Injured Body, Active Mind

BY Andrea Furst

The interest in the topic of golf injuries continues to grow amongst weekend warrior and professional players alike. More recently, two of the world’s best players – Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods have been discussing their injuries and how it affects their performance.

There is now a substantial amount of research that has been conducted into golf injuries, techniques for prevention and rehabilitation strategies. In addition, as the demands on professional tour players become greater – due to the sheer competitiveness of the game, the travel requirements, and the number of tournaments player each year, there will be continued interest in how to keep players on the course to see out the year before any time off might be considered.

Furthermore, we are likely to see players simply play through injuries as well see more players take the dreaded forced and non-negotiable time off that injuries often request of a player.

There are several questions surrounding this topic.

One which relates to the mental game is how can players at any level aim to keep their game alive while they are potentially practicing and playing less or not at all. Here are some examples of how the mind can positively interpret injury with performance benefits.

The upside of an injury is that it gives players some breathing space and allows the focus to be on the simple things to get it round rather than placing enormous expectations on themselves. The result of this simplistic focus of following routines each shot is that sometimes it adds up to exceptional scoring and competing!

Robert Allenby carried a wrist injury and managed with the help of the tour physiotherapist to bring home three of the 2005 Australasian PGA Tour’s main events, three weeks in a row.

The occurrence of Tiger’s win at this year’s US Open while he nursed an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) deficient knee and played with pain for several months before taking time off for surgery is another example of playing through injury, focusing on the process of doing the right steps each shot.

Additionally, players can use injuries as a time to do quality rather than quantity work which is often challenging for players. Too often players of all levels believe in hours of belting balls rather than high quality training which actually prepares them for the course and playing the game of golf.

It has been acknowledged that Harrington’s wrist injury helped him to relax and reduce his quantity of work leading into the British Open. He is known for his high work ethic and the injury gave him permission to take the option of high quality practice and it appears as though it has paid of twice over for him.

When injuries require a period of time away from the driving range and course, it is an opportune time for players to reassess their goals and start to plot out the next plan-of-attack.

Hank Haney’s account of Tiger’s interest in life after surgery demonstrates an opportunistic perspective on time spent on the sidelines with an injury.

“The day before surgery, he asked me for a list of things we’re going to work on. He said he wants to think about them.”

It is assumed that Tiger will form images and thoughts in his mind of what his training will be like once he can swing a club again; he will go over in his mind how he wants the quality of his training to look like.

The use of imagery is recommended to players who have reduced playing abilities.

Players can learn to imagine shots, courses, past successes, dealing with adverse situations, future goals, relaxing scenes, and many more types of images to assist in keeping the mind active while the body recovers.

Essentially, a player can learn to imagine their practice schedule in their mind so that they mirror what they would be doing if they were physically able.

Relaxation is also recommended for players who are injured. Learning how to breathe and translate that into muscle relaxation can aid in the promotion of oxygen delivery to the muscles and thus healing.

It is easy to understand how players find injuries rather gloomy, they take players away from what they love; it is frustrating. However, through some simple changes in their perspective the mind can assist to make this time productive and optimise the transition back on to the course.

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    About the Author: Andrea Furst

    Andrea Furst is a Sport Psychologist with a Masters of Sport and Exercise Psychology from the University of Queensland. Andrea runs her own sport psychology consultancy, Mental Notes Consulting, with headquarters in Brisbane and Singapore. Andrea is currently the sports psychologist for the QAS Golf, Tennis and Track and Field programs.

    Read all of Andrea's articles »

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