Lucy Li, Mental Game

 Imagine for a moment you are a Martian and have flown to earth from outer space. You land your spaceship away from the built-up areas and wander out to observe what’s happening. Stopping by a hedge you observe four people, all similarly dressed carrying steel implements. One of the humans takes a steel implement and moves a little way from the group, holding the implement with both hands it strikes a spherical white plastic object, which is thrust into the air arcing a trajectory to a red flag.

When the sphere makes contact with the ground the force lifts it into the air a little and then as the velocity reduces, it slowly falls into a small hole at the bottom of the flag. The other humans put their hands together making loud repeating noises, two of them jump up and down, and they all embrace each other. As they do so the contours on their faces change considerably.

A few moments later they cease their embraces, become silent and a second human takes its steel implement and strikes another spherical white plastic object. This time, the sphere arcs a trajectory which takes it over some bushes. This human then hits the ground with its steel implement, it makes other noises but none of the other humans make any noise, they don’t jump up and down or put their hands together. How strange the Martian thinks, humans! What does all this mean?


If you have been brought up in a culture where people around you play sport, jump up and down after a goal has been scored, then you probably haven’t considered how strange this excited behaviour looks to an outsider. But, it’s worth remembering that there is little inherent meaning in any of these actions.
Part of the way we humans make things special and take enjoyment from life is to form groups, create in group kudos and esteem, and ascribe meaning to certain actions, behaviours and rituals. The handing over of the trophy after a ceremony carries significance only within cultures that understand sport. People from a distant land – or from outer space – will not see the point in making a speech or thanking your parents or caddy.

To me this point is really important if we are to understand the psychology behind human action, which is why I have slightly laboured the issue here.
The point I am attempting to make is that by making some things important we bring meaning to life and living. Sadly, as a culture, we value golfers who have low handicaps and hit the ball a long way (tour pros) more highly than golfers with high handicaps. That’s ok to a point, but it means as a group we too often make a person ‘feel’ less worthy if they don’t produce good scores and good shots.


The result is many golfers become overly concerned about hitting bad shots because of what others think or what it means. Ascribing too much importance to some things – and what they mean culturally - can also make sport performance overly difficult, complex and less enjoyable.

While our health and other life and death situations are arguably worth worrying about – where the little white ball finishes isn’t so important. The goal (or the difficulty) is that hitting a good shot has to mean something, but not too much. We have to try hard enough so as to put some effort into our sport, but not so much that a poor shot, or forthcoming event causes us extreme anxiety and ruins an enjoyable pastime.

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