Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Overthinking 'disrupts golf putt'

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Golf thinking can putt you off

Golfers who think too much about their technique between shots could be seriously affecting their performance, a study has suggested.

St Andrews University and US scientists said they had established that too much analysis made the golfer's game worse.

They said thinking too much about the previous shot can disrupt performance.

In total, 80 golfers were given shots to practise until they got it right. Those who discussed their putting between strokes took twice as long.

The study found that when the mix of skilled and novice golfers tried again, those who had discussed the shot took longer to get the shots right as those people who had spent a couple of minutes engaged in other, unrelated activities.

Simply describing one's putting skill after it has been executed can be incredibly disruptive to future putting performance
Prof Michael Anderson
St Andrews University
Psychology Professor Michael Anderson, from St Andrews University, said: "This effect was especially dramatic in skilled golfers who were reduced to the level of performance of novices after just five minutes of describing what they did.

"Novices, by contrast, were largely unaffected, and perhaps even helped a little, by verbally describing their movements.

"It's a fairly common wisdom in sport that thinking too much hurts performance; during a game it can be an obvious distraction.

"However, what we found surprising is that simply describing one's putting skill after it has been executed can be incredibly disruptive to future putting performance."

Player takes a putt
The study suggested talking could "overshadow" motor skills

He said overthinking did not seem to affect novices because "they probably haven't developed enough skills to forget in the first place" and claimed that top professionals would be less susceptible as they were very focused in their approach.

The researchers think the loss of performance was due to an effect called verbal overshadowing, which makes the brain focus more on language centres rather than on brain systems that support the skills in question.

The study, which also involved the University of Michigan, marks the first time researchers have claimed to demonstrate that verbal overshadowing can adversely affect motor skills.

Prof Anderson said the findings may have consequences for people who take part in other sports.

"This observation may have repercussions for athletes who depend on effective mental techniques to prepare for events," he added.

"Moreover, those who teach golf, or any motor skill, might be undoing their own talent in the process."

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