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How to develop a Growth Mindset in golf

How to develop a Growth Mindset in golf

4 min read
  • Motivation, Resilience & Growth Mindset
  • Sport psychology

Golf is often deemed to be one of the most mentally demanding sports. Therefore, if a golfer is going to bridge the gap from good to great, a Growth Mindset is essential. But what is growth mindset and how can it be developed?

What is Growth Mindset?

Growth Mindset is the idea that abilities can be improved through effort and learning. Golfers with a Growth Mindset do not fear failure, but instead see shortcomings as an opportunity to learn and improve.

The opposite of a Growth Mindset is a fixed mindset, which is the belief that attributes cannot be improved. Golfers with a fixed mindset are less likely to thrive when faced with adversity because they fear failure and believe it will damage their ego. It is likely that such golfers will catastrophise and experience unhelpful negative thoughts, for example ‘I’m never great out of bunkers’ or ‘I never play well under pressure’.

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How to develop a Growth Mindset in golf

Take responsibility

Some golfers never want to take responsibility and look to blame anyone and everyone for their shortcomings. This year’s US Open at Shinnecock saw struggling golfers complaining about the thickness of the rough from the 1st practice round through to the final Sunday. Those golfers who took responsibility however seemed less concerned with the rough and more concerned with their personal performance.

The year before, Rory McIlroy said “If guys can’t put it into play within a 50-yard zone I don’t think they’ve got anything to complain about”. Golfers with this mindset acknowledged that a mistake proceeded hitting the rough, rather than the rough causing a mistake. Being able to accept and take responsibility for mistakes is critical for learning and fosters the development of a Growth Mindset.

Evaluate your performance effectively

The most successful golfers will look to learn and make improvements each time they play. To achieve this, golfers should ask themselves helpful questions that focus on the process and their attitudes; for instance ‘What did I learn’ and ‘Did I try my hardest?’ rather than those with focus on the result, such as ‘Did I win?’.

Reduce the fear of failure

Reducing the fear of failure and encouraging golfers to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn can help develop a Growth Mindset. Research has found that elite athletes often fear failure because of the shame and embarrassment it brings; meaning that they may play it safe or only practice what they are best at because the fear of making a mistake is larger than the hope of doing well.

However, this mentality can be overcome through the creation of an environment where failure is followed by support, encouragement, and positivity rather than embarrassment, punishment, and negativity.

Set high standards

No-one rises to low expectations.

Research supports this, as it has been found that raising one’s expectation of how hard you can work actually raises one’s capacity for doing so.

Similarly, Mickelson attributes some of his success to Woods, as he believed he pushed him to achieve higher standards: “I feel as though had Tiger not come around, I don’t feel I would have pushed myself to achieve what I ended up achieving, because he forced everybody to get the best out of themselves.”

Control your emotions

Golf can be frustrating; but if golfers are able to control their emotions in the face of adversity, then they will be able to develop a Growth Mindset.

One way in which a golfer can control their emotions is to not dwell on shots, which can be achieved by using the “10-yard rule”, a rule used by Woods in his prime. Under this rule, when a golfer hits a bad shot, they can internally vent their frustration for 10 yards after the place the shot was taken, and then after that the shot has to be forgotten and the next one concentrated on.

Emotions can also be controlled by the golfer engaging in positive self-talk, which improves confidence. For example, Bubba Watson has been heard saying to himself “I can do it” even when hitting out of the trees. If negative thoughts start to emerge, the golfer needs to act and say “stop” so that negative thoughts are replaced with those that motivate them.

Final thoughts

To develop a Growth Mindset, golfers need to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their performance, take control of their emotions, and create an environment in which failure is not seen as embarrassing and high standards are set. However, implementing these strategies is not always easy – but it will be worth it.

Check out our guide page on golf sport psychology to learn more.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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