Iowa men’s golf coach uses psychology background in coaching

BY KEVIN GLUECK | APRIL 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Everything Iowa men’s golf coach Mark Hankins has done in his career has played into his improvement as a leader.

Hankins’ educational background might not surprise those familiar with golf. Hankins holds a PhD in psychology and he’s emphasized that degree in his coaching style.

“Every day I think about what we do, and how we do it and how it’s going to affect [the players] mentally,” Hankins said. “Everything that goes into me coaching, about 80 percent of that is golf psychology and mental golf training.”

Every Wednesday, the team does just that. The Hawkeyes meet for “mental golf” sessions in which they focus on everything that goes through the players’ heads. Hankins emphasizes what he refers to as “skill sets” like relaxation, visualization, or even breathing when under pressure.

“All these different things help them individually once they graduate from here as well,” Hankins said. “Instead of just worrying about what their problems are, we’re being preemptive.”

It’s these lessons on pre-shot routines or staying composed during a round that junior Steven Ihm has embraced.

“It’s a huge part of it because we really only swing a golf club for maybe two minutes out of a five hour day,” Ihm said. “Most of the time you’re just sitting there thinking about how your round is going and how you’re feeling. “

Learning how to keep focus during a long round is something Ihm has learned.

“You need to be in the right mindset for all of that,” he said. “You can’t stay focused for all of it. You’ve got to let your mind wander for some of the day, but when it’s time for a golf shot, you’ve got to have a set routine.”

Hankins also played as a professional golfer, and his experience being around other professionals is something he draws on when coaching, and is also something from which sophomore Brian Bullington has found benefits.

“It’s good to be able to hear from him,” Bullington said. “He’s been around a lot of successful players and hearing how they’ve dealt with pressure and everything that comes with tournament golf [has helped].

For Bullington and some of his teammates, college is their first experience with coaching of the brain.

“You’re kind of set on your fundamentals for most of your golf game. Once you get to college and you’re a Division-I golfer your swing is pretty much how you want it,” Ihm said. “College is where you need to address the mental side of it the most because that’s where most people improve.”

Ihm added that if you look at the Professional Golf Association Tour— better known as the PGA Tour — are college graduates, which he thinks is no accident, given their skill level.

Hankins is also the owner of an M.B.A., which helps with managing a complete golf program, but is thankful he has a psychology degree in his bag.

“You got to have a psychology degree to coach, teach, get into kids heads, be empathetic to what they’re doing and all the different things that go into coaching and teaching good golf,” he said.

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