We have 2 ways of understanding the world, through words and through images. When you read this article, you comprehend these words and you develop some level of understanding, which is a simple example of understanding the world through words. When you look at the dark low clouds move in during the early afternoon, you understand that a rainstorm is approaching, which is an example of understanding through images.
The left side of your brain contains an area that has evolved in human beings to enable you to communicate through language. It is a highly developed part of the brain that separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. This part of the brain is great for the library and the classroom, yet studies have shown that this area is associated with choking during athletic performance. Athletes of every sport have reported that sometimes they begin to struggle when they are thinking too much. The player, who has a 6-foot putt to win the club championship, begins to think about what this putt means, the risk of missing it, the past 6 footers missed, and the correct mechanics of the stroke. The mind is racing like a thoroughbred horse, and his body is having convulsions.
The right side of the brain sees the world in images. There is not much interpretation of the image, simply taking in the snapshot through the eyes. Next time you see Tiger on television, watch his eyes as he stares down a putt. Look at the eyes of Drew Brees, as he is looking down the field to pass the football. See the eyes of Dwayne Wade as he makes a break for the basket. The eyes and the right brain are at a fever pitch, while the mind or left-brain is quiet for the most part. In a classic study of athletes in the zone, Nideffer found that the primary focus of the athlete during the peak experiences was externally focusing through their eyes at the target, for target-oriented sports. The internal dialogue or focus was minimal to none.
A major crossroad for an athlete occurs after an average or sub average performance. Most athletes rev up the left side of the brain after a marginal performance. “What are you doing with you right hand to make the putt push?” says the mind after the missed 4-footer. It is a natural reaction to think your way out of a problem, yet too often in golf, a player thinks himself into more frustration and doubt. I am not suggesting that you should not think on the golf course, because thinking is very important, yet it can be destructive when you are thinking while you are performing. You will do much better if you crank up your eyes, and become more target focused when you are struggling with your swing. Keep the inside chatter as quiet as possible, and get your focus outside of yourself, and on the ball and target.
When you have the 6-foot putt to win the club championship, wouldn’t it be nice to have your mind quiet. You are aware that it is for the win, yet your mind is not having a discussion about “what if.” You simply see the line of the putt intensely with your eyes. You see the dead grass about a foot in front your ball that you want to roll over towards the hole. You see the edge of the cup that you want the ball to enter into the hole. With a quiet mind, you begin to feel in your body the exact stroke that will put the ball in the center of the cup. You are in the present moment and about to strike the putt. In my judgment, you have won the tournament, even if you missed the putt, because you were prepared in every way to make the putt, and gave it the best chance to go in. Your percentages of sinking it with this frame of mind will be significantly higher than if you have your left-brain racing in your mind.
Play with your eyes, and not with your mind, and see the difference.
Dean Sunseri, MA, MEd, is a specialist in Sports Performance Counseling. He has a Masters in Counseling from the University of New Orleans and a Masters in Theology from Notre Dame. Some notable athletes he has coached are PGA Tour member John Riegger, NFL Players Donte Stallworth, Patrick Ramsey and Kenny King, New Orleans Brass Hockey Team and the US Inline Skating Team. He has an office in Baton Rouge, LA and can be contacted at email@example.com or www.ihaveavoice.com .