The Psychology of Human Potential

It’s been nearly 20 years since I earned my doctoral degree in exercise and sport science with an emphasis in sport psychology, became a college professor, researcher, and sport psychologist for athletes and teams. I started with a broad and varied idea of what sport psychology is and how it can be applied to athletic performance. As I have immersed myself deeper and more thoroughly into the science of performance it has become quite simple. Sport Psychology, what I practice, is the psychology of human potential.

My clear objective with every athlete that I work with is to help them consistently realize their fullest performance potential.

The realization of this potential is two-fold. Most obvious is playing at the highest standard of excellence you are capable of. Taking those moments at the range where you are hitting pure and precise shots wherever you aim directly to the course in the fiercest competitive situations. The second, often overlooked yet no less valuable is the potential of the personal experience. The total realization of having as much uninhibited joy you can derive from playing the game. This aspect of having fun every-time you play sorely lacks emphasis, and that is a major source of underperformance in golf. I will get into this in great depth with a later article. For now, let’s look at how I see performance.

Performance = Potential – Interference*

How you will perform in a tournament as might be measured by the score you shoot or stats, will be determined by your potential minus whatever arises that interferes with you playing to your potential. The word potential in this equation is meant to describe the capacity of skills and abilities present during the performance rather than the ultimate you are capable of. Some days, more of your putts find the bottom of the cup while on other occasions, doing the same process, they don’t. That is the nature of skills and abilities, they are relatively stable yet possess moment to moment variability.


The most common form of interference that golfers tell me is that they try too hard. They try too hard to make a birdie putt and end up not rolling it as they normally do, or they try too hard not to miss a fairway and block their drive into a bush. Getting angry, over thinking, spontaneously switching one’s technique, are all derivatives of pressing for results to happen. Has trying harder to make a shot ever worked for you? Of course, it has…on occasion. Is it a consistently reliable strategy for success? Before you answer, if you played yourself into contention to win a tournament, had a 10 foot putt to seal the victory, would you rather a) try harder to make the putt or b) stay committed to what you have been doing that got you into contention to win? If you say “a” because you do believe trying harder works, then I would ask “why are you only trying harder on this 10-foot putt? If it works, why not do this on every putt which then means you are not actually trying harder.” Ultimately every golfer acknowledges that trying too hard is not a reliable approach, yet every golfer also acknowledges that they underperform to their potential because they try too hard. Why? I’ll discuss that in my next blog.

Try this:

Get out a sheet of paper and make three columns. In the left column list the score you shot for each of the past ten rounds of golf you played (tournament rounds if you have them). Take a few minutes to reflect upon how your game was (skills and abilities) just leading up to those rounds and rate how well you felt you performed to your potential on a scale from 1-100 (100=performed to 100% of my potential). In the third column write down what you felt interfered (thoughts, actions, choices) with you being able to play as well as you were capable of playing.

*from the Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

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