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Can You Track Mental Game Improvement?

Psychology is an inflection point in the golf industry, and for sports and life in general. The difficulty of empirically tracking psychological improvement gets at the heart of why a lot of people don't trust psychology, and don't think that it can help.

I recently spoke with Aaron Goldman of PLAYfree, a mental performance coach with a Masters in Applied Human Development, about tracking mental game improvement and whether it is even worth trying to do. Here's what he had to say:

"We are dealing in the intangible. We're dealing in the subjective. We as human beings, and especially those of us in sports, really like to measure things. So we're much more comfortable with the so-called harder sciences because they are more empirical. They are all about data.

"Well, most data in psychology is subjective, so it's hard to measure things like emotional intelligence. There are certainly ways to do it. There are lots of psychological scales that exist. But the way that I do it is I put it back to the player. I let the player tell the me how things are changing and improving. I want them to be self-determined. I want them to have autonomy. I want them to be able to identify where they are improving and where they still need work.

I let the player tell the me how things are changing and improving.

"So I do a lot of stuff off the top of my head. Because I feel like those questions never have quite the same answer coming from different people. I try to have a conversation because- look, as coaches, they're used to hearing our voice. They're use to us teaching them the game, giving them advice, and correcting them. The best coaches do it with a lot of compassion and kindness, but still holding their players accountable. But a lot of coaches don't do it like that.

"One thing that I think is lacking is allowing the athlete to use their voice to talk about their experiences in the way that makes sense to them. So in terms of measurement, one of the ways I do it and have seen work is by putting it to the player and asking them how they would like to measure their mental game improvement. Let them define the scale.

"One of the things we do in this regard is goal setting. That's one of the things in the mental skills toolbox. We try to put things on a scale. Because one of the things that's important in goal achievement is measuring your progress. Even if it's as simple as saying 'Here's this skill that I have. I'd like to be at an 8 and right now I'm at a 4.' Well what do 8 and 4 even mean? The 1 to 10 scale is completely arbitrary. Because 10 for me is not the same as 10 for you. But if we're talking about you, my personal 1 to 10 scale is completely irrelevant. Because you're working on you. So your scale of wanting to go from 4 to 8 in a certain skill is meaningful because it's how you reference your goal.

Let them define the scale.

"So even putting a simple scale on it like that, but making it based on the player's own assessment can be really powerful. Because it gives them a reference and a way to evaluate their progress. For example, at the beginning of the season the player was at a 4, but they've been really working hard at this skill and now they're at a 5.5 or 6. They still want to get to an 8, but this helps you see if they're still on track. Do they need to adjust? Are they even ahead of schedule?

"So evaluation is very subjective. And because of that we as coaches make the mistake of trying to evaluate multiple players on the same scale. When it comes to human beings, no two people are the same. Programs can have standards and core values that they're trying to accomplish, but there has to be flexibility in terms of evaluating players."

Helping every player be patient on their own timeline, regardless of the timeline of others, is the way to help a player improve the most. And as coaches, handing over the reins to the player as much as possible, while difficult, is the way to build the player up to where they can eventually stand on their own. That should always be the long-term goal of a coach-player relationship.


If you'd like to hear this full episode of The Mental Golf Show about goal setting, player autonomy, happiness improving performance, and much more, click the relevant podcast link below:


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