Last month I said I’d give you the reasons why, from a psychological point of view, having a pre and post-shot routines can enhance your focus.
In general, human beings feel a sense of accomplishment when we start and finish things. A pre and post-shot routine can create a sense of completion. The pre-shot routine helps golfers ground themselves and pay attention to the shot they are about to create. It gives the brain the message, “It’s time to focus. Pay attention now.’ The post-shot routine gives the brain the message, ‘You are now free. The time for paying attention is over!’
Ideally, we need to have a specific signal that tells us when we start and when we finish. In other words, where does our normal pre-shot routine start and where does it end? One way people learn is by associating two events. This has to do with the psychological concept of ‘conditioning’. Many years ago, Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, experimented with dogs, bells, and food. You may have heard about this. Pavlov would ring a bell every time dogs were about to be fed. The dogs would salivate (response*) in anticipation. When Pavlov stopped serving food (stimulus*), he found that dogs continued to salivate when they heard the bell. Dogs had learned to associate ‘bell’ with ‘food’, which created a response (salivation). How does this relate to the world of sports? Let’s start by saying that, from a learning behavior theory perspective, ice hockey players have it easier than golfers. They have learned that when they hear the whistle, they need to start playing and paying attention; and when they hear the whistle again, they know they can stop playing and focusing for a little while.
Since we don’t have whistles in golf, we need to come up with our own signals and create our own associations. This is not a new concept. We do this hundreds of time every day: When the phone rings, we answer; when we see a stop sign we stop the car; when we are on the course and someone yells ‘fore’, we duck. A stimulus (hearing someone yell ‘four’) creates a response (ducking) because we have become conditioned* to respond to that particular stimulus.
From a psychological perspective it makes sense to follow this bond (Stimulus – Response) when we play golf. By creating a specific signal to tell us it’s time to focus, and finishing with another to tell us it’s time to relax, we can increase our concentration levels and help us enter our cocoon, our zone, during a critical time: when we hit the shot.
Step 1: Create your own signal that gives you the ‘go ahead’ to start playing. Ideally, this signal should be multi-sensorial. For example, the feel of the grip, the sound of the Velcro flap. I have noticed Sergio Garcia shrugging his left shoulder, and Graeme McDowell moving his left shoulder back and forth twice, and I’ve wondered if those are their ‘go ahead’ signals.
Step 2: Engage in your personal pre-shot routine (i.e., asking yourself where you see the ball landing, rehearsing the shot)
Step 3: Create your own ‘end’ signal. For example: the way you pick up the tee, looking at the divot, the sound of the club going into your bag, the head cover going back on. I noticed an LPGA player touching the club’s head every time she hit a shot.
Step 4: Experiment with the routine, find what works best for you, and notice how linking these behaviors can make a difference in your game. Hope this helps!
There is much more to the post-shot routine. Stay tuned!
*Stimulus= anything that elicits a response
*Response= any behavior of a living organism that results from a stimulus
*Conditioning = the process of learning through establishing associations between different events or stimuli. A stimulus (bell) acquires the capacity to evoke a response (salivation) that was originally evoked by another stimulus (food)