Monday, 12 January 2015

Charl Schwartzel’s collapse: A case of thinking too much

The denouement of yesterday’s South African golf championship was very much one of mixed emotions. If there was ever an advertisement for the benefits of playing sport to enjoy yourself, then Englishman Andy Sullivan’s dramatic win on the first play-off hole against Charl Schwartzel was it. Throughout the final round a smile never left Sullivan’s face as he seemed to thrive on the joy of playing the game just for the sake of playing. He was a pleasure to watch and, ultimately, his maiden tour win was well deserved.

It was not, however, such a happy end for Schwartzel, who had been not long before been standing on the 14th tee five shots ahead of the field with only a handful of holes to play and looking a huge favourite to win his home championship for the first time.  Sadly, there ensued one of those terrible collapses that are painful to watch and are what is often cruelly referred to as “choking”. Choking essentially comes about from over thinking. When we are performing well, we process information unconsciously, trusting our bodies to perform the skills that we have learned. When we start to over think, we process information consciously which leads to a deterioration in performance and, in extreme circumstances, can lead to a complete crash.

For me, the telling moment that Schwartzel was over thinking could be found as far back as the 8th hole when he could be witnessed spending a considerable amount of time discussing the mechanics of his swing. There is only one place for dealing with your technique, whatever your sport, and that is on the practice ground. If you take your mechanics into a competitive situation, it forces you to perform consciously and that will always have a detrimental effect on how you perform.  The unconscious mind is your feeling mind so to put in a winning performance, it is far more important to work on your emotional state rather that getting into deep analysis. So while Andy Sullivan was preparing himself effectively by staying in a happy state, Charl Schwartzel was activating his conscious mind by going into over thinking mode.

So if you want to be competitive make sure you leave your mechanics in the garage. 

Have a great week!

Andy Barton
Performance coach

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