When it comes to being a great athlete, you need a triad of toughness: physical, mental and emotional, says sports psychologist Gregg Steinberg.
Tiger's known for his toughness on the green, but how will this mental blow affect his game?
Tiger's known for his toughness on the green, but how will this mental blow affect his game? Quinn Rooney/Getty
Steinberg is a golfer and former tennis player with a day job as a sports psychology professor. He's written several books on the subject, with his first, "Mental Rules For Golf" describing the mental strategies of the games best players. And he wrangled an endorsement for the book out of Hank Haney, coach of a certain famous golfer who has been in the news lately — and the way we see it, might need a reminder on those mental strategies about now.
For a golfer, says Steinberg, physical toughness means you have components like a great swing and the right stance. Mental toughness is having confidence and optimism about your performance. Emotional toughness is what it takes to stay calm under pressure, get excited to play, and to manage your anger, or keep the proverbial "head in the game," if you will.
In other words, emotional toughness is the leg of Tiger Woods' stool that might have just gotten sawed off. Citing recent events concerning his marriage and a car accident, Woods has said that he's taking some time off from tournament play for now. But when he does decide to compete again, the scrutiny and stress he'll face from the media, his fans and even his family are likely to be pretty intense.
Steinberg says this could affect his game. "He could take the negativity and believe the media is out to get him and let it drain him." A lot of athletes are subject to this kind of stress, and to some, it can be career-ending. But Woods, he says, is known for this kind of emotional toughness and being able to separate Tiger the golfer, from Tiger the person.
According to Steinberg this won't be the first time Woods has had to check his emotions at the green. Remember back in 2006 when Golfer Stephen Ames poked fun at Woods' less than superb playing shortly before facing him in a tournament?
Woods didn't let the negativity get to him. Instead, he walloped Ames in the tournament.
Steinberg says if Woods is going to make it through the latest bout of emotional stress, he has to follow the same mental strategy as he has in the past, when he "harnessed negative energy or negativity and made that into a positive."
But, Steinberg says, the emotional toll of the "Tiger's a cheetah" media extravaganza could have another effect, too — on Woods' opponents. "Players are not going to see him as superhuman anymore. Now, in their eyes, he's fallible. So they're going to see him more like they are and not see him as being as intimidating."