The Mind of Winners

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

Dr Hemmings was the Lead Psychologist to the England Golf Team from 1997 to 2013

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-year-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)

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