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NLP and Golf Coaching

WARNING : This article is only my experience, as such it is not “true”.

I’ve been learning, applying and training NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) since 1994 in life, business and golf. Having studied a few other things along the way too, I’ve got a pretty good idea now about what NLP is, what it’s not, how it works and most importantly how useful it is. I got into studying NLP through my frustration at studying my degree in psychology. My experience of psychology was that it was very interested in why we did what we did and then testing various hypotheses to form various generalisations. Which was interesting. Up to a point. To be honest I didn’t want interesting – I wanted exciting, fascinating, inspiring. I didn’t just want why and what, I wanted HOW??? As a science, psychology seemed to constrain itself to testing theories to develop understanding, but rarely seemed to develop actual change tools and skills. I wanted to be able to help people make changes in their thinking – but how could I do that unless I could get inside HOW people think.

So when I was given the option of writing my final year essay on NLP I became very curious. The essay title given by my tutor was in fabulous psycho-speak “The Neurolinguistic Model of Human Communication and Change: Unsubstantiated Psychobabble or a New Paradigm for the Study of Human Experience” Catchy title! I proceeded to devour every book I could get my hands on – which wasn’t easy as it wasn’t very well known back then. I was fascinated by how artful questioning could shift the pictures, sounds, feelings and tones of voice in our heads, creating whole new experiences of life! Beliefs, values, emotions, behaviours, even phobias and whole personalities could be changed with regular ease. This was not psychology as I knew it, which tried to slowly unpick and understand things, then repeat various superficial tricks over a long period of time until something stuck. This was very precisely and quickly aligning the unconscious mind, making changes in minutes that stayed changed without the need for on-going homework or repeat sessions. I had found what I was looking for and even now I can’t wait to learn more about it.

So what is NLP?

NLP is the study of HOW we think.

Neuro – HOW we use our physical neurology (our brain, nervous system, senses etc) to take in information

Linguisitic – HOW we use the language of that neurology (pictures, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes, thoughts)

Programming – HOW we put those pictures, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes and thoughts together to make sense of the world

NLP cares little about the content of your story, such as “I feel this way because I was bullied at school”. NLP only cares about how you experience that memory in your life NOW. It is a tool of the present tense – a tool to help you become present. Its aim is not to help you understand why you become nervous in certain situations and then develop generic “coping strategies” to counter them. Its aim is to help you change the way you have programmed yourself so you can naturally feel how you want whenever you want. It’s not interested in being objectively “right”, it’s only interested in what works subjectively.

Let me give you a small example of how useful NLP can be in golf. You’re standing over the ball. How do you know when you’re ready to play your shot? Psychology may give generalised guidance, like focus on a specific target, go when you’ve got an internal green light and trust your swing. Seems like good simple advice doesn’t it? Such good advice, padded out with a number of personal success stories, seems to be the only content of a lot of golf psychology books on the market today. Which is fine, as using that advice will probably help you for a round or so. Then it won’t, and you’ll need the next book in the series that says the same thing. It won’t stick because it needs to more specific.

1. Target – What is a specific target? A distant branch of a tree along that line? A spot on the fairway where your ball will finish? A point at the end of the start line of the shot (if the shot will turn left or right)? What kind of target works best for you on which kind of shot? What about the trajectory?

2. Green light – What if you don’t see a green light when you’re ready? What if your trigger for “GO” is a totally personal experience that you’re not conscious of? Here are the targets and “GO” triggers for just three of the players I’ve worked with lately:

  • – One sees a white line marking out the entire ball flight, then gets a warm tingling spreading downwards in the end of his fingers
  • – Another has a 18 inch square zoomed in colour still picture of the ball in it’s finishing spot and gets a feeling in of the soles of his feet spreading out giving him a solid base
  • – Another sees a distant starting line target on the ground and has a feeling of invincibility that gives him the feeling of puffing out his chest Not only are these experiences unique, they are also very specific.

That’s what I love about NLP – it’s accuracy (perfect for golf). Knowing your own specific “GO” trigger means that you can tailor your own routine that always brings you to that “GO” trigger point, so you are ready and committed for every shot you play. Unless you know your end point, how are you ever going to plot your route to get there? Where people are concerned, one size does not fit all. Yet this is one small example.

With each of these players, I’ve also used NLP to help them accelerate their development and get regular top ten finishes by helping them:

  • – change their beliefs and remove doubts about themselves
  • – remove fear and automate powerful confident performance states
  • – clear their mind so they can stay present, single mindedly focusing on joining ball and target
  • – change the way they recover from poor shots so they move on with useful lessons and confident feelings
  • – uncover and use their own learning strategies to accelerate technical development
  • – trust their instinct more, freeing them from overthinking

The list of possibilities is endless. If you can tap into the structure and process of HOW your mind works at every level, you can make the very most of who you are, what you can do and what’s possible for yourself.

Common society seems to like science, so the current “paradigm” of psychology will continue to be popular for a while yet. In the mean time, I want to enable the uncommon to become more possible, so I will keep finding stuff that works and pass it on. As I said at the start, this article is only my experience, as such it is not “true”. The truth is a very personal thing! Love every shot!

Adam Sprackling NLP “How to” Coach

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