Mental Skills Training from a Tour Player’s Perspective

Over coffee on the terrace, I sat down with Laguna Country Club’s Tour Professional Scott Barr to find out his view on consulting a sport psychologist and how mental skills training has raised his game at various points in his career.

When did you start mental skills training and who got you involved?
“It was my parents who got me involved.  When I was seventeen they thought it would be a good idea to work with a mental coach.  I was a good player then, but physically I was no different to all the other good players.  To get the edge over everyone else I needed to develop my mental approach to the game.  It was the mental skills I learnt during that time that took me from amateur status to the professional stage.”

J-L: Golf players, tennis players, and swimmers as young as eight through to players in their sixties, visit my clinic for mental skills training.  At seventeen (the age Scott began his training), I commonly see players who are spending all their time building a swing that will stand up under the pressure of tournament play.  From my experience, this can successfully produce an open winner on the range, but not on the course.  I spend a great deal of time helping the players I work with to understand how their thoughts and emotions can influence the execution of their swing, creating tension or rhythm issues, and removing the fundamental addiction they have with analysing their technique as the primary cause of poor play.  The younger a player can learn this process, the more adaptable they will be under pressure when it counts.

What types of mental skills did you focus your training around?
“I started with hypnotherapy when I was seventeen and I still do a bit of that now.  When I was twenty I had the opportunity to work with a sport psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport and I focused intensely on visualisation skills.  I worked with Andrea Furst a Mental Notes Consultant in Australia for a number of years that involved process-oriented training, refining my routines, and getting that really consistent.  Years ago I also learnt to utilise a metronome when working on my pre-shot routine.  It helps me to find a consistent rhythm, not just with my action sequence but also my thoughts; keeping them sharp and instinctual.”

J-L: It’s not uncommon for individuals to learn a range of different types of mental skills from sport psychologists with varying approaches and expertise.  It largely depends on the athlete’s personality and the current dilemma they are facing.  My area of expertise lies in reducing competition anxiety, as well as perfectionism recalibration, which involves teaching talented players to get out of their own way by adapting their perfectionistic striving on the course and the range.

Are there mental or performance skills you are currently working on to assist your game this year?
“Visualisation is something I use all the time, visualising shots and then letting my body react to that.  Also, the space in between shots is key for me.  I have learnt that in this space distractions aren’t bad for me.  It makes sure I’m not thinking about results…day dreaming I love, and enjoying the walk.” 

Do you remember a critical moment in your career when you realised the benefits of mental skills training?
“Actually every week I realise it.  Every week I realise what works for me.  If I’m really struggling on the golf course it comes down to knowing how not to panic and getting back to the basics.  I missed four cuts in a row last year, which I haven’t done in years.  Rather than panicking and making too many drastic changes, I had to get back to basics.  Being aware of those basics for me comes from years of mental and physical training and trusting those skills is key.”

Do you think mental skills training is useful for young developing players and even club players?
“Yes without question.  I also believe that there are lots of different types of mental skills training.  Visualisation was a part of that training that I really connected with.  There’s no harm in experimenting and I think every player should find out what’s going to help them play their best golf.”

J-L: Mental skills training is a very individualised process.  And there is no “one size fits all” approach.  I always tell the players I work with that you can read some good books and articles to gain perspective and raise your awareness, but its only through structured training with a professional that will enable you to create behaviour change that fits your unique qualities, your idiosyncrasies, and your learning preferences.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment to discuss how to integrate mental skills training into your golf game with Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre.