Success Stories

Mental Game Skills for Junior Golfers

Mental Game Skills for Junior Golfers

Guest Author: Mental Game Coach Rick Sessinghaus

I have had the pleasure of coaching top junior, college and professional golfers on the mindset skills that make or break performance. Most golfers agree the mental game skills are important, however many don’t really know how to train them. Competitive junior golfers face the pressure of playing for ranking points, college coaches’ attention and parental approval. This pressure can negatively affect performance. This is where a solid foundation of mental skills can benefit a junior golfer. 

What do you think makes up the mental skills of golf? There are many different skills such as motivation, goal setting, practice habits, course management and tournament preparation. However, the most important on-course mental skills are focus, confidence and emotional control. As a mental game coach, I train golfers to be focused, confident and composed on a shot that leads to commitment. If you can use your pre-shot routine to be fully committed to the shot, then you have high level mental game skills. I wish it was that easy. Junior golfers get distracted, experience doubt and sometimes feel frustration during a round. This interference will get in the way of performance. 

Each one of these vital skills can be trained. The first step is understanding that your routines can work for or against you. Most juniors I coach claim they have a pre-shot routine, unfortunately it is not resulting in a committed mindset over the ball. Think about what gets in the way for you? Is it focusing on what could go wrong? Are you obsessed with score, so you don’t pay attention to the process of making the best decision? Are you still angry from the previous shot and having a difficult time being relaxed for the upcoming shot? These are all common interferences, and all can be minimized. 

Once you identify your common interferences, it is time to develop a pre-shot routine that includes focusing on what is relevant, believing you can execute the shot and getting your body to be relaxed to perform closer to your potential. 

Here are the basics of a proper pre-shot routine: 

  1. Pay attention to what is relevant to make the best decision. This includes focusing on the lie, yardage and environmental factors that will determine the type of shots possible. 
  2. Make a decision based on your skill set and the situation in that moment. Many competitive golfers allow their ego to get in the way of making the correct decision. This leads to a risky decision and potentially poor outcome.
  3. Visualize the shot to help stay focused on what you want, instead of consequences.
  4. Use positive self-talk to remain confident over the shot. 
  5. Use breathing and practice swings to get the body in the optimal state to swing the club. 
  6. Over the ball, just focus on the target without excess swing thoughts. 

These are just the basics, there are many details within each step that would help you be focused, confident and relaxed over the shot and ultimately lead to commitment to the shot. This routine has different components that can be practiced on the range. Take some of your practice time to experiment with different elements of your pre-shot routine. For instance, some players use visualization to see a shot like a shot tracer, while others see a bullseye on the green. Find out what helps you remained focused on a target even under pressure.  

There are many elements that make up the performance for a golfer. The mental game becomes more important as the pressure increases. Strengthening your pre-shot routine will help you rely on a system to minimize the interference and keep you focused on what is in your control. Golf is one of the few sports that the ball and target do NOT move. You can use this to your advantage. You have time to pay attention to all the aspects of the shot and make a decision that matches your strengths. Yet, having time can also lead to negative thoughts about consequences which leads to anxiety about the result.  

Being a junior golfer should be about having fun and enjoying the great game of golf. Unfortunately, as we play competitively the shift goes away from fun to results. Yes, shooting low scores is fun, but when we get obsessed with score we get away from the process. Focusing on the process of a pre-shot routine will get you in the mindset to give you a better chance for executing a successful shot. Start today with practicing your routine, so when you are on the final hole with a chance to win, you will be ready. 

Rick earned a Doctorate in Applied Sports Psychology and is the author of Golf: The Ultimate Mind Game. Rick coaches these vital performance skills in person at Scholl Canyon GC in Glendale and through a virtual coaching platform via video conferencing. To learn more visit www.GolfsMentalCoach.com and Rick can be contacted at Rick@RickSessinghaus.com or cell 818-517-9593. 

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