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Balance is a critical element if you are to play your best golf. Of course, a balanced golf swing includes a balanced stance, weight shift, tempo and finishing position. However, let’s talk about other types of balance: mental, emotional, behavior and attitude.
I view the challenge of balance in athletic performance as a continuum, with extremes on either end. For some folks, the balancing act is between indifference and perfectionism. Over my years of doing golf schools, I have seen lots and lots of average, recreational golfers who show an “I don’t care” attitude, playing “hit-and-giggle” golf, as opposed to golfers who demand that every shot be perfect, or at least much better than it turned out. I have seen perfectionist attitudes in many young golfers who are just learning the game. The vast majority are simply not good enough yet to get that mad and down on themselves and to get so upset when they mess up.
In between apathy and trying to make everything perfect lies a positive approach of striving for excellence and accepting the results at any given moment. Still, I must admit that I do favor a mindset that sets high standards of performance, as opposed to an attitude of settling for just average or “whatever.”
Golf is certainly not a game of “perfect.” As Mr. Hogan said, golf is mostly a game of misses; we just want our misses to be such that we can work with them.
One of the really important balancing acts we must be aware of concerns our level of arousal; call it stimulation or excitement, even. On the one end, we have the lethargic golfer, who doesn’t seem too motivated by much at all, or at least not induced to perform at his or her very best. No effort, no intensity, no forethought, no real exertion. On the other hand, there is the somewhat manic golfer who is just stoked. It’s like he has just consumed three bold grande coffees or three Monster drinks. If you’re a defensive tackle whose job it is to sack the quarterback, it’s hard to be over-aroused. But if you’re over-aroused as a golfer, with a high adrenalin flow, you could be in trouble.
Fine motor skills, like those used in putting (and playing the piano), don’t respond well when we’re overly aroused. We need to be more calm. We should be motivated, enthusiastic, optimistic – but not over-zealous, or over-nervous and not over-eager.
That balance is what I call “passionate detachment.” It’s where you badly want the desired result, but you are not so attached to the outcome that it gets in the way of your present play.
Now, let’s talk about the continuum of insecure on the one end and cocky on the other. If you want to see insecure, take a look at the golfer who seems to be constantly in fear. Playing with a continual sub-conscious state of fear, even in its hidden, subtle form, can be performance-sapping.
Whether it’s the fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of looking bad or just fear in general, it’s going to sink us eventually. Being afraid of poor results and awful play is a recipe for failure. My experience with cocky golfers is that they seem to be narcissists. They’re usually self-centered, ego-driven, boorish know-it-all characters, who are not welcoming to suggestions or advice, and are not much fun to play with.
However, there is a middle ground typified by the confident, self-assured player who knows himself and who knows that things will be OK regardless of the outcome of this particular match. Confidence, in reality, is the quiet conviction in how you have prepared and that you are doing things properly. It’s believing in yourself and your method. That amazing attitude will get us through almost anything. It is starkly evident when we think how the brave men who struggled up the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, and fought on Iwo Jima, won the War for us. My friends know that I mark my golf ball on the green with pieces called “challenge” coins honoring and remembering World War II heroes. I do that partly to keep the game of golf properly in perspective. Golf is simply a game. Life is not a game.
Dr. Charles Blanchard is a licensed sports psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.