Every week on Friday, the boys golf team has a 45 minute session where they practice their “mental game” in order to improve their physical golf game. This mental practice is a new concept that the golf team has implemented this year to help improve the mental side of the sport.
Francis Santora, the first year assistant coach for the golf team, runs the mental game sessions. Santora has a background in organizational and clinical psychology and has been studying meditation and the mental aspect of life for 40 years.
Last summer, Santora was offered and accepted the position of assistant coach and thought to bring along some mental game practices to help with the psychological challenges that golf brings. Sentora said that golf is one of the most mentally challenging sports there are, so learning about the mental game can really improve one’s performance. “Besides it being really fun, [golf is] really good at bringing out the inner critic. I really work with the students to help them have a different relationship with their thoughts. One that is self supportive and positive,” Santora said.
Santora teaches his players to differentiate between their thoughts and whether or not they need to pay attention to them. He explained that, no matter what, you will experience bad thoughts, but you can control whether you give attention to the thought or not. “You see that sandwich over there? The sandwich is the thought,” Santora said. “Your awareness — or attention — is the thing looking at the thought, that’s who you are. The voice in you that is talking is different from the you that’s perceiving or listening.”
Santora uses an analogy, similar to the sandwich one, with his students to determine negative thoughts and avoid giving attention to them. “[The bad thought] is trying to get your attention. You’re the attention. If you can manage the attention differently in relation to the thoughts, you can create a reality for yourself where you are calm and balanced, and that’s a good way to play golf.” Santora said.
Santora believes that the mental game that he teaches to golf students is completely applicable to other sports, and is hoping that Menlo introduces these concepts to others in the community. “Every athlete would benefit from learning how to have a healthy and productive internal narration versus letting their attention get pulled constantly into negative thought patterns,” he said.
Junior Eric Yun plays golf and feels the mental game practice has helped him a lot. He believes that, in every sport, but especially in golf, there is a huge mental game that is sometimes forgotten about. “We really learn how to free your mind from all the negative thoughts you could have when you are out playing,” Yun said. Yun explained that he hits many bad shots every round, and having these mental practice sessions has helped him control negative thoughts on the course.
Outside of sports, improving mental strength can have a significant positive influence on your attitude. Both Santora and Yun have noticed that when they have negative thoughts outside of golf, they are able to manage them more easily than before.
Freshman Sachin Sandhu also plays golf for Menlo and notices a difference in his game since he started doing mental practice. He said that practicing it has helped him stay in a calmer mindset after hitting a poor shot. Sandhu also thinks that utilizing mental game training could help out other Menlo athletic programs.