Core Competencies – Mental Training on Stage

By Stephen Walker, PhD, CC-AASP

Controlling Stress: The Key to a Great US Open Finish

The special pressures that surround our national championship in professional golf  are both a delight and disaster waiting to happen…and the $1.35 million smackers at stake are but a small part of the story.

Open to sectional qualifiers anywhere in the world who can prove a USGA handicap of less than 2.0 – any and every “guy with game” dreams of qualifying and playing in the US Open.  At the close of the drama on Monday…….

Lucas Glover kept his cool to win the prize….while three of the four top spots went to sectional qualifiers, including Glover, Ricky Barnes and David Duval.

Duval is perhaps the most interesting.  A former Number 1 ranked player in the world (1999,) he is now ranked at 147 – up from 882 after his US Open performance.   Everyone limped home under the pressure with only 4 players shooting rounds under par on the final day.  Glover’s caddy Don Cooper noted that he handled it best by laughing at his “shakey legs” on the last three holes.  His 3 over par performance was capped by a birdie on the 71st hole, giving him a two stroke advantage over Duval, Barnes and Mickleson.

USGA Set-up for the Open – and then – The Pressure

The USGA sets up the Open to be fair, but grueling.  The weather can help or hinder.  Last year’s drama featuring Tiger Wood and Rocco Mediate was noteworthy – because both players were mentally tough down the stretch – and it was quite a stretch – 93 holes in all, capped by a 21 hole play-off ending in sudden-death.  Intensity prevailed over game as Tiger birdied to win… overcoming the incredible game displayed by an aging Rocco.

Oftentimes the experience is mixed for fans.   Johnny Miller, commentator for the majors, loves to talk about how each player is succumbing to the pressure.  He rehashes their mistakes and points out every flaw in judgement and execution making it feel as if they are messing up a putt-putt game vs. the test of a US Open set-up.  Miller is so quick to illustrate the “choking” under the strain, he adds to the pressure palpably,  in doing so.

Everyone will tell you to just play “one shot at a time” – but when your heart is pounding out of your chest and you can’t catch your breath – its hard to not put a death grip on the club.  Hence, the back nine of a “Major” is a daunting and formidable foe – and that’s just the pressure.  The course set up,  your opponents, and Miller amp it up even more.

Glover gave his late coach Dick Harmon a heartfelt acknowledgement when he recounted, “He always told me I was good enough.”

Throughout the tournament, under the most difficult of conditions – Glover consistently proved his coach was right.  His maturity, balance, clear focus, and positive mental attitude demonstrated how educated he was in approaching his mental game.  These skills served him well to the very end – when he needed it most.  The US Open gives us a great opportunity to talk about Core Competencies.  Athletes must demonstrate mastery in these areas if they are to be successful and win at the highest level.  These mental conditioning skills must be refined and added to regularly – and rigorously incorporated into the training regimen everytime an athlete moves up to a higher level of competition.

Core Competencies – Keys to Mental Conditioning

Nobody questions an athlete’s need to be fit – but to win they must be mentally fit too.

There are several ‘Core Competencies’ needed for success and Podium has been a key source of information for athlete’s and coaches needing direction and support.  In 2007, Dr. Jack Lesyk gave us the “Nine Mental Skills of Successful Athletes”.  Last year, Kristen Dieffenbach interviewed Ohio State University’s Dr. Sam Maniar in a fabulous Podcast that clearly outlined the role of stress as he clarified the differences between choking, overthinking and panic.  Recently,  core competencies were outlined in a qualitative research study conducted by Drs. Noah Gentner and Vanessa Shannon’s.  The  “Secret Sauce” employed by several Olympic Gold Medalists are revealed in an exclusive interview Podcast.

This article will serve as the entre setting up a series on Core Competencies and mental skills found in every great athletic performance.  The series will include all of the following so stay tuned:

Controlling Stress

Managing Strong Emotions

Establishing Focus

Maintaining Concentration

Visualizing Positive Images

Setting up Optimal Support Systems (with coaches, teammates and parents)

Creating a Positive Mental Attitude

Developing Process vs. Outcome Goals

Self-talk – The Key to Mental Toughness

Guidelines to all of these skill sets, Podcasts with great athletes and coaches and more are always yours in Podium Sports Journal.

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