Perceive negative self talk over the golf ball as a ‘signal’

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Perceive negative self talk over the golf ball as a ‘signal’

This article is about helping you to play better golf. The article challenges the traditional sport psychology view that negative thoughts are something that needs to be stopped, and replaced with positive thoughts. I’d like to propose a new way of looking at things:


What if you perceive negative thoughts as nothing more than a ‘signal’ that needs to be attended to?


‘Thought stopping’, is a sport psychology technique referred to by Ziegler. Ziegler suggests when negative thoughts come into consciousness, they must be removed or displaced with positive thoughts. While I agree with the notion that positive thoughts tend to invigorate and motivate the athlete, I disagree with the recommendation that they should be stopped, and replaced (without thorough investigation as per the case study below).


Recently, I conducted a session with a professional golfer. The golfer was both an excellent coach and fine player in his own right. The player came to me with an experience of having negative thoughts over the golf ball. These thoughts were not happening on every shot, rather, they were happening sporadically. Infrequently, but frequent enough to costs him unnecessary shots.


When working with a golfer I’m always aware that intention drives behavior.


After testing to make sure his intention was for great golf, I was intrigued by what the positive intention might be for his negative self talk. I decided to guide him through a perceptual position exercise, providing room for him to become aware of what his negative self talk was trying to do for him. Interestingly, it became clear that his negative self talk only came about when he had made an error with his shot selection. For example, if he chose the wrong club. He would then experience negative self talk such as ‘don’t hit it right’. Suffice to say, his negative self talk was a ‘signal’ that he’d made an error during his shot preparation. He wasn’t aware of this prior to our session.


This professional now understands that his negative self talk over the ball is a signal that he’s made an error in his shot preparation. He now knows that all he needs to do when he experiences negative self talk, is to step away, take a few deep breaths, and re consider the shot/ and club he’s electing to play.


Can you see how that’s a different way of looking at negative self talk. Had he replaced the negative self talk with positive self talk, he would be hitting golf shots with the wrong club. My intervention resulted in greater self awareness and will provide him with better, more consistent, golf shots.


Future sessions with this golfer will include working with him to improve his information gathering and shot selection processes.


That concludes this article, for a FREE copy of chapter 1 of my Golf Psychology Drill Book, visit

Steven Latham

Golf Psychology Coach

B.A(psychology)Grad Cert NLP


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