Prior to last month's Masters I came across an interesting article on Tiger Woods. The article written by Terence Moore for SportsonEarth shared comments from Pactrick Devine, a professor of Industrial-Organizational and Sport Psychology at Kennesaw State University, on the intervention he would suggest to Woods' to strengthen his mental game. It would all start with a highlight reel.
"Instead of having a bunch of great golf swings and a bunch of great golf shots, the highlight reel I put together for Tiger would have a lot of those big smiles we saw across his face when he was doing well. Right now, he's just too tight, and he's bound up out there. He needs somebody to help him to get back on track, to relax, to get him to swing smoothly and sweetly and to swoosh through the ball rather than ratchet the club down like the Tin Man. He needs to be reminded of what it feels like to play this game and to have fun."
Helping athletes connect to feelings of playfulness or fun is an effective method for promoting performance. In his book In Pursuit of Excellence sport psychologist Terry Orlick asks readers if they have ever observed a child at play to describe this concept. Orlick noted that when watching a child play you will see that the only thing that exists for the child is the action, interaction, or movement they are involved in at that moment. Unhindered by the world around them they are able to display an intensity of connection similar to a great performer in a great performance.
In Woods' case or that of any athlete when they are able to reconnect to feelings of authentic enjoyment it limits the critical mind that promotes self-judging and produces anxiety. Devine spoke of Woods' need to swing smoothly, an act that is limited by activation the thinking mind. A smooth swing or relaxed performance requires a strong connection to the more primitive feeling brain.
Every athlete should take the time to sit down and remind themselves why they play the sport the do. This can be done by simply answering the following questions.
What originally drew you to your sport?
What do you like best about your sport?
When do you experience the most enjoyment from your sport?
Keeping the answers to these questions in mind will help to strengthen your connection to your sport.