The recent news story regarding Tiger Woods’ alleged indiscretions is interesting from a sport psychology perspective. Tiger Woods has been described as one of the most mentally tough (if not the most mentally tough) golfers to ever play the game. His accomplishments on the golf course have been incredible. His appeal to golf fans has been unparalleled. In fact, it has been reported that television viewing increases by 40% when Tiger is playing in golf tournaments.
Why has Tiger been so phenomenally popular? Well, obviously, the biggest reason is because of his skill, tenacity, competitiveness, and success on the golf course. But, part of the reason must also be because he is a gentleman whose demeanor, professionalism, and ethics have contributed to the loyalty and interest of an enormous following. So, what happens when things change? When this perfect gentleman admits to transgressions that impact him and his family. When an athlete who has experienced only positive media coverage says “I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week, my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives.” (www.tigerwoods.com, December 2, 2009). As I notice the stories about Tiger on the tabloid covers, I think – wow, Kate Gosselin must be sighing with relief – the focus has finally left her for someone else! Of course, from a social perspective it will be fascinating to see how people respond to this. Will Tiger’s fan base stay true, will television viewing remain high, will sponsors remain committed? The answer to this will likely depend upon what happens next.
The second part that is interesting will be to see how Tiger responds. This too will likely depend at least somewhat upon what happens next. But, many athletes are able to mentally keep their personal lives and their sport performance separate so that they can maintain their performance at a high level. Given Tiger’s mental prowess, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were able to maintain his competitiveness in future tournaments. But, then again, everyone is human and when trouble starts to impact your family, maintaining your focus in sport (and perhaps especially in the sport of golf) can be hard. So, what should Tiger do relative to his golf game? The answer is that he should do what he has always done. He should prepare like he has always prepared. He should practice like he has always practiced. He should do everything in his power to keep himself in his normal routine with respect to golf. If he has moments when he feels himself losing his focus, then he should use thought-stopping techniques to stop those types of thoughts and he should use imagery, relaxation skills, and energy management methods to get himself back on track. The world will be watching and it will be interesting to see how Tiger responds.