What are you thinking?

(Introducing Think Aloud)


The relationship between our thinking and our performance is one that players, coaches, and sport psychologists have long been aware of. Isn't it time you understood whether your current thinking patterns help or hinder your game?

How tracking your thoughts can benefit your game

In any given situation our thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, and behavioural responses (e.g. our golfing behaviours) all interact with each other. By raising awareness of the thoughts that you have as you play, you can learn to better understand your experience of performing well or under performing. Armed with this greater awareness, you are in a position to take control: to change, maintain, or develop specific aspects of your game.

To help understand our on course thinking we have brought in Dr. Phil Birch, a keen golfer and Senior Lecturer of Sport Psychology at the University of Chichester, and his research colleague, Dr. Amy Whitehead, a Reader/Associate Professor in Sport Psychology and Coaching at Liverpool John Moores University.  Driven by their research within the area, Phil and Amy have offered their time to introduce you to a unique strategy (used by both players and coaches) to help you monitor and improve your thinking. This is Think Aloud.

Learning lessons from the Pro’s

Three-time major winning golfer Jordan Spieth has built a reputation for holing clutch putts under pressure. Given this reputation, it is clear why golfers are looking for insight into how he has developed an ability that would likely benefit every golfer.

Whilst much has been made of Spieth’s tendency to focus his gaze on the hole whilst hitting short putts, there is another aspect of his game that many have overlooked, and even fewer will consider utilising in their games.

The lesser known aspect of Spieth’s game is that he frequently “thinks aloud” on the golf course. If you listen closely enough, you can often hear Spieth saying out loud what he is thinking before and after shots, even to the amusement of the commentary team.

Introducing ‘Think Aloud’

Talking to oneself or thinking aloud is a common process that people undertake when making decisions.

You may have experienced doing so whilst performing, you may have heard other golfers saying out loud their thoughts, or you may have caught some professionals doing so when watching golf on television.

In some cases, golfers talk to themselves in their heads and in some cases golfers say out loud their thoughts. Sport psychologists have seen the value in this process and are currently exploring the specific benefits that this can have upon your performance.

At this stage, we consider Think Aloud to be a really useful means of capturing in-event thoughts. This means that any golfer has the potential to utilise this process to gain valuable insights into their thinking patterns.

Knowing whether your inner dialogue tends to be overly negative, technically detailed, unhelpful, motivational, or positive, can only benefit your game. Think Aloud gives you the platform to be able to assess (in your own time) whether or not this is an area that you should or could focus on for the rest of the season and beyond.

The Think Aloud technique is very simple in principle. To help you with your ongoing use of this strategy, keep an eye out for a future Think Clearly Golf digital download called ‘how to think aloud‘.

So how do you ‘Think Aloud’?

It’s quite a straightforward process.

A golfer is asked to say out loud their thoughts before and after each shot they take. Not as you are executing your shot! These pre- and post-shot verbalisations are captured using a mini-microphone recording device, often in the form of the voice recording app on a mobile phone.

By recording and reviewing these verbalisations, you are able to gain a better understanding of your in-practice and/or on-course thinking patterns and decision-making tendencies. Combining this with a similar performance review process, you will quickly be able to see which situations tend to get the best, and worst, performances out of you.

This information can provide a great insight into your typical thinking patterns.

With a heightened awareness of this, you will be able to make a more informed decision as to whether work is needed to develop, improve, or maintain some of your thinking patterns.