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Healthy May: It comes down to self-discipline…
By: Andrea Furst (profile)
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In this article, our regular Sport Psychologist, Dr. Andrea Furst, discusses the difficulties of maintaining a regular exercise routine on tour and summaries some of the common traps players frequently face. The article also reminds us of the importance of preparation and setting goals.

It comes down to self-discipline…

Becoming and maintaining a life as a touring golf professional requires an enormous amount of preparation, training, and commitment.

Essentially, touring golf is like any other traveling job – the discipline of sticking to what works can be the factor that ultimately determines those players who achieve what they set out to do and those that don’t.

There is no doubt that being ‘on the road’ requires a lot of pre-planning to ensure that you are doing all that you can to be in the best physical and mental shape for tournaments.

The most frequent complaint from players is that travel ‘throws them out’ of their normal routine, particularly because they are out of their normal environment.  The following summarises some of the most common traps golfers tell me they come across when they are on the road.  They are divided into physical, mental, technical, and tactical traps.

Physical

  • There is a tendency to eat out a lot more and so typically players eat too much (especially when buffets are on offer), eat the yummy (but not-so-good-for-you) food, and get influenced about where and what they eat due to eating with others and getting swayed by their friends’ choices.
  • Golf is a social sport.  As a result players can find themselves staying out longer than they want to which sacrifices quantity and quality of sleep, particularly if alcohol is involved.
  • Touring professionals will often share a hotel room or an apartment with other players, coaches, and caddies.  This can lead to players taking on-board someone else’s sleeping times, resulting in not enough or too much sleep.  Both of these options may contribute to excessive tiredness if it is something different to a player’s normal sleeping habits.
  • Being on the road as an individual athlete may mean you have to train on your own rather than with your regular training partner or at your regular exercise class time.  Training with a friend or in a group can be a fantastic way of committing to training but may make exercising on your own more difficult and/or less enjoyable.

Mental

  • Since players are out of their normal training environment and often away for periods of time from their coaching staff (i.e., coach, strength & conditioning, psychologist, physiotherapist), it can lead players to change one or several of their tried and tested strategies due to self-doubt and/or boredom (otherwise known as ‘tinkering’).
  • The general stress of performing can take its toll when players are on tour and it may result in over-practicing rather than taking some ‘time-out’ to give the brain a rest and provide it a chance to recover. 
  • Many of the physical traps also affect a player’s mental approach.  Being physically tired due to poor nutrition, lack of quality sleep and/or quantity, and/or excessive drinking undoubtedly influences player’s mental readiness to play.

Technical

  • Golfers often tell me that one of their friends gave them a few tips on the range or even a lesson.  While this is not necessarily a negative, taking on board things that are discussed on the range can fuel self-doubt and result in too much ‘tinkering’, rather than sticking to what works.

If caught in one or more of the abovementioned traps, then players are essentially changing their routines, changing what works, as a result of being on the road. 

The home (or usual) training environment is only beneficial if it is preparing players to perform in competitions.  Moreover, if players are changing what they do on the road despite preparing adequately for competition, then there is a gap between the content of training and what is required on tour. 

In most, if not all of the common traps, this gap between practice and competition is due to a lack of or low self-discipline.

Self-discipline

Self-discipline is the correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement. 

What differentiates those players that exercise self-discipline and those that do not?

Many things, but mainly motivation.  The question to ask is simply, “Why are we (not) doing these things?”

If players understand why they are playing professional golf and what they want to achieve from their playing careers, then individual motivation can be defined more clearly.

Goals play a pivotal role in motivation and self-discipline.  If players have a clear vision of what they want and how to achieve what they want, then these goals provide an extremely helpful basis for building motivation.

According to Ryan and Deci (2002) athletes feel and act more motivated when they:

- think they have the competence to meet the demands of the task at hand

- believe they have some control or autonomy

What this means is if players prepare themselves adequately through making training relevant to competition, then the player has the skills to match the demands of competitive golf, and thus life on the road.  Additionally, if players focus on their goals, and more specifically, their performance and process goals (the ones that they have the most control over) then they are positively influencing their chances of sticking to what they know they need to do to maximize themselves. 

I may have used this quote before but I find that it answers a lot of questions about success…

Success is no mystery.  It’s a matter of discipline.  Discipline is not letting go of the things that we should do, we do them.  Jim Rohn.

I hesitate to believe that people are predisposed to exercising self-discipline… Cast your mind back to the article which referenced how the brain is typically lazy and how malleable the brain is if coached.  It can be taught and through having solid reasons that are interesting to you, and setting your own goals, your brain will hang on to the good habits.

 

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