Learning to Play

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Of course what you earn is important, but how you learn is even more important than what you learn.  Learning to play golf is complicated.  First, there are different, but related skills that must be integrated into a total game  This is good.  What it means is you can build your game piece by piece.  This may seem to be contradictory, but the first, most basis skill is to develop your whole swing motion.  Second, learning golf is also done in stages.  This is where most golfers create unnecessary problems.  From the science of motor learning we get two important concepts.  First, there is the general concept of three stages of learning … cognitive, associative and psychomotor.  It is far easier to understand this as beginner/poorly skilled, intermediate and advanced.  These three stages neatly fold into the second principle of whole, part, whole.  In the beginner stage you are developing your initial mental pictures and making gross feel associations.

In the beginning stage of learning you have to think and to try.  In real golf on the course, thinking is restricted to the preswing routine and trying is subjugated to your learned skill.  Trying is the last thing you want to do.  The trick is, you must earn the privilege of turning off your brain and allowing the skill you have learned to work for your benefit.  The beginning state of learning should be dedicated to learning the whole swing motion.  Your practice should be limited to a seven or eight iron.  This is not the time to be worried about the picky details.   Beginner and overhaul learning is best accomplished through the use of drills.  The correct use of drills is critical.  Drills have rules that few golf pros understand.  Consequently, many beginning players are crippled from the start of their experience.  How do you measure your readiness to enter into the intermediate/part phase of learning?  There are four major point of performance you must accomplish …

1.     Get the ball airborne

2.     Control the initial direction of the ball flight so the ball moves in the direction of the fairway or green

3.     Limit the amount of curve to the to the width of the fairway or green

4.     Make relatively solid contact on almost every shot … minimum worm burners, sky balls, cloud busters and shanks

As the most important points of performance are mastered, you enter into the intermediate stage of learning where you begin to break the game down into its sub components … putting, chipping, pitching, wedge play.  You can also begin to work with all the clubs in your bag.  Intermediate learning allows you to focus on correcting technical details, piece by piece.  Where most golfers fail is when they do not put the parts back together.  Many get “position bound” and suffer from “paralysis through analysis”.  You must apply the technical corrections to the whole swing things you learned as a beginner.  This is a good reason to always go back to square one, reviewing your basic fundamentals.

As your technical skills improve, you will develop some consistency and your overall performance will allow you to reduce your mental and physical effort … the game starts to come to you instead of being a constant fight.  You begin to expect some success and have a substantially reduced fear of failure.

Are you a "rubber band man" when it comes to playing?  Do you beat balls, seem to learn and then just go back to your old habits, never making any real progress?  There is/are scientific explanation(s) for why.  Basically, you didn't really learn.  "Overlearning", a motor learning science term, is your real goal.  This means mastery of a specific skill to the point where it becomes automatic which in turn means you don't have to try and you don't have to think about it!  Almost everyone quits too soon.  We highly encourage, plead, beg, trick and use every other known method to get you to practice the 60/21 program ... that's 60 correct repetitions for 21 consecutive days.  Obviously practice, that's correct practice, is critical to learning.  How to correctly practice is one of the most important concepts in motor learning science.  Go to any busy driving range and simply observe.  A lot of people may have a serious look on their face, but most are just wasting their time and possibly getting worse rather than better.  Most are recreating, very, very few are engaged in correct practice!

Another issue is "fear of change".  We have actually been asked to help and then told we could not "mess with my swing".  Our response is very simple ... "what part of wrong do you want to keep?"  Another issue is fear of "method instruction".  This really translates into a fear of being turned into a "robot" and being forced to do unnatural movements that the learner's body just can't do.  You must realize that fundamental instruction must involve some kind of systematic method in order to communicate concepts, techniques, checkpoints of correct performance and "feel" points relative to different positions and motions.  Anything less is just a grab bag approach that is doomed to fail.  Any good  instructor will figure out how to get a client to be fundamentally sound AND work within the limits of the client's physical ability.  This said, you must clearly understand ... golf is a cruel taskmaster requiring the correct execution of some well understood fundamentals!

There is a clear difference between the requirements for learning and for playing.  You must be able to separate the two and then to integrate your learning into a performance plan.  Learning is knowing and being able to do things, knowing how to practice those things and how to integrate the other various game skills into a total package.  The ability to switch from the learning (process) to the performance (outcome) mode is critical.  Your most important tools are your pre-play routine and your pre-shot routine.  Like any other skill, your pre-shot routine must be correct, complete and practiced to the point where it is automatic.  On the course, mechanical thoughts are death to your score.  You need to be thinking about "where", not "how".  Your mind must be disciplined enough to focus on a single, "trigger" swing que.  You earn the privilege of having a loose attitude (confident and trusting in your skills and preparation).  Going to the course with your head filled with mechanics is a sure ticket to frustration!

You will go through stages of learning.  Sometimes you will feel bad!  Sometimes, you might actually get worse before you get better.  For less skilled players, large change is required.  Change is evolutionary!  For better players, learning is about a never ending quest to further refine basic, fundamental skill.  Your slowly evolve through more and more precise levels of control.  There's a big monkey wrench in the middle of this finely tuned plan ... when you change one thing, it effects other things which in turn must be improved.  Many of our clients tell us they are "uncomfortable" with the feeling associated with the fundamental positions and movements wee teach.  This is music to our ears.  Wrong is usually very comfortable.  We are very concerned about the "C" word ... correct, not comfortable.  Discomfort is a clear signal that you are doing something different and ... correct is far more important than comfortable!


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