What should I say before the competition?

Building confidence

Confidence is everything in golf. Try to build your child's confidence levels before they play.

Do:

  • Recall positive past experiences. Remind them of similar situations in which they have played well – for example, in past tournaments at the same venue; on similar courses; at the same level of competition, etc. Be careful about saying, ‘you've won this tournament before, so you should do it again,' as this can raise expectation levels, and with it, increase pressure on your child.
  • Remind them how well they’ve prepared and how hard they’ve been practicing. A player’s confidence is greatly improved when they know they have prepared well and are in good shape -- reinforce this sentiment with your child.
  • Shift your focus to what your child does well.
  • Promote the goals your child has set – emphasize the things he/she wants to do or to make happen, rather than on what he or she doesn't want.
  • Promoting ‘positive self talk' is another confidence builder. One of the best ways to do this is to ask your child questions that require a positive response. Get your child to tell you about their good shots, what they’re going to do and how they’re going to be on the course today.

Don’t:

  • Don’t say: ‘You've beaten this player before so you should do it again.' This can raise expectation levels and with it pressure.
  • Try to give your child confidence by using the potential positive outcome of the competition. For example, consider the effect on a child after these very well intentioned pre-competition words from the following parent: “Just go out there, darling, and do your best.” With this statement, this parent has shown support for their child, focusing on something that the child has a degree of control over – their level of effort toward the competition.
  • What about these words? “You know you're better than her, so just go and show it.” Oops! In trying to boost the child's confidence, this parent has made a comparison with another player – their child’s opponent -- and implied that being ‘better' means ‘beating' her opponent. Imagine what the child is now thinking -- “so what if I don't win?”
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

This is an important phrase to remember. ”"If you say something often enough then it will probably happen”.

This has implications on pre-competition talk. Make sure all the talk is about what you want to happen rather than what you're worried might happen. Always keep things positive.

It's an easy habit to get into, but there are endless examples of players being told that they “keep getting into winning positions and then losing”. Not surprisingly, the next time that player is in a winning position, the same happens.

Another common example is a player who is a slow starter. Again, this situation often brings about competition talk from the parent along the lines of, “you've made slow starts in all your recent tournaments and fell behind early on.” If you find yourself thinking and saying these things, imagine the future and what you and your child want to happen, making sure you talk about things that are in their control. A supportive statement might be, “just focus on your goals and hitting the ball solidly in the first few holes.”

The mind never hears the word ‘don't’

This is another important rule to understand in achieving better golf. If somebody says, “don't think of a pink elephant,” the first thing that pops into your mind is likely a pink elephant.

The same applies to pre-competition chats. “Whatever you do, don't hit it in the trap on #3.” It seems like a helpful comment, but as soon as your child gets to hole#3, the words that will come to mind will be ‘hit it in the trap”. Remember the previous section on self-fulfilling prophecies? Hitting it in the trap is now more likely.

Keep them focused on the processes

Top players try to focus on the ‘process'. This means concentrating on what you have to do well to play good shots. The theory being that if you execute good process, the outcome will take care of itself. Help your child stay focused on the process by getting their coach to give them some key process goals to focus on and think about before and during competition. You can then reaffirm these goals with them and have your child to reaffirm them back to you.

Examples of good process goals are:
  • Review my game plan on each hole and focus on the target I have selected for the tee shot
  • Follow my pre-shot routine for every shot
  • Stay in the present – one shot, one hole, one day at a time; staying at the same pace
  • Don't talk about consequences
  • One of the biggest problems players face when competing is that their mind starts to wander to the consequences of what they are doing or are about to do. When this starts to happen, it can be detrimental to one’s performance. This can happen before, after and even during competition. For example, a player is about to have a fairly short birdie putt, looking to go under par, but as they are about to execute, their mind jumps forward to the next hole, a fairly easy par five, and thinks: ‘if I sink this putt here, I'll be two under when I birdie the next hole and near the top of the leaderboard.'
    Thoughts like these affect the execution of the shot. To play well, it is vital that a player doesn’t worry about the consequences of what they have done or are about to do – they must mentally remain in the present. You can help this by not talking about the potential consequences of competition before it has begun.
Stress-busting

Pre-competition nerves and high stress levels are common in all players, and they aren't necessarily a bad thing. If you care about something and want to do well in it, you will likely become nervous. Your body senses this and pumps adrenaline into the system, preparing you for action by sending blood to the brain and the muscles.

For most players, nerves begin to disappear as they start to play. For some, however, they remain with them and can inhibit performance. In these situations you need to have some stress-busting tactics up your sleeve. The parent should speak with the coach and have answers for some of the “nervous” things:

Make sure your child understands that all players get nervous. All the top players get nervous, but they have perfected the art of dealing with those nerves.

Make sure your child understands that nerves can be a good thing – it shows they care. Explain that feeling nervous will produce adrenaline which will help them move quicker and think faster.

Make sure they understand that a lot of the physical effects they are feeling are because of adrenaline. For example, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach are caused when blood leaves the stomach to fuel the muscles and brain -- this can also lead to a loss in appetite. Don’t be afraid to make it comical – “I know you must be nervous….the butterflies in your stomach will all fly in the same direction once you get onto the course!”

Help them understand that they should only be nervous about things that are within their control -- not things that are outside their control, such as what people will think of them. In this situation a player needs to understand that they can worry about their performance but what people think about them as a result is not their problem.

Consistent competition routines help players deal with stress. Establish a consistent warm-up routine and use this all the time in practice and before competition.

Have a relaxation routine. Deep breathing, familiar music, eyes closed picturing a ‘relaxed place'.

Humour and laughter helps – even if slightly nervous laughter!