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HK Golfer - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view by Louie Chan

Dr Brian Hem­mings talks about how sports psy­chol­ogy can help elite ju­nior golfers de­vel­op­ing metal skills.

Louie Chan talks to renowned sports psy­chol­o­gist Dr Brian Hem­mings, who has re­cently com­pleted his third trip to HK to work with play­ers on the HKGA Ju­nior Tal­ent team and those se­lected for the Asian Games and World Am­a­teur Team Cham­pi­onships in Ire­land.

Louie Chan: How would you con­clude your third trip to HK?

Dr Brian Hem­mings: The re­cep­tive­ness of HK play­ers to psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port work has been ex­cel­lent. I can see there is a de­vel­op­ing base of tal­ent, with very good at­ti­tudes to learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment. I feel this bodes well for the per­for­mance of HKGA play­ers in years to come.

LC: How do you pro­file top play­ers? What are the com­mon qual­i­ties they all share?

BM: Early in my ca­reer I would have used a set pro­fil­ing sys­tem. How­ever, af­ter 25 years of work­ing, I now sim­ply lis­ten to and ob­serve play­ers. I did some re­search with a South African com­pany a few years ago that ‘bench­marked’ cer­tain qual­i­ties. Whilst all play­ers have in­di­vid­ual traits, the re­search showed that the best play­ers had high lev­els of dis­ci­pline, kept their ap­proach to the game very sim­ple, were quick minded, took re­spon­si­bil­ity for their games, and were very re­silient.

LC: How im­por­tance of dis­ci­pline in de­vel­op­ing elite golfers? Can you give us some ex­am­ples of top play­ers you have worked with?

BM: It sounds ob­vi­ous that high lev­els of self-dis­ci­pline are re­quired to suc­ceed. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, the best are also very good at tak­ing dis­ci­pline from oth­ers too. Those ‘oth­ers’ are usu­ally their coaches. You see this time and time again with top play­ers, they are very clear about who they lis­ten to, and are very dis­ci­plined in fol­low­ing in­struc­tion when work­ing on their own.

LC: How to sim­plify in­for­ma­tion when you coach your play­ers?

BM: I like to speak in very plain lan­guage. I don’t over in­tel­lec­tu­alise psy­chol­ogy in the words I use. I have a very ‘down to earth’ ap­proach that play­ers seem to re­late to. I like to think of my work as a con­ver­sa­tion with a pur­pose, so play­ers re­ally feel like they are just hav­ing a chat. Too many times psy­chol­o­gists can be­wil­der play­ers with jar­gon.

LC: How do you teach elite play­ers to deal with set­backs on and off the course?

BM: A 13 years old player once said to me ‘a setback is only a setback if you let it set you back’. Set­backs and dis­ap­point­ments in golf are a nor­mal part of learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment and are com­mon­place. Off the course, I work on re­fram­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence, so the player is able to learn from what hap­pened and move for­ward. Re­fram­ing is sim­ply try­ing to take a dif­fer­ent view which is equally valid. On the course, I might work on breath­ing in­ter­ven­tions or a ‘ground­ing’ tech­nique to keep play­ers in the present and not to dwell on mis­takes and er­rors.

LC: Can you talk about your con­cept of “quick-minded’ in golf?

BM: In golf, you don’t have to make quick de­ci­sions on the course. Quick-minded is a be­havioural qual­ity that the best play­ers all ex­hibit. This just means that when good coach­ing in­for­ma­tion is given, the player is quick to put that in­for­ma­tion into ac­tion. You see this fre­quently. When you hear play­ers mak­ing ex­cuses for not do­ing some­thing, you use the op­por­tu­nity to teach them about be­ing quick-minded.

LC: How do you help your play­ers to de­fine suc­cess? And how to mod­er­ate fears of fail­ure?

BM: Too of­ten peo­ple talk about suc­cess and fail­ure as if they are the same as win­ning and los­ing. The re­sult is an un­con­trol­lable fac­tor as it also in­volves the per­for­mance of oth­ers. You have to teach play­ers to re­frame fail­ure as some­thing more con­trol­lable by them; like quit­ting or giv­ing up. Once they re­alise they will never quit or give up, they be­gin the jour­ney of see­ing fail­ure in a dif­fer­ent light. That is, I some­times/ of­ten might not win, miss a cut, or not play well and I will nat­u­rally be dis­ap­pointed; how­ever, it need not mean I have failed. Too of­ten you meet young play­ers that feel if they fail at golf, then they are also fail­ures as peo­ple. These be­liefs need to be mod­i­fied quickly if a player is to be suc­cess­ful. Of­ten par­ents can in­ad­ver­tently place this sort of pres­sure on their chil­dren through only em­pha­sis­ing re­sults, rather then what the child is learn­ing, and the process of per­form­ing.

LC: What are the bad rec­om­men­da­tions which arise in your area of ex­per­tise in golf?

BM: Too many in­di­vid­u­als make claims about guar­an­teed per­for­mance gains for play­ers that are un­re­al­is­tic, ex­ag­ger­ated or just plain un­true. You can’t guar­an­tee a player will get cer­tain re­sults. There are too many un­qual­i­fied in­di­vid­u­als work­ing in the game call­ing them­selves psy­chol­o­gists.

DR BRIAN HEM­MINGS was the Lead Psy­chol­o­gist to the Eng­land Golf Team from 1997 to 2013 and helped de­velop the men­tal skills of the best emerg­ing English golfers in­clud­ing the likes of Ross Fisher, Danny Willett, Tom Lewis, Tommy Fleet­wood and Chris Wood. Brian is the au­thor of the book Men­tal Tough­ness for Golf: The Minds of Win­ners and also runs Mas­ter­classes for sports psy­chol­o­gists and golf coaches (www.golf­mind.co.uk)

Dr Hem­mings runs Mas­ter­classes for sportspsy­chol­o­gists and golf coaches around the world

Dr Hem­mings was the Lead Psy­chol­o­gist to the Eng­land Golf Teamfrom 1997 to 2013

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