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Abstract

The feature of golf is that along with the need to have strong and developed hands, a player is also required to have an ability to control his/her mental state. Victory largely depends on mental toughness, since golf is a kind of sports depending not only on the strength of arms, but also on the level of mental toughness. Mental toughness is particularly important, because it is primarily connected with the mental condition of a player. The characteristic feature of human beings is the fact that spirit can influence the body and vice versa, meaning that the body can influence spirit as well. In this regard, the development of mental toughness skills is crucial for any golfer, who seeks to win, given a high degree of psychological stress in the game. This paper analyzes the features of the phenomenon of mental toughness in general and in relation to golf performance.

Introduction

In golf, the most important aspect is not only the technique, but also the psychological state, since the way a player performs his/her task depends on his/her psychological state. Cold mind and high concentration of the will are needed to be achieved in order to perform well on the field. As noted by (Goldberg, n.d.):

golf is probably one of the most fragile sports psychologically. It doesn't take much of a negative thought to tighten up the wrong muscles enough to send your ball into a different zip code rather than the one your were aiming for. It's no wonder that so many of the players on both the men's and women's tours have been regularly consulting sports psychologists to work on their mental game.

Judging from the experience of many famous golfers, it is proved that golf is an intellectual game, and the result of any competition is unpredictable. Today, one might cope with obstacles, make a successful kick of the ball from an awkward position and easily roll it up into the hole. However, in the nearest future, everything can change and the same player will not be able to get the ball out of the sand or throw it deep into the bush. A poorly played game of golf can make even the most skilled player plunge into despair. For this reason, mental toughness is the cornerstone of a successful career of any golfer. The objectives of the study include the analyses of the notion of mental toughness in connection with golf performance. For this purpose, the main tasks are associated with giving the definition of mental toughness in general, and its analyzing in terms of athletic career, particularly in the form of golf. The study also suggests an appeal to the experience of Tiger Woods, who indicates a special importance of mental toughness in his career.

Mental Toughness in Psychology

In psychology, mental toughness is viewed in the form of the psychological stability as a holistic personality characteristic, providing its resistance to the frustration and stressor effects of difficult situations (Wilks, 2009). In general, the behavior of a person in a state of mental toughness is performed as follows: the problem - the motive it actualizes - the implementation of actions leading to its realization - the realization of difficulties - a negative emotional response - finding a way to overcome difficulties - lowering the strength of negative emotions - improving the functioning and concomitant optimization of the level of excitement. In turn, the scheme of behavior of a person, who does not have mental toughness: task motif - the implementation of actions leading to its realization - the realization of difficulties - negative emotional reaction - a chaotic search for a way out - worsening of the perceived difficulties - an increase in negative emotions - the deterioration of functioning - reduction of motivation or defensive reaction.

Another definition of mental toughness states that it is a description of a personality, which lies in maintaining optimal mental functioning under the frustrating and stressful impact of difficult situations. It is not an innate property of the individual, since it is formed simultaneously with its development and depends on the human nervous system, his/her experience in training, behavioral skills and activity level of cognitive structures of the individual. There are the following components of mental toughness: emotional, volitional, intellectual (cognitive), motivational and psychomotor. The proportion of the mental toughness components in a particular person is not the same. It is impossible to be resistant to all, i.e. mental toughness does not mean resistance to everything. Stability is not the mental toughness indicator, but the variability, which is regarded as flexibility, a speed of adaptability to the changing conditions of life and a high mobility of the psyche in the transition from task to task. Consequently, the dependence of the efficiency of activities in difficult situations on the level of mental toughness and professional skills is undeniable.

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The issues of psychological stability of a personality are of great practical importance, since stability protects an individual from disintegration and personality disorders and forms the basis for internal harmony, adequate mental health and high efficiency. The disintegration of personality is understood as the loss of the organizing role of the top level of the psyche in the regulation of behavior and activity and a decay of the hierarchy of vital values, motives and goals. Psychological stability of an individual directly determines his/her vitality, as well as mental and physical health. Psychological stability appears as a complex personality trait that combines:

  • Equilibrium (balance) and proportionality;
  • Resistance and stability (constancy);

In sports, the psychological stability is replaced by the notion of mental toughness, whose main task is to help the athlete to keep his/her psychological state and as a result, physical balance that is the key to the victory.

Mental Toughness and Sport Performance

One should recognize that the idea of mental toughness still has not received a definition that would be recognized by all researchers. Various definitions have been proposed, in particular, by Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton (2002), as well as by Middleton, Marsh, Martin, Richards, & Perry, (2004), and all of them contributed to the development of a full-fledged definition of the concept. Nevertheless, another definition seems to be more justified. According to Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock (2009), the phenomenon of mental toughness is:

a collection of experientially developed and inherent sport-specific and sport-general values, attitudes, emotions, and cognitions that influence the way in which an individual approaches, responds to, and appraises both negatively and positively construed pressures, challenges, and adversities to consistently achieve his or her goals.

Gucciardi et al. (2009) defend the position that it is necessary to distinguish between situations, in which one copes with the pressure that characterizes positive circumstances and in which he/she overcomes a slump or an injury that is connected with negative circumstances. From this position, it makes sense to take into account positive characteristics that demonstrate their connection with the mental toughness. In particular, high self-confidence, that is also seen as self-esteem or self-belief, belongs to such type of attribute (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005; Thelwell, Weston, & Greenlees, 2005). There are also two other features connected with mental toughness, namely attention-related and emotional control (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002) and consistency. The latter was analyzed by Bull et al. (2005) and Middleton et al. (2004) in the forms of an attitude, motivation and effort.

Different interpretations of the notion of mental toughness and its properties give an opportunity to admit the complexity of the concept. However, such qualities as confidence, consistency, as well as control can be considered as the key features that make it possible to get closer to the understanding of the phenomenon called mental toughness. There have been conducted various studies aimed at obtaining data for assessing mental toughness. For example, Clough, Earle, & Sewell (2002) in “Mental Toughness: The Concept and its Measurement” estimated mental toughness based on the results of different tests. So did Golby, Sheard, & van Wersch, (2007), who conducted numerous studies, showing both similarities and differences in the assessment of mental toughness. Various studies state that mental toughness may be achieved by competition (Cashmore, 2002), a person being responsible for one's performance (Fourie & Potgieter, 2001), as well as being calm in difficult situations (Clough et al., 2002).

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As noted by Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton (2002), “The literature on mental toughness is characterized by a general lack of conceptual clarity and consensus as to its definition, as well as a general failure to operationalize the construct in a consistent manner.” Nevertheless, he offers his own definition of mental toughness. In particular, Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton (2002) argue that:

mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

  1. Generally, cope better than your opponents with a number of demands (competition, training, lifestyle, etc.) that sport places on a performer.
  2. Specifically, be consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

The fact that the mental readiness of an athlete is a decisive factor of victory in sports is recognized at the present time. It is not accidental that in the last decade, sports psychologists and specialists of the related sciences paid special attention to the development of specific technologies of mental training of elite athletes on the basis of the appropriate methods of psycho-diagnostics. The basis of the development of sports psychology lies in the constantly growing interest for the nature of human existence, the conditions of its formation and development in human society, especially its interaction with other people. At the moment, it is impossible to practice many of the activities in science, medicine, teaching, and sports in the game without the knowledge and understanding of the psychological patterns.

Currently, different kinds of sports, particularly golf, are among the aspects of contemporary culture and social life, having its content, structure, patterns and mechanisms of exposure. The entertainment of sports attracts millions of people. Sport presumes not only wrestling on arenas and stadiums tracks. It is rather a way of human life, in which people compete every day. It is a sphere of the formation of personality and the image of "I"; the area where dreams and desires are realized and where everyone can find his/her place. If sport is the first experience of overcoming difficulties and achieving victories, it is also the experience of defeats that develops certain skills. It is one of the few modern activities, where one can become a hero and star even at a very young age, and this is what most young sportsmen dream of.

Sporting activities are some of the few ways, where people can show their perfection using physical ability to achieve certain results. Sport is a great natural laboratory of human capabilities and is usually associated with physical and mental stress, as well as the need to overcome not only the resistance of a strong opponent, but also one’s own weaknesses. Like any discipline, sport psychology is designed to perform a cognitive function in the study of its object – sports. To date, the problem of psychological support in sports is as follows:

  1. The analysis of the socio-psychological conditions of sporting activities (the problems of socialization, both of a team and an athlete, the impact of national characteristics and traditions on the development of sport, interpersonal relationships, psychological climate of sports teams and professionalism in sports).
  2. The analysis of the features of the development and formation of a personality in terms of sports activities (the study of the mechanisms of formation and dynamics of personality, motivation, and motor abilities in sports).
  3. The study of psychological basis for the formation of motor skills and qualities (a specialized perception, psychological characteristics of different sports and training as well as the techniques of mental state management).
  4. The study of the factors that ensure the success of a competitor, such as the dynamics of mental processes in a competitive activity, mental stability and reliability, mental states and prediction of success.
  5. The study of fundamentals of psychological support for sports activities (psychological typology of sports, the techniques of management of mental states in sport, diagnosis, counseling, psycho-correction, etc.).

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The ability to maintain inner calmness that gives an opportunity to focus on a particular purpose, regardless of the different external circumstances gives the athlete who possesses it an advantage over other athletes. This is a very valuable quality, which largely influences the victory. Indeed, even if it is about a sport, in which a special role is played by physical strength or endurance, a speed of running or the strength of arms, mental toughness does not lose its relevance. It is mental toughness that enables one to withstand stressful situations, when rivals show higher results that gives the competitor an opportunity to win.

What can we say about mental toughness, which is essential for golfers? What qualities should it have to contribute to the success of a player? First, one must consider the fact that golf, as a kind of a game, has its own characteristics that affect its psychological perception. In this context, it makes sense to turn to the sports experience of the famous golfer Tiger Woods, whose success depends on his ability to develop mental toughness. The success of Tiger Woods was so rapid that no one had noticed how the young athlete took first place in the ranking of world golf. In 2000, Tiger had won the first place in golf, after which he became the most famous and titled player in the whole world of golf. By the way, he keeps his brand until now. At the age of 25, Tiger Woods won three "green jackets" and became the most incredible of all the winners of the American championship (“The remarkable drive of Tiger Woods”, n.d.). He won just after fifteen strokes. Today, his experience is an invaluable storehouse of practical knowledge considering mental toughness as a crucial factor in his success in the career.

Mental Toughness in Practice: Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods gives different pieces of advice and guidance that can be viewed from two perspectives. First, they provide an opportunity to understand the features that have certain value for golfers, since Tiger Woods’ recommendations draw attention to the qualities that have to be taken into consideration in reaching one’s goals and the mental toughness development. Thus, his experience allows one to get closer to getting the definition of mental toughness in golf. In my opinion, this approach will be more successful, than making long comparison of the definitions given by various sports psychologists. The experience of Tiger Woods is an experience of a person, who better than anyone else knows what success and defeat mean in golf and thus, can help one understand what the phenomenon of mental toughness represents. Moreover, his view of it is an opportunity to receive practical advice as for its development. In general, it should be noted that the concept of Tiger Woods is primarily related to the work with the power of thought and consciousness. He is confident that the success in the game is only possible if a person has appropriate mental and psychic conditions. Considering the feature of golf as a game that in the field appears to be a struggle with oneself, the experience of the famous golfer has a special value.

The concept of mental toughness and mental toughness skills presented by Tiger Woods offers the following important points:

1. Believing in oneself. Tiger Woods sees the inability to believe in oneself as one of the main reasons of the failure when trying to develop mental toughness. The player, who does not believe in him/herself and constantly doubts his/her ability, cannot have mental toughness. All his/her thoughts and actions are subordinated to the idea that he/she might lose. In addition, if a player does not believe in him/herself, he/she doubts that victory awaits him/her. It is a very serious mistake for any player that makes him/her weak, in comparison with those, who believe in themselves and strive for achieving their goals. This step involves the development of the main goal, which should conform to the possibility of its implementation. A golfer also should not think what is waiting or not waiting for him/her at the end of the game. He/she should try to realize his/her goal, based on the belief in oneself and his/her capabilities. Certainly, it is all about that the psychological preparation for the goal to be achieved has sense, and this is possible only if the player has a set of all the necessary physical qualities, which will mead the gamer to the victory. At this stage, the risk assessment is particularly important. To this end, a player should ask him/herself the following questions: “What is the worst thing that could happen if I hit this golf shot?, And then follow that up with, What's the best thing that could happen if I hit this golf shot?” (Montague, 2010). Assessing the risk, the player must start the game, being confident in his/her abilities.

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2. A burning desire to win. Tiger Woods is certain that a burning desire of victory, as well as self-confidence is the main element along with other mental toughness skills, which can lead to victory. This step requires finding out how important the goal is, i.e., the problem is not to set a goal, but to make sure it is appropriate and justified. The player must have an ability to use his/her imagination. In this aspect, imagination is of particular importance, since it renders the target, vesting it in a visual form. One should not only imagine his/her purpose, but also him/herself reaching the goal. This idea testifies the emotional component of mental toughness, which is expressed in particular in the form of passion. For Woods, golf is a passion, and for this reason, goal setting should be linked with a passionate desire to win at any cost. A passionate and sincere desire to win propels emotional willingness to continue fighting for the victory.

3. An ability to accept failure calmly. Indeed, what is the reason that it is very difficult to develop mental toughness skills? Primarily, the problem is related to the fear of failure. Tremendous mental stress is caused by the fear of failure and being behind rivals. However, in fact, an ability to accept failure calmly gives an opportunity to come to victory despite minor defeat. The golfer, who wants to win, should realize that sometimes there are moments, when one needs to “let go” the situation and accept the fact of shallow failures. Only in this way, further progress toward success is possible.

Montague (2010) stated that

By understanding that you cannot control the outcome of your shots without doing a good job of controlling the process, will help you to recognize the value in accepting that many of your golf shots even with the best of attitudes will sometimes finish up in places you didn’t want it go anyway. Get over the disappointment of the golf shot and get on with playing golf. Leave the disappointment of the golf shot back at the scene of the disaster.

4. Control over the movements of the body. A player should monitor his/her psychological stress for it not to become the cause of improper coordination of movements in the golf swing. The player should watch his/her posture, the way he/she poses hands and directs the stick. He/she should not overly compress the handle whores, because it will backfire. The longer and harder he/she squeezes the handle, the more his/her psychological state becomes intense.

5. Constant work with excitement. Like any other game, golf is unthinkable without excitement. Moreover, golf is a game, in which excitement plays a decisive role. Initially, a player should accept the idea that the excitement might appear during the game and he/she should be ready for this. In order to combat the excitement, one can use proper breathing, the task of which is to mitigate the anxiety by forwarding the disturbing thoughts towards the respiratory practice. In this case, it is about the need to eliminate the excitement by redirecting this energy into the mainstream of quiet breathing. Each player should remember that “the only pressure that exists is the pressure you put on yourself” (Montague, 2010).

6. Use the power of suggestion. Woods draws attention to the fact that there is a close connection between what people imagine and receive in reality. In order to win, a player must think only about the positive aspects, while imagining his/her victory. Imagination can give truly amazing results, given that the power of thought and imagination is not a meaningless phrase, but gives one an opportunity to win by developing mental toughness skills.

7. Control, so that attention is not distracted. This is a very important step, which suggests that all of the player's attention, both visual and mental, is aimed at making a shot. A player must not think of any extraneous things, because all his/her thoughts, as well as visual and bodily functions should be concentrated on the stick and the upcoming strike. According to Montague (2010), this step is based on the following two rules:

Firstly you need to control you’re the direction of your intention. Exactly what is it that you want to do with your golf shot? Specifically what is your intention or objective? The behavior of the shot needs to be very clear in your mind and also needs to be something that you know you can do. Secondly, you need to focus your attention on your intention. You see once you’ve decided what your intention is, and then you need to make sure that you keep your attention on it. By never really being clear enough about what you want to do with the golf ball, it becomes difficult to maintain a sharp level of focus.

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Thus, getting acquainted with the concept of the known golfer makes it possible not only to understand the specific of mental toughness, but also receive practical advice for the development of mental toughness and mental toughness skills. Based on the ideas of the golfer, mental toughness is the unity of psychological and physical elements of self-control. It involves working with one’s mind, the task of which is to define the purpose and analyze its validity and feasibility. Then, when the target is found, one needs to believe in it. A player must not only believe in the rightness of his/her goals, but also in him/herself and his/her capabilities, provided that they meet the required level. In addition, the methods of controlling the attention in its various forms (visual and mental) are particularly important. The excitement that is inevitable for all athletes should be transformed into a proper calm breathing, whose main task is to relax the physical and psycho-emotional state, given that they are interconnected.

A practical concept of Woods is a great opportunity to look at the problem of mental toughness that has not yet received a clear definition from the standpoint of someone, who has directly applied the theory of mental toughness. The features of the interpretation of mental toughness and mental toughness skills proposed by Woods specify the relationship between the body and psyche. The approach to mental toughness developed by Woods is rather different from all that has been identified previously. Unlike them, he examines mental toughness as a complex, woven of unity between the physical and psychological state of the athlete. Thus, Woods extends the concept of mental toughness, while giving it the utmost clarity in the form of practical advice of how to achieve it. Separately, one should define a merit of the famous athlete that he drew the attention to the powers and capabilities of imagination and suggestion. In particular, recent studies confirm this (Waugh, 2012).

It is known that many fighters of martial arts meditate before the fight, tuning themselves to win. Golfers can use this technique as well. However, unlike athletes, they should not present themselves lying on the defeated enemy, since for them it makes sense to imagine the hole 10 percent larger than it actually is. Such calculation was produced by an expert on sports psychology, the Professor Jessica Witt of Purdue University in Indiana. According to her research, players easily pounded balls into the holes if they imagined that the holes on the golf field were bigger than they actually were. In order to learn to do this, one should be very confident in his/her abilities. By doing so, the goal becomes more approachable. Before the test, researchers asked the volunteers to draw the approximate size of the holes, in which they were preparing to send the ball. It turned out that those, who saw the holes as small ones, could not successfully send the ball into the right place. In turn, the one who saw a hole 10 percent bigger than it actually was, was lucky much more often than others. Further, the players were sending balls in two differently sized holes. Meanwhile, the scientists were using the projector that "painted" small and large circles around each of the holes. It helped creating optical illusions. It turned out that the wider the circle around the hole was, the luckier the player was. The study has reason to state that simply imagining that the hole is bigger helps the player to make a shot more accurately. Perhaps, an important role is played by self-confidence and a feeling of an "easy" victory. Other observations of football and basketball players showed that, indeed, fighting spirit and high self-esteem can even expand soccer goal and basketball hoop. In general, the relationship between mental imagination and reality was also marked by other researchers. In particular, Bell (2010) pointed to a great importance of the function of imagination, self-hypnosis and creating mental pictures, in which the player sees him/herself a winner. According to Bell (2010), they have primarily a psychological value as the stimulants for the activity of the athlete and the qualities that can and should lead him/her to the victory, namely positive attitude, optimism, cheerfulness, ability to forget the defeats and determination to achieve the goal.

Conclusion

The feature of golf is that the slightest psychological discomfort can cause inaccurate strike. For this reason, the concepts of mental toughness and mental toughness skills are crucial in sport, in particular because it allows concentrating both mental and physical strengths and capabilities on achieving the main goal - victory. However, until now, there is no consensus as to what mental toughness is. An appeal to the practical experience of success of the famous golfer Tiger Woods gives one an opportunity to shed light on these issues. Tiger Woods, like others who succeed in golf performance, can help receive a more precise and unambiguous definition of what mental toughness represents and what qualities are required to achieve it. A high level of physical and mental pressure, which are peculiar to golfers, demonstrates the need to work primarily with the psychological state, as well as the thoughts and ideas of the athlete. In this regard, self-hypnosis and the use of imagination can also benefit. Further investigation of the term should take into consideration its connection with the physical characteristics of golfers.

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