6 fundamental steps to building your mental game

By Guest instructor John Haime

A big problem I see with golfers is that most players understand the importance of the mental game to performance, but don’t know how to develop it. There’s a lot of work required to build the necessary mental skills, just like there’s a lot of work that goes into building a proper golf swing.

Similar to the physical game, there’s a lot of information out there about the mental/emotional game that offers short-term tips, tricks and shortcuts. While those ploys are seductive, they aren’t a long-term solution.

Instead, we need to build a strong mental foundation from which we can build upon. Building the right foundation and then shaping that based on our strengths, limitations and triggers is the way to create sustainable performance and a stable mental/emotional platform.

So how can you begin to work on your mental game each day so that you build it over time and it becomes a core strength? Below are keys to develop a long-lasting, stable mental approach to play your best golf.

The 6 fundamentals

Follow these steps to building a strong mental golf game:

  1. What’s your plan? Create a plan for exactly what you want and what you want to achieve in the game. What would you like to do and what might be the steps to accomplish it? So many players have no direction, no timelines and do not know what they want — so there is constant frustration and a feeling like they are on a treadmill, going nowhere. Have a plan and a long-term direction.
  2. Why do you play? It seems simple, but it is an important question to support your plan. The best, most authentic reasons for playing are because you love the game and enjoy the feeling you get from it. If these are your reasons, keep them fresh in your mind and be careful not to get caught up in all the negative little details that can distract you from these genuine purposes.
  3. Assess, assess, assess. Knowing where you are is important in taking the steps to improvement. We assess every athlete to understand where he or she might be mentally/emotionally and it provides a starting point in creating a development plan. Do you know exactly what you need mentally/emotionally so you can create your own plan? We use the Emotional Intelligence Sports Inventory (ESi) at newedgeperformance.org to help us get initial baseline readings from which we can build a game plan.
  4. Reflect. It’s very important to use the information you are creating in your game to always move forward. Take the lessons from each practice session and each round and evaluate what specific areas need work. The best players take at least one lesson from every practice session or round and apply it moving forward. Ask yourself what you learned from each of your sessions and rounds and how this information can be adapted moving forward.
  5. Create your own “emotional caddie.” Build your own positive support system — an environment within yourself that you can play in. The tendency for most players is to be negative and self-critical. Learn to build a conscience and voice that supports what you do and is your own best friend. Download my book, free to you, to learn more about building your emotional caddie. See johnhaime.com for download: Chapters 7 and 8.
  6. Always build confidence. Understand what confidence is, threats to your confidence, when you might have confidence and when you don’t, and create a plan to proactively build it. Fear is often the antithesis of confidence. What causes fear in your game and prevents you from having a positive, proactive, confident approach?

There are many skills required to having a solid, positive, authentic mental/emotional approach. Like the golf swing and the physical skills required to play the game, however, the fundamentals and foundation are the backbone of this part of your game, too. With a solid foundation and structure, you will still encounter the unavoidable low points, but you will have the skills to navigate these points and move out of them quickly.