28 Feb Succeeding on the Golf Course by Managing Your Emotions

Handling your emotions on the golf course is no
different than the emotional struggles people face when they lose a job, get
into legal or financial trouble, or breakup with their spouses. Loss is loss,
says therapist Robert A. Moylan. It does not matter if it is in the stock market
or on the golf course, one still has to process and deal with one’s emotions.
The same with fear/anxiety. The only difference between worrying about losing
one’s job and hitting a ball over the water on a two hundred yard par 3 is the
degree to which one cares about each task. To help understand what types of
feelings interfere with a golfers ability to succeed on the golf course and tips
for succeeding on the golf course, I have interviewed therapist Bob Moylan,
LCPC.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“Growing up on the West Side of
Chicago I was raised by a single mother and had 12 siblings, including nine
brothers. All of us boys used sports as an appropriate outlet for our natural
aggression and competitiveness. I was a Chicago Park District Boxing champion
and wrestled for Northwestern University. After graduating from Northwestern
University with an Economics and teaching degree. I found that I loved the
aspect of teaching troubled adolescents so I decided to get further licenses in
Special Education as a Behavior Disorder Teacher and School Counselor. From
there,I went into private practice as a psychotherapist helping emotionally
troubled youth and adults. My love for sports allowed me to do research in
sports counseling and psychology of sports.”

What types of emotions interfere with a golfers ability to succeed on the
golf course?
“Grief (otherwise known as loss) and fear (otherwise known as
anxiety) are the two most debilitating feelings that golfers face when they
play. Unfortunately for most amateurs, every golf round is filled with these
unwanted feelings. Golfers of every level need to get a handle on their emotions
when they play a round of golf or face the consequences.”

You didn’t mention anger. Is anger an emotion that frequently happens and can
interfere with a golfers performance to succeed on the golf course?
“Sure,
when you throw your driver after hitting the ball into the nearby woods the rage
one feels is real. Anger is a reaction to loss. In a lot of ways, it mirrors a
defense mechanism for most men. In my experience, woman are better at processing
and experiencing true emotions. Sure, they face loss and fear to the same degree
as men do, yet you don’t see the rage and anger that men display on the course.
Still, woman golfers also need to be aware of how to cathartically release their
feelings in a healthy and productive way on the golf course.”

In your private practice how do you help golfers and even other athletes
manage those feelings?
“In my private practice I help golfers/clients deal
with their fear is that I usually start with a stress assessment such as a
stress test. I have a simple 5 minute test I give to my clients. The stress test
covers about 45 different life events such as death, divorce, injury, fired from
job, changes in finance, troubles with in laws, home foreclosure, etc. All these
events cause emotional pain. The test gives you a score which can give golfers
an idea if they are overwhelmed. After a test, we spend some sessions on
treatment to reduce stress such as relaxation, self talk/physical exercise,
visualization, expressing feelings, asserting oneself/self esteem building, and
nutrition. We use individual golf situations such as hitting a shot over water,
under a tree, or out of rough, and show how each technique can cathartically
release toxic pain. With golfers I look at symptoms such as shallow breathing,
muscle tension/poor nutrition, withheld feelings, behavior such as avoiding
situations (avoiding all shots over sand, etc) My treatment helps golfers face
feelings they face every round and help them become better golfers. In many
cases, athletes, including golfers experience that relationships outside
the sporting arena improve as they become better at processing their
feelings.”

“My main focus in counseling golfers/athletes and other clients is to have
them understand the four primary feelings. These are “Joy/grief/fear/relief”.
Anger is a reaction to grief and is also analyzed in counseling sessions. Why do
we need to spend a great deal of work on these feelings. All four effect your
golf swing. In simple terms all four true or primary feeling evolve from
entering and leaving relationships. When you enter a relationship you like there
is joy. (think of eating your favorite ice cream) When you leave something you
like there is grief (saying goodbye to someone you love) When you go towards
something you dislike there is fear. Think of walking near a snake pit. When you
leave a fearful event, there is relief. Ask any golfer and they will tell you
that playing golf is a relationship also. A relationship with nature. The
tougher the golf course, the tougher the test is emotionally on a golfer’s
psyche.”

Grief and fear hurt as they affect our brain/central nervous system, and in
turn our swing. If you doubt what I am saying, think of this scenario that all
golfers have faced at one time or another. You book a round of golf at a
favorite course several days in advance. In the morning, prior to starting your
round, you hear some devastating/bad news. For example, a job loss, a loved one
breaks up with you! The whole round you have difficulty concentrating on golf as
your psychological world is near crumbling. You can’t focus, start missing
shots, and before you know it, you shoot a very poor golf round. Emotional pain
clearly adversely effected your game. Likely in your mind, you had repeated
thoughts of fear or grief/loss. Both of these primary feelings send messages to
the brain, which in turn, send messages to the central nervous system, which in
turn send messages to your muscles, which effects your swing.”

“My psychology practice sometimes is psycho educational in it’s approach to
letting golfers learn how to properly deal with their emotions on the course.
The psychological tools we teach our golfers helps them hit various golf shots
1)Putting 2)chipping 3)Pitching 4)sand shots 5) iron shots 6) Driver and 3 wood
shots.”

“The psychological techniques I am use are some of the most current out
there. One of the best theorists out there, Heinz Kohut fits in perfectly with
the pre shot/post shot routine in golf. Kohut’s theory is called , “Self
Psychology”. Self Psychology examines the “ego” as the sense of the self. A good
pre shot routine can be called a “Cohesive sense of self” as the sense of self
and golfer are fully integrated. What happens when mistakes in the swing occur
is that the “ego” fragments, due to toxic feelings, caused by errant muscle
mechanics, poor technique, etc. The post shot routine can be seen as a time to
“reintegrate” the ego into a cohesive self. These terms, cohesive, integrated,
and fragmented, are part of the latest research out there. The key is to have
golfers understand these three terms as they happen every round to every
golfer.”

“I emphasize the importance of staying balanced/not taking great risks. Why?
When grief/depression hits in a round, it can ruin a round like no other. What
happens when you hit in the water,have to hit out of the drop zone,are still
sad,duff one,and take a double bogie or worse? Essentially, the round is over
and you may have 11 holes to play? Why? the nature of grief/sadness is the
triggers they cause in your central nervous system. On a golf course,we don’t
want those same messages to take place. We want to manage loss/grief. How does
this occur? The key is to work through/process your feelings after every
shot.”

“My golf psychology approach teaches autonomy and individual responsibility.
A stable golfer takes responsibility for all that he feels on the course. If
one’s mind is clouded on the range,and course,he will not play his best. One
needs a quiet mind to play his best. Autonomy is important to understand as it
empowers the golfer to know he can control external forces to some degree.For
example,leaving the cell phone at home. working on weaknesses while augmenting
strengths. A golfer is no different than a tennis player. It takes hours to
master a backswing, forhand, high volley,drop shot. Ditto for golf. In order to
excel, you have to hit all the shots well.”

If a golfer wants to be able to hit certain shots, they have to work on
proper technique to replicate it on the course. The same goes for handling
one’˜s emotions on the golf course. Another key is to have supportive family and
friends while you are trying to reach your goals. When you change something
about your swing, there is usually a learing curve. Just as a kindergarten needs
mommy and daddy’s love to learn the abc’s, a golfer needs friends and family to
support one’s goals.

Not everyone is able to come see you so what are some additional tips you can
give golfers to help them manage those feelings that interfere with their
performance and ability to succeed on the golf course?
“Over the years, I
have found two workbooks to be extremely helpful in cathartically releasing
one’s feelings. “The Anxiety and Phobia workbook” and “The Depression Workbook”.
Both workbooks offer invaluable techniques to help golfers and others looking to
release unwanted feelings.”

What last advice would you like to leave golfers?
“Think of a great
political or religious leader, Winston Churchill,John F. Kennedy, Abe Lincoln.
They were all very positive, yet realistic people,with a vision of where they
wanted to go. A golfer needs to understand where he wants to go also on the
course. A golfer needs to be honest with himself/herself, and decide if their
emotions on the course are helping or hurting them. For exaample,would a two
handicap golfer who throws his clubs when he misses a drive, be a scratch golfer
if he handled his emotions properly. Can the proper understanding of emotions
lower your scrore? How many shots does one throw away because of poorly handled
emotions. Mastering the psychology of the mind is essential for any amateur or
professional golfer who strives to be his best. Why? An 18 hole round of golf is
emotionally demanding and emotionally draining for all golfers of all ability
levels. Why? Because golfers have expectations/egos about what kind of golf they
are capable of playing. The golf psychology approach that I utilize teaches the
golfer to be as honest as possible with himself. This trait of being honest with
oneself and one’s feeling allows for the utmost growth/feedback/information/data
to learn about oneself.”

“The best reason we can give you as to why to learn to “master the mind” on
the golf course is the best golfers in the world do so every day. Most, if not
all, utilize a golf counselor/psychologist to help then be better golfers. Why?
There are too many ups and downs while playing golf. The game can drive one
crazy with emotion. For the pros, better golf means more money. For the amateur
who wants to improve, better golf means lower scores and a more pleasant golf
experience. Through continually learning, one stays alive. My approach is
engaging and accepting of golfer’s limitations and aspires for one to have some
inner peace on the course. A key word for my work is that golfers will
experience more “vitality” or “vibrancy”. Although it is a gender neutral term,
men and woman differ in how they generally feel vibrant. Another word is power.
To feel as vibrant or powerful as powerful for both genders. So if you want to
feel more vibrant on the golf course and have a more powerful golf game, use
these aforementioned golf psychology tips.”

Thank you Bob for doing the interview on tips for helping golfers succeed on
the golf course. For more information on Bob Moylan or his work you can check
out his website at www.robertmoylan.com

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