Golf's Mental Game - A Coaches Role

  • Author: Clara Swedlund
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Golf's Mental Game - The Coach-athlete relationships

The coach-athlete relationship is one of the most widely studied relationships within sport psychology and plays a very important role in Golf's Mental Game . It is broadly accepted that a coach’s behaviour will have a significant impact on the athlete’s life – or in this case, golf player’s life - but beyond their ability to support technical and tactical skill acquisition, what makes a good coach great?

If I asked you to think about different golf coaches you’ve encountered in your life, I’m sure that there will be one specific coach that comes to mind. But what made that coach stand out? What made that specific coach great?

A good way to think about that question is by considering the following: what makes a player feel good, perform well, develop and enjoy their sport over a prolonged period of time?

According to self-determination theory, the key to this is the satisfaction of our three basic psychological needs: the need for autonomy, competence and relatedness. It is suggested that humans have an innate tendency towards growth (psychologically speaking!) and self-improvement, because it is by developing ourselves as individuals that we achieve greater psychological wellbeing. Thus, in the same way that a plant needs nutrients (from soil, sun and water) to thrive, humans need to feel:

  • Autonomous: feel that they are in control of their lives and decision making;
  • Competent: feel that they are able to adequately fulfil their given roles in a specific moment;
  • Related to others: feel socially connected to others, so they have greater support available to them to help fulfil daily life activities.

For golf players this may mean:

  1. Feeling like they are in control or in charge of aspects of their involvement with the game, such as number of training sessions a week, competitions entered, or even making decisions during their training sessions
  2. Feeling competent in their game of golf by focusing on previous successful experiences, or on daily small wins that compound and build up over time, and feeling like they have opportunities to develop and become better players
  3. Feeling a sense of relatedness or connection with their coach, teammates and fellow players

FREE DOWNLOAD - A Parents Role In Golf's Mental Game


Satisfaction of the three psychological needs leads to players feeling fulfilled, motivated and psychologically well; therefore, it seems plausible to suggest that coaches that satisfy player’s basic needs through their coaching behaviours and skill will be the coaches that stand out as being great (beyond the tech-tac!). Notably, this has been supported by evidence collected when examining coach behaviours across different sports with different age groups:

  • In young athletes, coach behaviour that led to satisfaction of psychological needs was found to lead to positive behaviours such as emotional regulation, leadership, and goal setting; it also led to lower engagement with negative behaviours such as social exclusion in a team
  • Another study conducted with young golf players showed that players who reported greater self-esteem support from their coaches – displayed through encouragement and motivation - played better golf, because that support helped players perceive games as a challenge and not as a threat
  • For more on why perceiving games as challenges benefits performance, go check out my previous blog Golf's Mental Game blog - Fear of Failure CLICK HERE!
  • In line with this, it has been reported that coach behaviours can help reduce overall fear of failure in young athletes, as well as predicting overall better performance by increasing feelings of autonomy and competence

Overall, the evidence suggests that coaching behaviours that lead to the satisfaction of basic psychological needs result in players feelingbetter, performingbetter, and developing more adaptive life skills. Coaches who support their players’ autonomy, provide structure and are highly involved are those who tend to succeed the best in creating an optimal environment for the satisfaction of their players’ needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. The satisfaction of these three psychological needs, in turn, fosters the development and maintenance of athletes’ motivation as well as positive developmental outcomes. 

Therefore, the essential question is: what can a coach do to facilitate the satisfaction of player’s need for growth through autonomy, competence and relatedness? Check out part2 of the blog to find out and learn more about Golf's Mental Game.