Mind-Body Connection

Every athlete, whether it be an individual or team activity, knows that the body affects the mind and the mind affects the body. There are many factors that influence sporting abilities; genetic inheritance, fitness levels, technical skills, leadership and coaching, but the most neglected is our mental abilities.  Although many sports performers will spend a lot of their time on their fitness and technical skills, the mental side of the game is often neglected and rarely a factor in the mental approach into their performance strategy.

If you are an athlete then you have most likely experienced being in the “zone,” known more specifically as the state in which you are performing at your physical and mental best – some describe this as the state of “flow.” As a yoga teacher; I can say I know this well and this is best known when your physical body, your breath and your intention/mental state are linked in equilibrium or balance… when you are literally… flowing from pose to pose. They don’t call it “Flow” for nothing!

Mental strategy literally teaches people to be able to go into ‘flow states’ to consciously by using a combination of meditation practices, communication and language and using what we call our “motivated state” or “anchoring” (which is used in NLP).

A practice used to “call up” a certain somatic feeling usually evoked from a song, memory or visualization tool that the athlete can focus on to filter through the “crap,” (negative thoughts, emotions, fears) in order to stay in control and apply skill. As a coach we help our athletes find this state by encouraging them through verbal cues. Using words that contain the feeling of confidence, control, being present etc aid in an athlete mentally tuning in.

This can also be a certain “pep talk” you give yourself or something you do before each game. Have you ever noticed goalies in hockey who tap the net in a certain pattern – that’s an anchor, and it fires up their motivated state.

For example, Fred Couples always hikes his shirt sleeves in a very particular way. The anchor can be internal, a word or sound or even movement.

Mind-Body Communication

In sport psychology this can occur when an athlete has entered an unconscious process or state outside of their normal conscious awareness. Your sub conscious is in tune with the systems performing the work because you are so focused on harnessing that “feeling,” filtering out the unnecessary atmosphere.

NLP techniques are used in sports to build mental strategy; not only by top level athletes, but anyone looking to improve their skill level and these techniques directly transfer to all areas of life. NLP provides the tools and techniques to discover HOW a top performer in any field does what they do. It uncovers the unconscious mental processes and associated thoughts, images, words and feelings that make up a peak performance state. Once uncovered in this way, these processes can be ‘programmed’ or installed in someone else who wants to achieve similar results.

You can use NLP to maintain the motivation to train so as to take your skill sets to the next level, you can learn to “get over” mistakes and to learn from errors rather than dwell upon them and you can learn to have the confidence to compete to the best of your ability.

In modern sports the ability to effectively access these flow states where the athlete is optimizing their mental skills, capacity and cognitive thought can mean the difference between a successful performance like a PB in a marathon or endurance sport, yards achieved, goals attained, or improving your handicap (as seen in Golf).

NLP and mental strategy is half of the battle when it comes to the game of golf. Golf isn’t just about the skill and perfecting the swing; it’s about analyzing the terrain, your opponents, the external factors and because of the slow nature of the sport, it takes a great deal of control, concentration and mental stamina.

The Mental Game of Golf:

“A handicap is a numerical measure of a golfer’s playing ability based on the tees played for a given course. This is used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. The higher the handicap of a player, the poorer the player is relative to those with lower handicaps.”

Most athletes look to lower this number so that they can play with higher ranking athletes and improve their green time.

In an article called “Why Lessons Fail and Why Learning and Practice Programs Succeed” by Mike Vanderwolf (Director of Instruction at the McClerry Golf Academy) said this about performance and he directly relates it to the mental strategy of golf, as well as communication from the coach to the athlete:

One can see evidence of performance differences but physically effort does not store itself into long term memory until up to six hours after the practice stops. Thus, a second session is always appropriate in order to measure learning.

Now learning a new skill or transforming the elements of a skill in golf may have several parts and it is rare that all the parts can be understood and worked on by the golfer in a single session. Most if not all of the elements to be worked on may be identified in a single session, however to actually work through the stages of learning from: cognitive / verbal (gaining a sense of) to training the skill in a variety of contexts* (creating a dominant motor pattern, brain – nervous system – muscles) to automatic (the skill is executed without thought in context) will take several sessions. – Mike Vanderwolf

The teachers methodology must have the opportunity to progress from a “Command” style (basic  description and demonstration), to a “Practice” mode (providing feedback to the students effort) to  “Guided Discovery” and “Divergent Learning” (allowing the student to begin to make the decisions based on appropriate questions asked by the instructor) and ultimately to “Individual Awareness” (the students sense of the differences in efforts) and an ability to make desired movements and achieve desired outcomes without emotional judgment.”

Linking effective mental strategies with our skill and performance enables us to break down fears, understand the scope of the game, to anticipate the terrain, and to keep our composure, reactions and attitudes in moments of critical judgment. Moreover, to learn to transfer models of human excellence, human behavior and performance , as well as work to adopt the strategies, techniques and physiology used by our sporting role models to achieve excellence in a fraction of the time.

Try to remember back to when you had an amazing string of holes, teed off without a slice, or sinked your puts without saying to yourself … “get in the hole already.” In short, it seemed like you were in effortless flow, that each moment linked to the next.?

Now, imagine how you felt when you had a poor golf game… when we are out of the zone, the poor performance seems to repeat itself over and over again. What if you could learn the skills to get your head back in the game and enter flow whenever you needed to? Well, you can and a large portion of this strategy is building on your mental capacity to move past the fear, negativity and all the “stuff” that decelerates our performance.

If you are looking to improve your game and be a cut above your competition, improving your mental strategy may be your answer.


Mike Vander Wolf (McCleeryGolfAcademy)


Thought Models NLP-

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