Golf's Mental Game - Fear of failure part 2

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  • Clara Swedlund
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Fear of failure is a prevalent experience amongst athletes and golf players, as sport represents a significant performance domain where they might perceive losing or not performing to the best of their ability as a threat to achieving personally meaningful goals such as: becoming a professional in their sport, achieving medals and trophies, etc amongst others. It is also an “orientation” that is socialised – learnt form one’s social environment – early in life, and therefore both parents and coaches play an important role when it comes to supporting their children/athletes in the healthy development of success orientations in sport, rather than striving for success to avoid failure.

In order to experience fear of failure, an individual must first perceive failure to be possible or likely, and secondly fear the aversive consequences associated to it. Therefore, based on this notion, the following are some practical tips that can be implemented by parents and coaches, respectively, to help athletes develop more positive achievement motivations.

What parents (of younger athletes) and coaches can do:

Foster self-belief in the player and help them understand the value of training by using positive language and constructive-criticism/feedback individual

  • This will help them feel confident in generating new alternatives and options for action when a golf round is not going to plan and will ensure players demonstrate higher levels of effort and persistence even in the face of struggle. It will also support players sustain their focus of attention on their strengths rather than weaknesses, even under pressure
  • “Chunk” or break down the acquisition of technical and tactical skills to build success along the way, linking each training session and outcome to other relevant aspects of life by explaining the rationale of what is being done

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Develop an environment with a learning focus, and ensure players feel in control

    • During training sessions and games, place focus and value on solving problems and developing/implementing acquired skills. This approach and emphasis on mastery over performance will motivate players to want to play well for its own satisfaction. As a result, even when faced with poor performance outcomes, a player will use the “failure” as feedback on how to improve next time, rather than identify themselves as a failure.
    • With regards to control, it is imperative to deliver a clear understanding that players can only control what is controllable – such as effort and intensity during training, focus during a game etc. Perceiving you are in control of outcomes leads to increased certainty about ability to bring about success, which will reduce fear of failure.

    Parents of young golf players should seek to:

    • Avoid punitive behaviour such as criticism, punishment and threat following failure/underperformance/loss
    • Reduce their controlling behaviours through excessive involvement in child’s sport
    • Set high expectations together with their children by promoting the pursuit of success for its own value rather than by placing excessive pressure on children to achieve excellence

    Coaches of both junior and senior athletes should seek to employ autonomy supportive coaching behaviours and positive communication tools, as both have been shown to reduce fear of failure in athletes over the course of a season

    • Positive communication such as affiliation (affirmation and protection), less blame and less criticism will positively influence golf players’ “inner voice” and self-talk, and they will imitate what they hear; therefore, if their coach is encouraging and does not employ blaming and critical language in their feedback, players will gradually adapt their self-talk to be in line with more positive and less negative inner voices. As a result, it will reduce their fear of failure as they will not be met with the consequence of criticism/blame
    • Autonomy supportive behaviours include: providing as much choice as possible within specific limits and rules; providing a rationale for tasks, limits and rules; inquire about and acknowledge others’ feelings

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    • Allow opportunities to take initiatives and do independent work
    • Provide non-controlling competence feedback
    • Avoid overt control, guild inducing criticisms, controlling statements and tangible rewards
    • Prevent ego-involvement from taking place

    Coaches and parents should set high expectations for good performance for athletes, but must ensure they enable athletes to pursue perfection in performance independent of self-worth, less critical and negative evaluations from coaches, embrace mistakes and failuresTaken together, these practical tips should help you as a parent or coach of golf players support them best to succeed without having to endure the negative emotions and anxiety that accompany experiencing fear of failure.