You may be familiar with the terms 'the here and now' and 'being in the moment', but what's the practical benefit of something that sounds just a little bit wacky?
Have a go at the questions below. I ask these of all the golfers I work with, and it’s amazing how many don’t have an answer – or at least have to think about them for some time to come up with one. These relate to that vital moment before you play:
What exactly do you think about before and during a shot? Do you talk to yourself? Do you have a mental check list or use imagery?
What determines when you start to play your shot? Do you say ‘now’ or have a particular word, cue or a set of criteria that has to be met before you play?
Is there a moment just before you play your shot where you realise it’s going to be a good or bad one?I
f you answered yes to question 3, are you able to stop or change your shot if you know it’s not good?
Don’t worry if you didn’t have an answer for each one. It’s the same for most sports people, including a number of Olympic athletes I’ve interviewed.
I believe it’s because we’re not in the moment and consequently not fully aware of what we’re thinking. Obviously, you’re aware that you’re playing a shot, but whether you’re aware of what’s actually going through your mind and what’s happening with your body is another matter.
This is the crux of the whole performance thing. What you’re thinking at the very moment you decide to ‘go for it’ has a much bigger influence on the outcome of your action than all your previous preparation. It’s pretty obvious really, isn’t it? You can fluff the most carefully thought-out shot in a moment if your thinking is wrong at the time of the shot. Get this bit wrong, and you won’t be able to execute your plan with the accuracy you’d have liked.
So, here you are standing over the ball waiting to play the shot you have in mind. You’re in a sort of limbo just before the ‘now’ moment. This is where you hover between thinking and doing. Your thoughts are constantly sending signals to your muscles. In fact, every pathway from your brain eventually finds its way to a muscle. At some point the flow of electrical activity reaches a threshold, and the gates open for the extra pulse to kick the muscles into action.
Any doubts at this time will delay this moment and add more signals – invariably conflicting ones – to the process.
This is the moment where you have the greatest influence over whether you succeed or fail, so it’s important really. Before it, you still have options open to you. After it, everything has kicked off, and you can’t recall your actions or change the result.
Skill is about minimising the errors in translation, so you can execute physically something close to what you had in mind.
When athletes talk about being ‘in The Zone’, I believe they’re fully conscious of, and have absolute clarity about, the processes that occur in this moment. Therefore, they experience a heightened sense of awareness and, as a consequence, a greater degree of control over their actions. The paradox is that is doesn’t feel like control in the usual sense. In fact, it feels incredibly easy. You’ll wonder why it can’t be like that all the time!
Article by Roy Palmer, a teacher of the Alexander Technique, UK Athletics Coach, and author of Golf Sense and The Peak Performance Zone. He has taught performance enhancement techniques to people from all sports since 1998.