By Doug Gardner, Ed.D., ThinkSport Consulting Services
To think or not to think? Is this really a question?
The March 13th issue of Sports Illustrated has a story about Tiger Woods winning the Ford Championship at Doral.
Finishing in a tie for second was a PGA rookie from Colombia by the name of Camilo Villegas.
A few quotes from his sport psychologist got me thinking a little bit.
"Camilo's obsessive tendencies have been hurting him on the greens this year. He's such a perfectionist that he had 100 mechanical thoughts racing through his head, and it's hard to make putts that way," Villegas' sports psychologist said. "Camilo has so much talent he only needs to dumb it down and play caveman golf - see ball, hit ball."
Before the final round Villegas' sport psychologist gave him this short pep talk:
NO, he did not finish the statement with "pink elephants". He just told his athlete, "Don't think!"
Don't think of what?
That he was in the final pairing with Tiger Woods?
That he had a chance to win a PGA tournament in his rookie year?
That he had a chance to win a lot of money?
The list can go on and on.
Many things troubled me about this seemingly innocuous and simplistic comment, and I wanted to share my frustration with you, the athletes out there, and get feedback about whether or not you can really just turn off your mind and not think.
Do you think you could turn off your mind if you were competing against Tiger Woods?
I know that I could not.
Does this mean that you and I would be thinking negatively?
Many people assume so.
See, many people equate thinking in sport as a bad thing and believe that you cannot both perform well and think at the same time. Separate the body from the head and you will play better because your body will do what it naturally does.
Sport Psychology professionals call this getting in the "Zone". The mysterious place where everything falls into place, the planets are aligned and you perform amazing feats that you could not have accomplished had you been thinking.
How many times have you been in the zone? Statistics and research indicate that athletes are in the zone approximately one to two percent of the time.
So, what are you supposed to do the other 98 percent of the time?
Say forget about it, take your lumps, go home and hope tomorrow that you will find that mysterious place and perform better?
If the zone was such an easy place to find and get into, then I would be a professional baseball player making millions of dollars instead of writing this article. To me, searching to get in the zone is like trying to find the Bermuda Triangle.
In my experiences, the best athletes DO think. Does Tiger Woods approach golf with a caveman mentality? See ball, hit ball?
I don't know Tiger Woods, but if you listen to him talk about his game, he is brutally honest with himself and his assessment of his current abilities. He compares himself with himself and he continually challenges himself to be creative and competitive every shot, no matter the situation or the score.
It is my belief that for every physical action in sport, there is an equally important mental component that must be addressed. Failure to work on the mental components of physical activity often lead athletes to think about the wrong things in the heat of competition, which leads people to believe that they are simply "thinking too much."
What do you think? Can one think and perform at the same time?
Post your opinions using the MaxPreps response feature (located below) to begin the debate and I will address your comments and the perspective of professional athletes in next month's article.
Dr. Doug Gardner is the founder of ThinkSport Consulting Services, an Applied Sport Psychology Consulting Firm in Lafayette, California. ThinkSport provides educational workshops and individual mental training services for athletes, coaches, teams and professional sport organizations. Dr. Gardner is a recognized Certified Consultant through the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP) and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee's Sport Psychology Registry.
For more information about the services provided by ThinkSport Consulting Services please visit us at www.thinksport.com.