As a trainee Sport Psychologist I have carried out a selection of workshops and consultancy in golf. It recently came to my attention from some individuals that team events can increase the pressure that they experience during a competition.

Most golfers spend the majority of their time practising for and competing in individual events. The chances are these individuals have a preference for competing as an individual and prefer to practice and prepare independently. However, there will always be the opportunity during the season to compete in team events alongside friends or fellow club/squad members. Despite the team event meaning you have more support around you and you will be out on the course with team mates during most of it; this environment can increase the pressure felt by certain individuals.

Coactive teams in golf

There are many team sports out there in which individuals don’t feel the pressure of that team environment so why is golf so different? The nature of team events in golf means that they are classed as coactive. If a team is coactive it means that the player is performing the skills individually but his/her scores will be added to a team total and their goals are shared with the rest of the team.

The Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup are the 2 most famous team events for male and female golfers and they provide the perfect example of these coactive teams. If we break down each part of these competitions, it will become clear why they are coactive in their format:

  • “Fourball” – You have your own ball but the overall team result is dependent on your individual performance.
  • “Foursomes” – you are playing with a partner and you have one ball, although in this format you liaise with your playing partner. Your individual performance can impact your partners next shot as well as the overall team result.
  • “Singles” – You are out there competing individually against an opponent but as with the previous two formats your individual     performance and results will impact upon the team result.

So the key point here when we are looking at team events in golf is the fact that you are part of a bigger team, you all have the same goals; however, each shot you play during your performance is independent to the team whom your points will go towards.

Why can these team environments increase the pressure we feel while playing golf?

Many of the top names that have competed in the Ryder Cup have confessed that the pressure they feel is greater than in any final round of a major. The one common ground with many of these comments is that they link to the fact that they are out there playing as part of a team. Although we should probably agree that it is a different kind of pressure in these events the main points that influence the pressure in a coactive team are:

  • Not wanting to let anybody down
  • Wanting to do it for your country
  • Having to say sorry to your teammates if you play badly
  • The burden of playing for team and captain
  • You’re trying not to mess up and lose it for your team
  • Feeling like your performance has lost it for the team

As we look at all of these comments there is a link to “expectations” all of these individuals have there own expectations that they put upon themselves. But, do they know what the teams expectations are? The chances are if teams and individuals do not have discussions and communicate well during these events then “perceived expectations” can cause unnecessary pressure.

What can we do to help overcome this pressure in these environments?

This brings us towards the concept of team cohesion; can a coactive team work on team cohesion to help them in these pressure moments? Many successful coactive teams have identified task cohesion and social cohesion as important whilst competing together.

Before these team events it is important to focus on social cohesion through mutual sharing sessions and team goal setting sessions, as players rarely compete as a team then team building interventions can also enhance cohesion.

Emotions can be contagious among team mates so remember that while you’re out there your emotions will not only help or hinder your personal performance but may also have an effect on your team’s performance and the individual playing alongside you.

Playing as a team also means you need to ensure that you talk as a team, eat as a team and use the support of your team as you face every hurdle together. By carrying out all of these things unrealistic “perceived expectations” are less likely to occur and the each member of the team is aware of the role of their individual performance.

Conclusion

The next time you are faced with a team event and begin to feel the pressure give this article another read. The main point to take away is that you have a support network in team events that you may not have during individual events. Don’t be afraid to use it! The chances are you will also pick up some great tips and skills that will help you the next time you feel the pressure in the final round of an individual event.

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