hole. As they developed their negative thoughts, we were all able to see what their increased heart rate looked like on the computer screen. The program displayed the way their nervous system was handling their increased heart rate, and it was showing a series of jagged-looking lines that showed tension and pressure.
Then, the program gave each player a new way to lower their heart rate by breathing and produce a series of smooth, wave-like patterns, which signify a calm, balanced heart rate and a nervous system that would allow players to make better golf swings and stay focused as they play.
The results were incredible. When players were thinking about bad thoughts and the computer system was in a red color mode with jagged lines, with three deep breaths at the right breathing cycle, all players were able to lower their heart rates and remove tension from their nervous systems to create a calm, balanced point to play golf. The computer showed this as a green mode with wavy lines.
The secret of the deep breaths were that each breath, in and out, had to have a new pace of 2-3 seconds per in an out. So, this meant 2-3 seconds on the in breath and 2-3 seconds on the out breath. This was a big change for most players. Most players were used to taking in a big breath and letting it out quickly, which did not help lowering the heart rate to a level that was conducive to playing golf.
Each player was taught to work on taking three deep breaths using this new in and out breath cycle, 2-3 seconds in and 2-3 seconds out. By the third cycle, all nervous system tension was gone. Completely gone!
So, how has this helped my team? Well, John told me that if the players started using the breathing technique, they would eliminate the high scores or balloon rounds that are associated with tension. The first day we went out to play a qualifying match after using Heart Math, all of my players shot nine-holes scores below 38; all seven players. The next week, we won a big tournament and we shot our lowest score of the year as a team, 298. Our team is now 8-1 and is poised to win another district title, and maybe this year with the help of Heart Math, we can win our first regional.