Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Delayed Learning

One of the biggest lessons I can pass down to someone learning golf, or anything, from my experiences as a player is this – patience. Although not one of the key factors in learning, it certainly helps. This is just a quick article to allow you to understand the learning process a little more, and why it happens like it does. 

An Example

I remember the most recent swing change I made; I was attempting to get my club swinging more to the left through impact. My natural swing sees the clubhead swing out around 10 degrees to the right, so I was working on neutralizing this in the hopes it would give me more consistency. But whilst I was practicing, I remember just how difficult it was to do; it seemed as if my body was just resisting it. At best I could get it to swing around 5 degrees right, but it was still nowhere near neutral.

But one day it just clicked. Surprisingly, it happened a couple of days after a rather frustrating practice session where I thought I would just never ‘get it’. The next session I was just able to do what I wanted with the club. There was no ‘light bulb moment’ or any bits of new information. It was the same thing as I was trying to do in the sessions before, but now my body was much more receptive to it. I have never lost the ability since – it is safe to say that it is now ‘learned’.

It reminded me of when I was learning a guitar song a few months earlier. I knew exactly what notes I was supposed to play, but I kept making mistakes in the timing and occasionally hitting the wrong note in the wrong place. I practiced until my fingertips were sore, but ended up having to put the guitar down (because if I didn’t put it down I would have thrown it down). I gave it a rest and decided maybe guitar wasn’t for me. But a few days later, I had an itch to play again. After a quick warm up, I noticed that I was suddenly able to play the song perfectly – and I hadn't practiced in between.

Although I mastered the song eventually, I really
wanted to burn my guitar at one point

So what is happening here? Most people mistakenly think the goal of practice is to get it right during the session. Whilst this should ultimately be the goal, it is far more important that your INTENTION is correct. When your concentration is fully on your intention (for example, the intention to swing the club more to the left), even if you are unable to do it there and then, your brain is re-wiring itself to create a new movement pattern. Neurons in the brain are firing and connecting with each other in a new and fresh way. But because they are not yet connected efficiently, the performance can be poor. When we sleep/rest, those new neuronal connections fuse and strengthen further so that next day we are able to perform the movement better than before. Through repetitive practice, they are then insulated further (myelination) and skill becomes further refined.

Think of it like going to the gym. When you lift weights, you don’t get stronger as you lift. In fact, you get weaker (due to glycogen depletion/CNS output) – similarly, you can sometimes get worse during a golf practice session because your mental concentration can fatigue. But fear not; just as your muscles repair, grow and get stronger during your rest period, so does your brain and all those millions of neuronal connections. 

Your intention is more important than what you actually do. Make sure you have a clear goal for each swing, and maintain concentration during your session through a sets and reps approach. And stay patient; just because you can’t do it today doesn't mean you won’t be able to do it tomorrow.  

Side Note

As a note – sometimes your body will not do what you are trying to do because of a physical limitation or a mental concept issue. Make sure you are capable physically of what you are trying to do. Also, make sure that you fully understand what you are trying to get the clubhead to do at impact, as failing to understand this can contradict the change you are making in your swing. A good golf coach should cover this though.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Golf, the Reticular activating system and White Rabbits

Don’t think of a white rabbit, don’t think of a white rabbit, don’t think of a white rabbit. I told you NOT to think of a White Rabbit.

It seems such a silly thing to say, but the above ‘test’ is a really good way to display a point. How many times do you stand with a shot over water and say to yourself “Don’t go in the water”. At this point, your reticular Activating system (click the link to find out more) in your brain is filtering out other bits of information and presenting your conscious mind with what you DON’T want to do. This is likely to lead to anxiety and poor performance. There is one thing for certain in sporting performance – Negative psychology works. In other words, if you think negatively, you are likely to get negative outcomes. 

Believe it or not, a good player with good focus may not even notice the water.
I remember playing Celtic Manor with my Father. At the end of the round, I asked him
What he thought of the course. His reply was "Nice, but there was a lot of water".
My response was, "What water?"

You can’t get rid of a thought or emotion by telling yourself to stop. Rather than try to stop the thing that is causing the poor performance, replace it. If you are feeling sad, don’t try to ‘not feel sad’. Instead, focus on the things in life which make you happy (as cliche as that sounds) – you are replacing the emotion through your focus (although it may not be getting to the true underlying cause of the problem, which we will note later). And similarly, instead of not thinking of a white rabbit – imagine a big green elephant. 

How good is your ability to hold your attention? 

Do the following test; probably best done in fullscreen. Prepare yourself, you are going to count how many passes they make. It's tricky, so pay attention

Now, if you saw IT, you may think you are cleverer than everyone else as the test didn't fool you. Unfortunately, it is more likely to show that you have poor attentional skills, as more than 98% of people usually miss IT when presented with this test (either that or you have seen this test before/are aware of the trick). If you didn't see IT, this presents us with a philosophical problem. Obviously our eyes saw ‘IT’; the photons from the screen hit our retina’s and that information was sent to the back of our brain. Why, then, were we not consciously aware of ‘IT’. 

As discussed in my article on the reticular Activating system, our brain takes in all the information (about a billion bits per second) and the Reticular Activating system (RAS) filters this information out into what is relevant to our task and what is not. Anything that is relevant gets sent to our pre-frontal cortex (where we become aware of it) and the rest gets sent to the subconscious parts of the brain. If you make an intention to focus on something, the rest seems to disappear into oblivion; it is still there, but we are no longer consciously aware of it. Take a second to stop reading - and listen to the sounds going on around you right now. They weren't there a second ago - or were they?

Think about when you get into a really good book. Your mind is so involved in the words (I hate to use the term concentrated, as it is not a state of high consciousness) and creating the imagery, you hardly notice the roadworks going on outside. Again, the airwaves from the drilling were vibrating your ear drums all the time, it’s just your brain is filtering it to the subconscious. This is called Inattentional blindness, and is a well studied psychological phenomenon. Magicians use this phenomenon to their advantage, by directing your attention away from the trick itself, and towards the distraction. This creates the illusion that you have seen everything going on and that the magician actually performed magic. Of course, once you know the trick, you see it every time (unless the magician has amazing sleight of hand skills). 

Take home message for golf

We can use this in golf to our advantage quite easily. As you are visualizing your shots (in pre shot routine or over the ball), focus you attention much more clearly on what you DO want the ball to do. To make it more focused, picture the flight of the ball, the landing position, the bounce and roll, imagining as clearly as possible what you want to achieve. Not only will this more likely excite the neuromuscular system through Ideomotor effect, but it is more of a tool to get rid of the unwanted thoughts of what you don’t want to do. Never step into a shot telling yourself what you don’t want to do.

Unfortunately, doing this consciously can be difficult, and is only a tool to help you. The subconscious still knows the water is there. To really destroy the root of the problem, we must change the physical structure of our brains so that new belief systems are formed. As complicated as this sounds, it is relatively easy to do. For more information on this, contact me at Adamyounggolf@gmail.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Better technique = better golf?

Which swing is better?

Swing 1

Or swing 2

Please Ignore the clothing.

Most of you looking at the swings would say, not contest - Swing number 2. The takeaway is better, the hands move away in synch with the body, the shaft plane halfway back is great, the top position is neutral in terms of clubface and shaft position, it stops at parallel (no overswing) and the foot stays on the ground longer through the downswing and impact.

Swing 1, on the other hand, has a real ugly outside takeaway, where the arms separate from my body early. This causes the clubshaft to look steep early on, before flattening out into a long, over-swung, laid off position at the top. On the downswing, I fire my hips aggressively and my right foot comes off the floor quickly.

I would bet that almost everyone, even the most trained of eyes, would pick swing 2 as the better swing. But actually, the better swing is number 1 - the one that looks the funkiest. Why? it  is the one that gives repeatedly and more consistently the best performance for me.

Looks can be Deceiving

Ah the art of cropping

The problem with swing 2 is that although it looks better, even after 3 years of ingraining it and hitting hundreds of thousands of balls with it (it's my job), it never worked. In fact, the more pieces came together , at best I stagnated, at worst I went backwards and felt like I had no control of the golf ball. I believe that the things I worked on were the right things at the time, and although anyone can produce an opinion that maybe a slicefixer release, or a stack and tilt swing, or a golfing machine model would have worked for sure, you are missing the point. Fact is, no one in their right mind would take swing 1 over swing 2, but I did and I will never look back.

Adam, How could you let your swing get worse?

Technically it's not worse, as the function is better; it just looks worse. Swing number 1, the funky one, happened as a result of having enough of technique. I was videoing my swing every day, trying to get all the pieces and positions perfect. After 3 years of working really hard on it, I got the swing to look pretty good. However, I was on the verge of quitting golf because my results were getting worse. So I did – I took a ‘break’ from golf during my years at university, maybe playing one or two rounds a year with friends.

When I came back, I had a new philosophy. I remember seeing a high speed video of a club and a ball through impact during one of my university lectures. It sparked in my mind – surely the ball doesn’t know how you swing it? Surely, all it knows are the physical factors affecting it at impact? So when I came back to practicing, I took this philosophy to the extreme, threw out my video camera and purely worked on getting my impact factors correct described in THIS ARTICLE.

The ball only knows this point in time

I worked hard on getting the club path more neutral through impact, and working on tinkering with the clubface through impact until I found control of the flight. I completely disregarded all swing and movement theory, and focused on club and ball contact, and ball flight. I also spent a lot more time messing around with left handed shots, cack handed swings, hammer throw swings, hooking on purpose, slicing on purpose, hitting flop shots with 4 irons etc.

The result was a worse looking swing in terms of movement technique, and even on the trackman the stats were not significantly better. But I started hitting 80% greens and 85% fairways. Last year, I only played 5 rounds but averaged 2 under par (my mid range putting sucks by the way), with a few practice rounds of 6 under after 9 and 6 under after 12 holes (with a 3 putt). So even though it looks less consistent, less controlled, and theoretically worse, there is much more going on here.

What you see on video is really just the tip of the iceberg in
terms of what is going on internally, both physically and mentally.
And it all counts

Many reading this article will say that I am obviously against working on your swing. Of course I am not; it served me well for the first part of my learning for sure. But there is a line you can cross when working on your swing. You can search for the perfect swing so much that you actually stop playing golf and start sabotaging yourself. I always say, the search for perfection is the greatest creator and destroyer in golf.

Some people can get a little too, ahem, mechanical

I suppose the lessons I learned here are many - and I am trying to pass them on. The lesson is NOT that better technique equals worse performance, although this was the case for me. The lessons are;

  • We put too much emphasis on technique. We believe that one day we will hit all these magic positions and every ball will fly towards the target. It doesn't happen. Tiger has been working on his swing for 8 hours a day for 30 years and still hasn't got it done. When he gets it done he realizes it’s not perfect and goes searching for a new idea that maybe this time will be perfect.
  • We don't put enough emphasis on the intangibles, the things you can’t see or touch. Concepts, skills, co-ordination/motor control, clubhead awareness, natural movement sequences (what our body wants to do to produce a good shot versus what we tell it to do). The most important things I learned in this time was how to control the ball better through clubface and path control rather than forcing a perfect backswing, which didn't work.
  • There is also a lot to be said for the ability of the human body to self-organize. I believe that through creating the correct goal (by visualizing impact) my body was able to find out a way to do it which fits in with my muscle max strength points, flexibility profile, muscle firing patterns, balance points, movement sequences and a few other things that we probably don’t yet know about. On top of this, the improvements happened harmoniously as one – constantly jostling and pushing each other in the right area. The more I study about biology, evolution, genetics, motor learning etc, the more I see the possibility for this to be true.
  • Better backswings don’t make better downswings all the time. And even if they did, better downswings don’t always make better impacts. And even if they did, better impacts don't always make better ball flights, and if they did better ball flights don’t always make better scores. And if they did, those scores may not always be as consistent as before.
  • The first swing - the funky one - is using the right side of my brain more. It is much more creative as I am thinking more in terms of ball flight. On a scale of 1-10, my thinking is generally in the lower side, 1 or 2. With the better looking swing, thinking is not only elevated to 8-9/10, but it is using the left side of my brain (analytical) and focus on moving specific body parts (internal focus). We know a great from scientific literature that best performers are more right brained and less high up on the thinking scale, especially when hitting the zone. Also, they tend to think of external thoughts, such as club/ball flight rather than internal (body parts). Thinking too much and/or about body parts hampers co-ordination and consistency of movement in almost every skill endeavor.
  • Individuality is slowly being sucked out of the game. As we watch in the future, swings will generally get better and better in terms of technical movement patterns. But those players may be there not because of how good their technique is, but in spite of it. To put this another way, would Jack Nicklaus have won 18 majors if someone had changed his flying right elbow and turned him into a drawer of the ball rather than his stock fade. It seems like everyone sees the holy grail of golf to be that draw shot - what's wrong with trying to control your fade? Would Lee Trevino have been the player he was if someone had told him he needed to align straight? Would Duval have reached world number 1 and shot an unbelievable 59 if someone had told him he needed a neutral grip to play good golf? What about the shaft plane of Jiminez or Raymond Floyd - two of the most consistent players throughout history. If Seve Had known about K-vest and AMM would he really have been better? What about Arnold Palmer and his follow-through, (did I mention Jim Furyk). What if someone had told Nancy lopes she needed to speed her swing up and be less across the line? What if someone had told Montgomery to stop swaying his hips like that, would he have been more consistent than 7 order of merits in a row? More importantly, what do these guys have that allow them to do these things and still play better golf than you? What can you learn from that, what can you practice? The best coaches I have seen allow variances within the technique, often quite large.
  • For players who need to work on their technique – don’t forget there are several ways you can achieve this. You don’t always have to force a body position, sometimes you can just think of something more external (like ball flight or club and ball interaction) and the desired change can happen as a result of that.
  • Also, If you are going to make a change which requires a lot of mental effort and concentration, make sure you periodize your practice so that you are doing it less by the time you hit competitions. There is a time and a place to be working on your swing – playing golf is not that time.
  • Don’t chase the fallacy that “If I just get this one piece in my swing correct, I’ll be able to play golf”. It doesn't work like that. Even if it did, you quickly get used to the new move and start looking for something else to work on as you are still hitting it poor. It's called chasing the dragon. Allow yourself to play golf when you are on the course, play golf swing when you are on the range.

Eamonn Darcy was pretty good, even with this technique

I hope this article sparks something in you. I think, luckily, the world of instruction is starting to see the myth of technique being the holy grail, and more and more better instructors are emerging who allow more freedom within technique. My aim really is to chip away at the myth of technique as the be all end all. It is a supplement to improvement. But just like health supplements, take the wrong ones for your body chemistry, or take it in the wrong dosage and you can do some serious harm. Never take a supplement and you may be missing out one something too.

Can I swing like number 2 - in a heartbeat. Will I want to? Never, I actually enjoy the fact that my swing has a little character to it.

To re-iterate the take home lesson once more - it is not that working on your movement technique is a bad thing, it's just to understand the limits of it. There is no perfect swing, and good golf is a multitude of factors far beyond what we see on a camera. Keep working on better technique, by all means, but be aware that you come across the law of diminishing returns at some point. I hope this article has at least made you think :)

If you want more information like this, find me on twitter @adamyounggolf  and like my facebook page  - Adamyounggolfcoaching.  Don't forget to share this article on facebook so others can see - it may be enlightening.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Golf and the Reticular Activating System

Red velvet cake

I like red velvet cake; it’s tasty and satisfies my sweet tooth. But until a month ago, I had never heard of it. I had never seen it in magazines, TV or heard about people talk about it – or had I?

Low carb diet ? Get out of my house!

Recently, a family member of my girlfriend made her own red velvet cake for thanksgiving (I wasn't there), but I heard through the grapevine that it didn't turn out too well; apparently, the cream cheese frosting tasted ‘wrong’. “Cream cheese frosting?” I thought, “What on earth is that”. I imagined some kind of mix between Brie and icing sugar – yuck. This vivid imagery must have been what sparked the proceeding events in my mind to occur. But for next few weeks, I saw/heard of nothing but red velvet cake. Every magazine I picked up, every TV commercial, random conversations on the street amongst strangers – Red velvet cake was everywhere. My girlfriend and I took a trip to Charleston and Savannah, and each tour guide we took told us about their favourite cupcake shop – and of course they had Red Velvet cupcakes. Why does this happen to us? Did Red Velvet cake not exist before this point? It certainly didn't in my world up until that day.

Head to Savannah for the best red velvet cupcakes around :)

Information overload

Your brain is bombarded with billions of bits of information each second. Noises and images are going on all around you all of the time. If you were to be aware of them all it would literally drive you insane; you certainly wouldn't be able to function as a human being in society. So our brain has developed ways to filter out that information, so that only a certain amount of those billions of bits (around about 2,000 bit per second) make it through to your conscious awareness (the pre-frontal cortex), the rest goes to the reactive brain. What determines which bits of information come through? Although the mechanisms for attention are very deeply complex and are not fully understood, it is clear that the reticular activating system (RAS) has a big role to play.

And Golf?

How does this help our golf game? Well, by creating the intention of a goal, your reticular activating system will help you achieve that goal by filtering through the relevant information and will present it to your conscious mind, helping you in decision making. Your brain will also collect more information which is relevant to your goal achievement.

Think about it – the last time you wanted something new (car, stereo, smartphone, slimmer body), the moment you made it your intention to consider it, you were bombarded with advertisements about that item. If it was a car you were interested in, all of a sudden you noticed others driving the same car everywhere; If it was a slimmer body, your RAS will filter information relating to the latest diets. It’s not that you have attracted this information (via the law of attraction) – it was always there, you are just now filtering through more information about it. I am sure we have all experienced other examples of this to some extent – a new word or phrase enters our consciousness in a way that makes us take notice, then for the next few weeks we see/hear it everywhere.

   Seeing numbers everywhere? Could be something spooky going on - or it could just be the reticular activating system of your brain directing your attention towards it.

Take home message for Golf

Choose carefully what you say to yourself and visualize on a daily basis. If you tell yourself you are a great chipper consistently and visualize the good shots you have hit in the past on a regular basis, your brain is more likely to filter out irrelevant information and focus on the bits of info which will lead to the realization of this. You brain will be able to work out the bounce, roll, break, spin rates etc much more effectively if attention is directed properly by the RAS. Tell yourself you are a bad putter, and your brain will help you in your self-fulfilling prophesy.

But all that is almost pretty obvious, right? Focus on something and you will take in more information on it. However, it goes much deeper than this; studies have shown that belief has a major role to play in what information the RAS focuses on outside of your control. Telling yourself you are a great chipper is one thing, truly believing it on a subconscious level is another.

Just like inception, we need to go to deeper levels in the brain to plant the correct seeds of belief.

For more information on how to create a deep subconscious belief and for help in goal setting, contact me at Adamyounggolf@gmail.com

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About Me

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Currently working for the World famous Turnberry Resort at the Golf Performance Academy. I am a golf coach who specialises in not only what to learn, but 'how' to learn. I am always looking to further education of myself and others, and improve knowledge and understanding so that we can be better golfers and coaches