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Nino Severino: Lowry's win in the Open shows the importance of mental toughness

PUBLISHED: 15:04 24 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:04 24 July 2019

Shane Lowry with the famed Claret Jug after winning the Open on Sunday. Picture: PA SPORT

Shane Lowry with the famed Claret Jug after winning the Open on Sunday. Picture: PA SPORT

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In his latest column, elite coach Nino Severino discusses the importance of mental strength in sporting success - as demonstrated by Open winner Shane Lowry last weekend.

Shane Lowry with the Claret Jug after winning the Open. Picture: PA SPORTShane Lowry with the Claret Jug after winning the Open. Picture: PA SPORT

Sport continues to provide us with inspiring stories - the latest being the incredible tale of Shane Lowry, who claimed the British Open by six strokes at the weekend.

Stories like his drive all of us who choose elite sport as a way of life. I say this because at times it can be a very lonely job as athlete or coach - the highs can be very few, with many challenges waiting on almost a daily basis, be they mental, emotional or physical.

Someone asked me the other day, 'why do athletes endure a sporting life if the highs are so few?'

During part of my answer I explained about the level of the highs - yes, there are many lows, many challenges - but when the highs come, they are very powerful and very intense, I suppose you could say it's hugely addictive.

Shane Lowry won the Open by six strokes, a year after crying following another missed cut at the famed golf event. Picture: PA SPORTShane Lowry won the Open by six strokes, a year after crying following another missed cut at the famed golf event. Picture: PA SPORT

I also explained that you are part of a family that travels on the journey all together - it's that feeling of camaraderie, closeness, and a focus on a mutual aspiration which also attracts millions to this way of life.

When we talk about the challenges, and the lows, it's fair to say that Shane has experienced a few himself.

It was only a year ago when he, a very disappointed and frustrated man, was sat crying in a car park at the 2018 British Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland.

He was on his way to missing the cut at a fourth straight Open, after an opening-round 74, and it was at this point he decided that it was necessary to break ties from his long time caddie Dermot Byrne - a major decision, at a very low point in his season.

Shane Lowry with his grandmother Emily Scanlon and Uncle Tommy during the homecoming event at Clara GAA earlier this week. Picture: PA SPORTShane Lowry with his grandmother Emily Scanlon and Uncle Tommy during the homecoming event at Clara GAA earlier this week. Picture: PA SPORT

After his win, he was interviewed about this, and said: "I cried, Golf wasn't my friend at the time. It was something that became very stressful, and it was weighing on me, and I just didn't like doing it. And look what a difference a year makes, I suppose."

This really supports what I am saying about the addictive nature of sport. Sometimes it can deliver very uncomfortable periods, but the hopes and dreams of the athletes - and also the coaches and support team - ensures the strength, drive and motivation is there for the team to navigate through those periods.

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What an inspiration Shane is for many athletes out there, grinding it out and pushing on through the dark spells - the dream may sometimes seem impossible, but it's often the level of belief that keeps the athlete driving on, and my goodness, Shane showed us how this is done!

Sport develops a personality and character that will, more often than not, create an incredibly tough individual, a person who can set their sights on a dream and who is mentally tough enough to take the challenge on. Shane clearly has that in droves.

It's mental toughness, and the skills that deliver it, that fills 50% of my work at The Hub. Almost every day, I receive e-mails from athletes all over England inquiring about our mental skills programme, and how they can access it.

Athletes can work for literally years, developing technical skills, tactical awareness and knowledge, but when the big moments arrive, when they are asked the hard sporting questions, it's not skill that lets them down, it's the mind, their personality and character.

Many athletes are now very much aware of this area, and more than ever they are including this component into their training programmes.

For me, golf is one of the most challenging sports mentally. I can understand that many would ask, how can a sport that is delivered with two feet on the floor, with no dynamic directional movement like football, tennis, basketball or boxing, be so mentally demanding?

The answer is quite simple - because it's all focused around trying to hit a very small ball, with a very small surface area, a very long way, into a very small hole.

The technical pressures are extreme - a millimetre, or much less to the right, left, up or down on contact will see the flight of the ball take a trajectory that can be way off target.

It's this defined and intense pressure that affects the mind, so much so that golfers are often affected by 'the Yips', and anyone reading this column who plays golf will know exactly what I am talking about!

Shane's father, Brendan, was himself a sporting star, a man who played the very hard sport of Gaelic Football in Ireland, and he said that it was tough trying to keep Shane from getting nervous during his younger years - he even used to hide while he was watching him, to try and help him keep calm.

How incredibly inspiring for all those young athletes out there, who may right now not be in the best place mentally and emotionally - you can endure, you can come through.

And there was no hiding for Brendan on Sunday, he was waiting on the 18th green on Sunday to meet his son after he claimed perhaps the greatest prize in all of golf.

That's the message to take home - keep believing, keep enduring, and keep dreaming big!

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