Golf Psychology - Pre-Shot Routine - V of OSVEA

  • Author: Joseph Culverhouse
  • Manager - GLT Content and Communications
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Iain Highfield
  • Author 2: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director of Education
golf visualization


Today in GLT’s golf psychology series, The Mental Game of Golf, we’ll hand the keyboard over to our resident mental performance expert, Iain Highfield, to discuss the importance of the visualization portion of the OSVEA pre-shot routine system.

Of all the objections thrown at me by golfers – junior, amateur and professional- ‘I can’t see the shot’ is easily the most frequent. And it’s this failing in Visualization that coaches are required to address.

Visualization isn’t purely the use of imagery. It can be achieved through any one of the five senses, with touch and sound being the most common companions to imagery. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the contributions of smell and taste, though – and you would be surprised by the imaginative and surprising examples my junior students can dream up!

GLT's free PDF Quickstart Guide of Golf's Mental Game is available here.

The neuro-scientific goal for the player is to enable that key brain transfer of information from analytical data to creative movement, thus increasing the chance of swinging the club with an unimpeded motor pattern. What the student uses to achieve this will be heavily dependent on how they are conditioned to think. When we look at an individual’s ‘wiring’ as some people describe it, we must do so through an understanding of neuro-plasticity. Impressive as this sounds, I must confess that it’s merely a more exciting way of talking about the structure and functional changes of the brain.

Some research papers suggest it’s a process that occurs from birth and it consists of two peak periods: the first four years of our life and the four years after puberty begins. Other experts will let you know that the human brain and body are blessed with the gift of adaptability and while it is easier for a child to learn and evolve their neuro-anatomical set-up, it does not mean that adults cannot achieve this. It simply requires more effort.

What neuro-plasticity offers to coaches and their students is the opportunity to see, feel, or even hear a golf shot if the individual is willing to put in the time to practice the skill. We all accept that making a ‘swing change’ take time to learn, a psychological change is no different.

Simply asking a student to picture their bedroom, first car or pet closely followed by ‘ok, now what does the shot look like?’ is a start. Asking them to see their pet sit on the green where the ball will land is a way to refine it even further.

Now, as you know from the Options and Selection training section, I believe that thinking aloud is an extraordinary coaching device. Not merely for addressing parts of the process but to ensure what we are learning is indelibly forged into our approach. However, as the Visualization stage is more abstract than the concrete date required in both the Options and Selection phases of OSVEA, we do need to address it in a slightly different way.

Michael Brooke, in his book How to Take the Luck Out of Selling, talks about the power of ‘parrot phrasing.’ Essentially, this is taking the language our students use and playing it back to them in our own communications. Parrot phrasing is an aid to Visualization, allowing us to coach our students in a way that is unique to them – while being conscious that imposing the specific picture, feeling or sound we want them to Visualize is entirely counterproductive to the process. Simply put, if we impede their imagination, we impede their performance.

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Listen to Professor Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on how the current education system kills creativity and you get a clearer picture of the dangers of restricted imagination. Coaches have a clear responsibility to enable students through our methods, not to merely pass on the same old instructions that never enabled mastery in us.

In the simplest terms, the more specific the Visualization process is to an individual and how they are cognitively and emotionally ‘wired’, the better. Allow your students to reduce the process down to something as elementary as the green being a dartboard and the ball being a dart flying towards the bull’s eye.

They may want to focus their attention on a rainbow-color tracer flight flying out of the ball, or an unbroken line of burning grass emerging from their swing. If it’s sound that drives them, perhaps let the student make the ‘swoosh’ of the club as they practice. Any of these Visualization techniques have been repeatedly proven to have a positive impact upon swing mechanics.

At the heart of any of these strategies is the simple reality that the brain controls the body, the body controls the club and the club controls the ball. Therefore, what better way to free the mind than to fuel it with the sensory energy it’s desired to consume.

Next in out golf psychology series, The Mental Game of Golf, we’ll continue to address the Visualization aspect of the OSVEA pre-shot routine system by examining how Jack Nicklaus uses visualization to ‘take (his) mind to the movies’ before each shot.