Many golfers have problems dealing with a mistake, "and then that mistake compounds itself to another mistake and another mistake," says Damon Burton, a professor of sport and exercise psychology at the University of Idaho. "I think every golfer can typically benefit from being able to forget about a bad last shot, and focus their attention on the next shot."
How? Burton suggests a moratorium strategy for thinking about a shot you've just made. Celebrate a good one or feel bad if it was a dud, but only for a brief time. "It's all right to be disappointed, but as soon as that club goes back in the bag, that last shot is behind you," he says. After that, when you take your next club out of your bag, "that's a signal to focus totally on that next shot."
In general, he says, it's best for athletes to focus on what they can control in the game. So baseball players should focus on making good contact with the ball, and worry less about the result. If a solidly hit ball ends up as an out, the batter's response should be, "Hey, I did my job on that pitch," Burton says.
And keep your expectations realistic. If you're a casual golfer, don't think every shot will be a gem. "That just leads to nothing but frustration, and that's one of the big enemies of weekend athletes," Burton says. "They just get frustrated real easily and blame everything on their lack of practice.
"I would suggest the best goal for them is, 'I want to go out and play a game I love and have fun doing it.'"
But having fun may not always lead athletes to their "A'' game, says John Raglin of Indiana University who studies the psychology of sports and exercise. While athletes may do better when they enter a game relaxed and confident, studies show that some need high levels of anxiety to do their best.
"You've got to discover for yourself ... what level of anxiety or relaxation works for you," Raglin says.
So a weekend warrior may have to choose: Do I really want to enjoy myself today, or is this the day I want to set a record?
Sports writer Joseph White contributed to this story from Manchester, England.
Malcolm Ritter can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/malcolmritter
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