Thinking too much can ruin your round

THERE has long been anecdotal advice about not focussing too much on technique during a round, particularly in competition, and now a new study has proved the point.

UK and US scientists say they have established that too much analysis make a golfer’s game worse.

The researchers, from St Andrews University and the University of Michigan, say golfers focusing too much on technique between shots could be seriously affecting their performance because the brain focuses on language skills rather than motor skills.

Maybe that’s an insight into why golfers “in the zone” aren’t thinking about things like technique at all.

For the study, 80 golfers were given shots to practise until they got it right. Those who discussed their putting between strokes took twice as long.

The study found that when the mix of skilled and novice golfers tried again, those who had discussed the shot took longer to get the shots right as those people who had spent a couple of minutes engaged in other, unrelated activities. 

Simply describing one’s putting skill after it has been executed can be incredibly disruptive to future putting performance

Psychology Professor Michael Anderson, from St Andrews University, said: “This effect was especially dramatic in skilled golfers who were reduced to the level of performance of novices after just five minutes of describing what they did.

“Novices, by contrast, were largely unaffected, and perhaps even helped a little, by verbally describing their movements.

“It’s a fairly common wisdom in sport that thinking too much hurts performance; during a game it can be an obvious distraction.

“However, what we found surprising is that simply describing one’s putting skill after it has been executed can be incredibly disruptive to future putting performance.”

He said overthinking did not seem to affect novices because “they probably haven’t developed enough skills to forget in the first place” and claimed that top professionals would be less susceptible as they were very focused in their approach.

The researchers think the loss of performance was due to an effect called verbal overshadowing, which makes the brain focus more on language centres rather than on brain systems that support the skills in question.

The study marks the first time researchers have claimed to demonstrate that verbal overshadowing can adversely affect motor skills.

Prof Anderson said the findings may have consequences for people who take part in other sports.

“This observation may have repercussions for athletes who depend on effective mental techniques to prepare for events,” he added.

“Moreover, those who teach golf, or any motor skill, might be undoing their own talent in the process.”

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Brian is an award winning golf writer and is the founder and editor of Australian Senior Golfer. He is a former Sydney journalist who had little interest in golf till he hit his first ball at the age of 49 (and a half). Since then golf has just about overtaken his life. Brian founded ASG in April 2008 and has since covered every Australian Open, Presidents Cups, World Cups and numerous other big men’s and women’s tournaments, spending days inside the ropes with the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Jason Day, Karrie Webb, and many others. He has also played in, and reported on, numerous amateur tournaments, particularly senior and veteran events, around the country. Brian is a member of the Australian Golf Media Association and won the award for Best News Report for 2016 - 2017


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