Unconditional Confidence – The Mental Game of Champions
“I don’t hit every green.
I don’t birdie every hole.
I don’t win every tournament.
But I believe I will.”
—Tiger Woods, 2000
What sets champions apart from the also-rans? Their mental game. The cornerstone of the mental game of champions is confidence. This is not a temporary, conditional confidence that disappears when they are not playing well. They believe in themselves and their abilities regardless of the circumstances: their confidence is unconditional.
Unconditional confidence requires a broad perspective, independent of moment-to-moment results, based on more than a few shots or even a few rounds. The wider the perspective we have, the better we can weather the inevitable ups and downs within a round, a tournament, or a season. We can handle difficulties with poise and a sense of humor, knowing that these things come and go. We can regard experiences of success with a sense of humility; these also come and go. Whatever we encounter, we can be fearless in the moment. That is the expression of true confidence.
This does not mean that we expect to hit every shot perfectly. It does mean that we can handle whatever the result is. We see our abilities as part of our being, and see the difficulties we encounter as temporary experiences. This approach makes it possible to quickly turn things around and play well again.
A good example of this is Rory McIlroy winning the 2011 US Open. Earlier in the year, at the Masters Tournament, he played poorly in the last round because he did not believe in himself and only had conditional confidence. He tried to protect his lead instead of pushing further ahead. When he hit a poor shot, his conditional confidence disappeared and he shot the highest score in the last round for anyone leading the Masters. He learned from this and decided to approach the US Open tournament with unconditional confidence. Even when he made a bad swing or had a bad hole it did not undermine his confidence and his belief in himself. Because of that he was able to continually push forward, and ended up winning with the lowest score in US Open history. This demonstrates the power of unconditional confidence.
When you’re struggling with your swing or your putting, reflect on the times you’ve played your best. Know that you never lose your abilities; they just get covered up—usually by too many complications. Go back to some simple keys for your swing and your putting stroke. Never stop believing in yourself, and you’ll find your way back to playing your best.
© 2016 Dr. Joe Parent