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Fear of Failure in Your Golf: Driver for Success or Recipe for Disaster?

If you're anything like me (and most amateurs out there), you'll appreciate that golf can be as much a battle against yourself as it is against the course. One obstacle that often comes up with golfers I work with is a fear of failure. But is this fear a driving force propelling us to greater heights, or is it a lurking menace that prevents us reaching our true potential? In this article we delve into the relationship between the fear of failure and achieving success in golf and, as always, I'm sure you can draw some parallels in life too.

The Paralysis of Perfection:

For many golfers, the fear of failure manifests as a pursuit of perfection. Many I speak to have unrealistic expectations of how they should perform, but why is this so common in golf? It's hard to find many sports where a totally average amateur can execute a shot that the best players in the world would be proud of. And let's face it, it's an incredible feeling when we do hit that phenomenal shot (the one that keeps us coming back for more). This in itself is far from a problem, however if a player starts to form a belief along the lines of, "If I can make that shot once, then I should be able to do it all or most of the time," then this could become a problem. For those players who chase perfection and then don't execute against their expectations, frustration and doubt can kick in, reducing enjoyment and increasing the likelihood of high scores. So ultimately, is the quest for perfection a double-edged sword? It seems it can drive some golfers to excel while simultaneously burdening them with those unrealistic expectations. Is there a better way?!...

Shift Your Perspective on Failure:

Contrary to popular belief, failure is not the direct opposite of success; it is an essential stepping stone on the path to mastering what it takes to succeed. In golf, as in life, failure is a powerful teacher and can be looked at positively as a gained lesson, rather than an unfortunate event. Every missed shot and every errant swing holds valuable lessons waiting to be embraced. If we change our perspective and see 'failure' as a natural part of the learning process it can free golfers from the shackles of perfectionism. Doing this can allow them to experiment, innovate, and ultimately grow as players. You tried something, it didn't work, OK what have you learned? Maybe trying to unnecessarily drive the green on a par 4 sent you out of bounds and scuppered a good card, great, next time you're in that situation you have that information to make an informed decision. It's arguable that for an amateur (with golf as a hobby) there's no real finish line to get to in golf because most of us hope to play the sport throughout our lives. At certain periods our handicap will be higher, at others lower depending what else is happening off the golf course. If you can start enjoying the journey for the journey, rather than always seeking and judging yourself on the result, it can help to minimise the unrealistic expectations you might be experiencing.

False Evidence Appearing Real:

So what is fear in a golfing context? For a lot of us, the fear we feel on the golf course is just that, false evidence appearing real. If we strip it back, what is the worst possible outcome for us if we put in a poor score? What is the worst possible outcome for us if we miss that 3 foot putt? If we have a mindset that ties our self-worth to the result of either of those situations then we might feel frustrated, but how much do those results actually impact our lives as a whole? Does getting a poor score, mean you are less of a person? If we shift our mindset and stop tying our own self worth to the highs and lows of a round of golf, all of a sudden it is much easier to feel that the results don't matter as much! Think back to when you've played your best. Many amateur golfers I speak to tell me it's when they didn't have any particular expectations of their round (some actually tell me they had some kind of hangover although I'm not suggesting that as a route to your peak performance). Putting less pressure on yourself and less meaning to the result can allow you reframe 'fear' in the context of your performances.

Concept 4 - Motivation, Drive, Innovation and Creativity:

As someone who has used a fear of failure to motivate and strive for success in previous endeavours, I feel like we still need to consider some of the positives. It could be considered that, when faced with the prospect of failure, golfers who fear such might often feel a heightened sense of urgency and determination to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. This drive to avoid failure can push individuals to work harder, practice more, take calculated risks with shots, and persist in a round when faced with challenging situations. Arguably, it could also encourage individuals to think outside the box and take a more dangerous approach to the pin to achieve success. With all of these situations, I would still probably argue that an individual needs to truly embrace the idea that failure is a real possibility, and more importantly...get comfortable with that. Unfortunately, more practice doesn't guarantee better outcomes, taking risks doesn't guarantee success and persistence and resilience doesn't always produce the outcome desired. So it seems that, even if we use this avoidance of failure as a motivator to improve, we must shift our perspective on what failure actually is in order to remain motivated beyond the results.

So maybe the fear of failure can be both a formidable foe and a potent ally. While it has the potential to undermine confidence and performance, it also potentially presents an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Reframing failure as a natural part of the learning process and harnessing its motivational power can allow golfers to overcome the fear of failure and unlock their full potential on the course. So, the next time you step up to the tee, remember: success and failure are two sides of the same coin. Embrace them both, and let them drive you toward greatness.

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Golf player | Golf Coaching & Lessons | Coaching Fore Success | Sheffield, UK
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