“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
What is it about anxiety in golf? Is it the fact that you’re alone against the course? Or that others may be watching? Why can one small swing fix work one day, only to leave us hanging the next?
While it may have many sources, we can all agree that anxiety in golf can be a crippling opponent. However, when understood properly, it can be negated, or even turned to our advantage. Part of the problem could be a general misconception about the nature of anxiety in general. Many may believe that any amount of anxiety or nervousness is abnormal or wrong. However, the truth is quite the contrary – everyone experiences certain amounts of normal, healthy anxiety before any performance task; this should not be our concern. Rather, excessive amounts of anxiety which cause serious distress should be seen as an area for improvement. Simply experiencing anxiety is a normal response.
For proof of this we need look no further than basketball great Bill Russell, who famously threw up before important games. In fact, his teammates came to use that as a barometer that he was prepared for a big performance.
So, it is time for a newer understanding of anxiety for golfers, and all athletes. Placing the expectation on ourselves that we should never be nervous or anxious can lead to a vicious cycle of fearing anxiety itself, then getting more anxious, then becoming self-critical, which in turn leads to elevated anxiety.
Instead, our understanding of anxiety should be that nervousness and anxiety is a natural response, experienced by everyone, to stressful performance situations. If we find ourselves becoming excessively nervous (as possibly indicated by some responses such as clammy hands, negative self-talk, or upset stomach), it might be time for some calming exercises such as a breathing-centering routine, stepping back from the ball and starting our pre-shot routine over, or some positive visualizations. The final key to understanding anxiety is to remember that different people experience anxiety differently. The key is learning our own anxiety responses and how we perform under duress, and modifying our routing accordingly.