Dr Brian Hemmings explains how breathing can be the key to controlling a player’s emotions and teaches you a technique for your students to help them control their anxiety and emotions when it counts…
“When I learned how to breathe, I learned how to win”
Though I have never had the good fortune to meet Tom Watson and talk through his career, my guess as a psychologist is that the quote suggests in the early days of his career he often felt too uncomfortable on the golf course in winning situations, or let frustration undermine his game.
In my work I find that many players think the top professionals must be doing something unique mentally; which isn’t the case at all. For instance, controlling breathing is one of the simplest, most efficient ways for all standards of golfers to self-regulate high arousal/tension on and off the course and is straightforward to learn.
“You have to control tension. Just a couple of times I got nervous but I kept it under control. We all get taught certain breathing techniques by the Swedish Federation to help keep calm, its basic stuff”. Niclas Fasth
In my time at England national training over the past fifteen years, great emphasis has been placed on teaching individual players simple breathing skills.
For example, focused breathing is great in that it can act as a distraction from negative thoughts, lower heart rate, and act as a positive behaviour in pressure situations. However, players must be aware that although breathing itself is a natural automatic process, as soon as we shift to controlling breathing it becomes an acquired skill that improves with practice.
To fully obtain the benefits of focused breathing you need to impress on players the need to practise regularly. This technique involves counting breaths, which also prevent negative thoughts as the mind is occupied by the counting involved. Simply inhale slowly (normally, not deeply) through the nose to a count of 4, and then slowly exhale through the mouth to a count of 7 – the longer outbreaths induce a more relaxed state. This is also sometimes called ratio breathing and a player may complete several cycles of this to remain composed.
If practised, a player will soon become proficient at using the technique in pressure situations or when frustrated after errors. I find that many players like this technique as it is very subtle, and will go unnoticed by playing partners. Coach your players this technique I am confident they will benefit hugely.
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