You’re standing on the right side of the fairway, down 1 with one to play. The pin is tucked on the right side of the green, behind a steep greenside bunker, with water hugging the left side of the green. The best shot choice is a high fade starting at the middle-left of the green and working back toward the middle-right of the green. As you stand over the ball, doubts start to creep in because your natural shot is a draw and the last time you tried a high fade you double-crossed it hard left. As countless professionals have shared, including Jack Nicklaus, “Confidence is the most important single factor in this game.” Beyond the overused advice to “think positively,”
how do you develop confidence so that when you’re standing over a critical 5-foot slider you can stroke it with true and enduring self-belief?
First, it’s important to know that confidence is the belief in your ability to be successful (i.e. to make the 5-foot slider, to hit the high fade to a tucked pin, to win the tournament). As you have likely experienced, confidence is situation-specific and can vary throughout a round or even a hole! In order to build both your overall and situation specific confidence, build it in the off-season and maintain it in-season.
Building Confidence in the Off-Season
- Growth Mindset – A critical first step to building your confidence is to ensure that you have a growth mindset about your game. A growth mindset (Dweck, 2006) is a belief that you can become a better putter or through dedication and hard work, you can learn to hit a high fade. A person with a growth mindset will have confidence in their ability to figure it out whereas a person with a fixed mindset will say “I’m just not a good putter.”
- Assess and Progress – With a growth mindset as a foundation, engage in a thorough assessment of your strengths and weaknesses from your last 10 competitive rounds. Look for trends. Did you miss more left to right putts than right to lefts? Did you have more doubts with your long-irons than with your short irons or with hitting a fade? Once you have awareness of the situations you had really low confidence, develop an off-season training plan to practice and work on those areas. When working on those weaker areas, create progressive drills. First work on fading the ball. Then work on increasing the height of your fades. Then work on fading to a target and so on.
- Keep a Success Log – The strongest source of confidence is past success so it’s important to keep a success log. Every time you hit a solid and controlled high fade, log it! Describe the situation, your swing thoughts, your tempo, the ball placement, and how you visualized the shot. Keep this log in your golf bag so you can easily recall those great shots!
- Plan your self-talk – Confidence often comes down to what you say to yourself. However, our gut knows when we’re lying! So, if you say “you’ve got this putt, no problem” but in your head is a low-light reel of missed short putts, you’re not going to have a lot of confidence. Therefore, you need that success log from the off-season to provide the database of support for your self-talk. As you say “you got this putt, no problem” you can replay in your mind all of those successful 5-foot sliders you made during the off-season.
- Learn, Burn, and Return – Confident athletes still make mistakes. It’s important to learn from them, let them go, and get your focus back on the next shot. Develop a routine to analyze the mistake, learn how to use that information to improve your next shot, and them move on!
Eric Bean, Ph.D. is a San Diego-based Sport Psychology Consultant and Representative of The Association for Applied Sport Psychology.