Thursday, 9 April 2015

Superstition and Sport Psychology

This week's Masters is the biggest event in the golfing calendar. The first major of the season, it is guaranteed to provide excitement for spectators and is almost always unpredictable. One could argue that the only aspect of the Masters that IS predictable is that the winner of the Wednesday Par 3 Competition will NOT win the Masters. Why? Because no player has ever done this. Ever.

This stat results in a selection of the world's top players letting celebrity caddies, their partners or even their kids hit their shots for them, particularly if they find themselves at the top end of the leaderboard. Anything to prevent actually winning this friendly yet cursed tournament! Every year, this amazes me. This is one of the greatest superstitions that I've witnessed in sport - and it happens to be at one of the most renowned competitions, consisting of the crème de la crème of world golf. It fascinates me that incredibly highly skilled champions would want to avoid a successful performance, the day prior to the tournament that they dream about winning, all due to superstition.

While I see it as incredibly important to accept and respect my client's beliefs and spirituality, I also see it as my role to challenge thoughts and behaviours that may be having a negative impact on performance and well-being - usually the main reason that the athlete has requested my support. I feel it to be important to help the athlete to understand what superstition means in a psychological sense.

A superstitious view suggests that the athlete does not believe that they can control that particular outcome. It often defies logic - "if I win the par 3 tournament, I won't win the Masters". However, with a plethora of factors that athlete's cannot control during competition, I like to work with athlete's on the aspects of performance that they CAN control. I find that this increases self-confidence, reducing anxiety, and allows athletes a better chance of performing close to their maximum. In this particular scenario, these golfers who sabotage a winning opportunity are missing a valuable method of preparing optimally on the par 3's to take that into the main competition and increase their chances of achieving their outcome goal. Preparation plays a huge role, as does previous successful performance, in the development of self-confidence which we know is essential for optimal performance. I also believe it to be important for athlete's to learn from performances, which cannot be achieved if disappointment or success is attributed to fate or destiny.

While individual philosophies must be respected, this particular one creates a mythical view which I find fascinating at this level of competition. There is no logical link between winning the par 3 competition and losing the main tournament, yet years of form has created one. Possible explanation could be that winning creates pressure or simply that those who play the short holes well cannot maintain this form over 72 holes consisting of par 3's, 4's and 5's. In my opinion, winning the par 3  tournament INCREASES your opportunity of winning the Masters and it would be so refreshing to see golfers take this approach next year and change this long-standing stat for good.