I’m currently reading the new Tiger Woods biography.
One paragraph that grabbed me relates to the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville….and specifically to the mental preparation of a little known American golfer called Bob May.
Bob May had been a very good teenage golfer in Southern California when Tiger Woods himself was growing up. But there ended the similarities. May went on to become a PGA Tour player, albeit a journeyman professional. Tiger Woods went onto become…Tiger Woods!
During the PGA Championship in 2000 Bob May played outstanding golf. And on the Saturday night, the night before the final round, he found himself in the lead, alongside Tiger Woods.
Now you have to remember that Tiger Woods was so good in the 2000 season that he intimidated every other player. Some of the top caddies thought Tiger had become so good that it was unfair. So Bob May faced a monumental task in trying to beat Woods in that final round.
May knew this, and throughout Saturday evening he relayed an important mantra to himself over and over again. He told himself: “Play the course, not the man. You can’t control what Woods is doing. He’s the longest hitter in the world. He’s going to play a different course than you. Play the course. It’s the only thing you can do.”
Can you imagine that. A golfer, the night before his biggest ever round, repeating the same mantra time and again “Play the course, not the man! Play the course not the man”
I don’t know where the body starts and where the mind ends. Perhaps they are inextricably linked. But what I do know is that, by repeating this mantra over and over, Bob May was preparing his mind to face the greatest, most competitive sportsman on the planet at the time. He was preparing his body for the most gruelling four hours of his life.
“Play the course, not the man! Play the course, not the man”
I relay this story to you because this form of self-hypnosis is the exact thing I want soccer players to do the night before a game. I want them to repeat to themselves exactly how they want to play and what they want their mindset to be like. And the mindset is the important part.
“I want to be strong, alert and lively…what does this look like? What does this feel like?”
“I want to be relentless. I want to be first to the ball…I want to engage the opposition at all times..I want real intention. What does this look like? What does this feel like?”
Because ultimately your game of soccer is about you and you alone (so you can contribute fully to your team). You can’t control the outcome. You can’t force winning or scoring or keeping a clean sheet. You can’t force being man or woman of the match. It’s about you and your mindset. It’s about showing your best self with attitude and action. With desire and determination. With energy and effort. The best way to accomplish this is to prime your mind and body the night before. It’s to narrate an inner story that opens an exciting catalogue of pictures in your mind, and unleashes wave after wave of confident feelings through your body.
“Play my game. Play my game hard. Play my game with intention. Play my game with belief. Play my game relentlessly…no matter what. No matter the score. No matter the quality of the opposition. Play my game!”
So what happened to Bob May? Well he didn’t win. But he shot an incredible 65 (for those who don’t know golf think of a man of the match display in the Champions League final…it’s like this!) He took Tiger to a play-off and eventually succumbed after three holes. But his mindset – his self-management, focus and emotion control – was outstanding. His mantra from the night before truly came to life under the most intense, life-changing pressure.
Controlling the controllables is a big deal in sport psychology and I’ve written a few chapters about this concept in my books Soccer Tough and Soccer Tough II. There’s also a whole pile of football psychology techniques at my Academy that will help you focus on you as you compete.