Brain, Podcast, Season 2

2 Keys to Managing Stress on the Golf Course with Dr Adam Nicholls

We all face stress in similar ways on the golf course no matter if you’re a +7 handicap or a 27 handicap. Today we’re talking with Dr Adam Nicholls about how to better deal with stress and telling some stories of the good and bad. Listen in below!


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What is STRESS?

During “stress” we feel that our resources for the situation at hand won’t be able to meet the demands of what we need to do. In other words the situation potentially outweighs our resources and we may feel helpless.

It’s a feeling that something bad is potentially going to happen or has happened and we react with a variety of negative feelings.

From Dr Adam – One thing I do when working with golfers and all athletes is to increase their awareness of stress in terms of what situations have impacted them in the past, and how that’s made them feel. For instance, did they focus on what can go wrong, because quite often, when we are stressed, we focus on the threat.

What I encourage athletes and golfers to do is, focus on the challenge side of stress. “What can I gain from situations?” One thing I’ll say to students is, when thinking about something on your head, start the sentence with “This is an opportunity for me _____________ “

“This is an opportunity for me to put into practice what I have been working on the training ground.”

“This is an opportunity for me to improve my handicap.

Stress can be good and bad, but it all depends on how you interpret it, and how you manage it.

Key #1 – Awareness

When talking about a study Dr Adam conducted…

The golfers were aware that something was going on, but not WHAT was going on. It was only when they reflected on it, that they realized actually, ‘I normally take two practice swings; on that day I just put the ball down on the peg and hit it without even thinking about it.’

It was a lack of awareness of what they were doing. A key to coping effectively with stress is being aware of how your normal response to stress is and being aware of how you cope.

These golfers were completely unaware of what they were doing.

Key #2 – Positive Coping Behaviours

Block out any negative thoughts. Golfers would not think about poor scores by engaging in positive self-talk.  It doesn’t matter as long as they are trying hard, and telling themselves they have the ability to get things back.

They would also engage in rationalizing; “It doesn’t matter if I mess up today, it’s not the end of my golf career. It really doesn’t matter, I still have tomorrow.”

They would concentrate in their routine, and engage in breathing exercises.

Seeking out social support. Most of the golfers in the stuedies had caddies, so they would speak with their caddie and discuss things that were golf-related, but also non-golf related to take their mind off the potential stress in between shots.

Stress is Stress

I think stress is stress; one thing I have learned from working in multiple sports, with high-level athletes is that everyone experiences stress and everybody experiences the same symptoms of stress and the same thoughts associated with stress.

The key is just how they manage it.

I’ve conducted research where people have been maintaining diaries and I’ve seen them on television, so I know a particular player for example, I know what he was going through on that particular day, but you wouldn’t be able to tell he was feeling that way from his body language and the way he was playing, and I guess, ultimately, the way he was coping with it, but all athletes were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings regarding stress.

About Our Guests

Dr Adam Nicholls

dradamnichollsAdam is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sport, Health, and Exercise Science, at the University of Hull, UK. The main focus of his research is coping, appraisals, and emotions among athletes. More recently, Adam has also started researching doping among adolescent athletes (World Anti Doping Agency and International Olympic Committee funded).

In order to examine stress appraisals, coping, and emotions, Adam has used a variety of different techniques such as interviews, diaries, think aloud protocols, concept maps, and questionnaires. He is keen to continue using diverse techniques.

In 2006 Adam became a chartered sport and exercise psychologist, with a practising certificate, by the British Psychological Society. When the Health and Care Professions Council became responsible for the registration of psychologists, he became a registered sport and exercise psychologist in 2009. Adam is also an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Mike Smith

Michael J. Smith is the founder of Fore College Golf and former captain of a Division-I Golf Program who has experienced junior, college and high-level amateur golf both inside and outside the ropes.

Fore College Golf was founded to assist high-school aged, junior golfers, who aspire to play collegiate and professional golf. We offer consulting and player development services to clients using an informative, educational and insightful approach.

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Founder and chief curator of the Golf Science Lab. Documenting what's going on in the world of research and beyond that can help you play your best golf on the golf course (when it counts). Join the movement of researched based coaching over trusting beliefs and what worked for one person a few decades ago. Follow on Twitter