Also published on the Golf Monthly website
Last night was the second instalment of “Road to Glory” on Sky Atlantic. It’s a five part series charting the British cycling team’s success in 2012 under the meticulous leadership of Dave Brailsford.
It’s extremely interesting and entertaining, made even more captivating with hindsight of the unbelievable achievements of British riders through this year.
It could be said it was a bit of a punt to begin making this documentary at the start of 2012. What if the team had performed horribly? I suppose they could have still made it dramatic and called it “Road to nowhere,” or “Avenue of failure.” But, being realistic, anyone with a modicum of knowledge on cycling, or sport for that matter, could see Team Sky and the British Olympic Cycling squad were well on course for a monumental season.
If I had any doubt before, I’m now totally convinced that Bradley Wiggins is sports personality of the year. Sorry to Rory, Andy, Mo and Jess, but the man with the sideburns takes it.
I watched Brad win the Tour de France and I was aware he’d performed well in the classic races leading up to the event. I hadn’t realised he’d done quite so spectacularly. He won the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné: the only man to win all three in the same season. He’s now the only man to win all three and the Tour de France. He’s the only man to ever win the Tour and an Olympic gold in the same year.
He is also an actual personality. He’s got a sense of humour and strong opinions, he smokes the odd fag, he’s reluctantly brilliant and he battles inner demons like the rest of us. Go Wiggo.
Brailsford and his team have left no stone unturned in their quest for victory. He talks of an “aggregation of marginal gains;” looking for improvements in every element of preparation, performance, equipment, tactics and technique. Everything considered, from the bedding the team sleeps in every night, to the oil used to lubricate the bike chains.
Each of these minor tweaks is relatively insignificant in isolation, but when added together, they make the difference and help the British riders stay ahead of the competition.
One of the things I found most interesting was the work done by the team psychiatrist, yes psychiatrist rather than psychologist. He focuses on the fight between the rational and the emotional sides of the brain. He refers to the emotional part as the “inner chimp.” The British cyclists are encouraged to try and overcome the inner chimp, the voice that tells them to stop when their body hurts beyond belief.
Trying to learn from “Road to Glory,” I, naturally, considered the programme in relation to my golf game… what could I do? I suppose I could aggregate marginal gains – tweak my equipment, eat the right muesli bars, practice my putting until my stroke is a metronome. But, it was the thought of the “inner chimp” that struck me most.
The emotional part of my brain is definitely dominant on the golf course. I tend to walk off after a medal round feeling emotionally drained. If that inner chimp, he is a complete chimp by the way, continues to override my rational brain then I’m never going to improve, no matter what other marginal gains I make.
I’ve read Bob Rotella and other sports psychology books and I totally agree with everything they say in terms of positive thinking, maintaining a routine, seeing the shot etc.. But I reckon that I, and many other golfers, suffer from psychiatric problems on the course rather than psychological ones.
I can walk on to the 1st tee with huge self-belief and a clear plan. But, when those negative (or emotional) voices begin to talk to me, all the best-laid plans go out of the window. That’s surely a psychiatric issue.
Wiggins talks about having to battle the emotional part of his brain. He has to have a proper barney with it and put it back in its box before he goes out to compete.
That’s what I’m going to focus on next time I’m on the course. The rational side of my brain is going to beat the emotional side. The rational side knows I have the ability to hit golf shots, to perform to my full potential. The emotional part of the brain tries to drag me down, questions me, questions my shot selection, club selection, clothing selection and general life selections.
The rational brain produces a strategy, the emotional side produces doubt. The key to success is to turn the emotional side off for a few hours. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I can only try. I’m going to look a little strange standing outside the pro-shop having a Gollum-style conversation with myself, but if it knocks 0.1 off my handicap then who cares.