Sink More Putts With Neurofeedback For Golf
Neurofeedback is a relatively recent addition to the range of psychological techniques and mental training exercises which athletes from many different sports have used to try and gain a competitive edge.
But already a significant number of elite sporting organizations swear by its benefits, including top European soccer teams and national Olympic teams.
And in the golfing world, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day are just two of the top tour pros who have talked publicly about their use of this technology.
What is Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback is a particular type of biofeedback, a well-established procedure which uses real time data about the body’s autonomic (unconscious) functions such as temperature regulation, blood pressure or pulse to enable a person to regulate and control those functions.
Neurofeedback uses electroencephalograph (EEG) technology to represent the tiny electrical impulses (waves) which are constantly generated within the brain as images visible on screen.
With time and practice, this awareness of their brain waves allows subjects to learn to control them.
Implications for Sporting Performance and Golf
Neurofeedback was initially used primarily by medical professionals as a therapeutic intervention, but sports scientists and coaches were quick to spot its potential as a performance enhancing tool.
The theory underpinning this use of neurofeedback is that mental and emotional states such as relaxation, confidence, intense concentration, stress and anxiety, which are closely associated with either superior or poor performance, are directly reflected in the different types of waves generated within the brain.
So if a subject can learn to control these waves, they should also be able to control the associated mental states; and perhaps even to transition between them at will.
How Stress and Tension Destroys Your Putting
Of all the elements which contribute to success at golf, putting is probably the one which is most dependent upon mastery of the mental game.
Not many players have the strength and co-ordination to bomb their drives hundreds of yards off the tee; or to hit deadly accurate iron shots from any kind of lie on or off the fairway.
But just about everybody has the physical ability to putt a ball the necessary distance, and in more or less the right direction across a green. If that was all there was to it, putting should be the easiest part of the game.
Yet such are the mental pressures generated by this apparently simple task that difficulties on the green have played havoc with the careers of some of the game’s greatest players.
Why does putting cause so much anxiety?
Probably because golfers are keenly aware, even if only subconsciously, that the outcome is irreversible.
Even the most disastrous drive or approach shot normally allows some chance of recovery, but a missed putt is a shot gone forever; and the closer you are to the hole the more painful the loss will be.
The Physical Consequences of Mental Tension
So golfers’ sense of tension naturally increases on the green; and as we are all aware in our daily lives, a rise in mental tension is directly reflected in physical symptoms such as raised heartrate, shallow breathing and a tightening in the hands and arms.
This kind of physical tension on the tee can often be dissipated with a few vigorous practice swings, but practice putting strokes will not have the same effect. And the kind of white knuckle grip on the putter which results from excess tension is invariably fatal to the smooth unhurried putting stroke which is essential to success.
Tightness in the hands and wrists will often also pull the putter face open or closed at random, making it almost impossible to hole even the shortest of putts.
Golfers of all abilities have tried innumerable physical solutions to these dreaded “yips”; ranging from super-long “belly” putters, to the sidesaddle stance; from the cross-handed grip to putting with eyes closed.
But the only thing that really works in the long-term is to learn to control the underlying tension.
Familiar physical drills such as deep, diaphragmatic breathing may be helpful, but neurofeedback promises an altogether more sophisticated and comprehensive approach.
The Neurofeedback Process
Neurofeedback sessions involve the subject in observing their own brainwaves on a screen while connected to an EEG machine.
Different frequencies of waves are associated with different states of mind and activity; and with practice, under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, a subject can learn to regulate the types of waves they are producing.
Alpha frequency (8-12 Hz) brainwaves, for example, are associated with relaxation and readiness. In the context of golf, and putting in particular, producing more of these waves would help reduce tension during the time between shots and while making a general assessment of the impending shot.
To enhance focus and concentration, the subject might then also learn to increase their Lobeta frequency (12-15 Hz) waves while suppressing the lower frequency (4-7 Hz) theta waves which are associated with movements of the head, eyes and neck.
Increasing Lobeta at the expense of theta waves produces a stillness and focus in the mind which is ideal for the intense analysis of a single task such as a putt.
The subject may then go on to learn how to quieten the brain, producing mostly beta waves, the optimal state for the performance of precision tasks. Studies have shown highly skilled archers and air force pilots among groups of people in this mental state when performing at high level.
The Elusive Ideal of Relaxed Concentration
Achieving this advanced level of control of the mind will be a long and involved process, but neurofeedback promises to help subjects towards a mental state free of anxiety, self-doubt and anger, yet highly alert, aware and focused; and to allow them to transition effortlessly between the subtly different mental states required for optimal performance.