Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Experimental and differential practice for golf

We are often told that there is a perfect swing, or that every individual has an optimal model. But with individual variations of height, weight, limb length, point specific strength, power production profile, flexibility profile, previous sporting experiences, previous life experiences, ligament/tendon attachments, injuries/limitations, genetic motor patterns and a million other elements, it is ludicrous to think we can work out what the optimal will be for each player. There will always be individual differences between players, because of the stated elements above, and our human body has much greater chance of working out what is optimum for us than we ever consciously can.


Luckily, our human bodies were blessed with the ability to self-organize. What does this mean? Take a person with a physical limitation, such as a weakness in the right leg. Now make them squat with a weight on their back – as they go into the concentric phase of the contraction (the lifting part) their body will make subtle moves to accommodate the weakness (leaning to the left side, activating other supporting muscles to assist etc). All of this is done, often without any intention at all, or any conscious awareness that they have done this. How on earth can our bodies be this intelligent? Try a few million years of evolution (and even more if you take into account the fact more primitive animals do this also).

cats can flip themselves over, land with their front feet first and use deceleration patterns 
to minimize the negative forces - all without conscious thought. This is
genetically ingrained through years of evolution 

But often we lose this ability to self organize, it tends to get worse as we get older. As we progress in golf, age, injuries, closing of flexibility windows, increasing movement specific strength/power, myelination of neural network in the brain, subconscious concepts, increasing efficiency of signaling in neuromuscular patterns etc occur. Some of this sounds good (and used correctly, it can be), but it also tends to confine us to limited patterns. In simple words, the more we practice a movement, the more we are stuck in that movement pattern. This was an advantage when we were evolving, and still serves us advantages today. However, it is a great hindrance when it comes to improving our swings and finding something more optimal for us.

Movement patterns get ingrained more and more over time. If the movement patterns
havent caused us harm, our brain and body lock in on them and slowly remove variations in 
order to 'seal in' the positive pattern. For a monkey climbing a tree who wishes to lock in
movements which are positive, this is good. For a golfer trying to change their swing, it is bad
(unless they are just trying to do what they already do, but more consistently)

Enter Variation

In the wild, natural selection operates by introducing variants to gene pool through non-random mutations (I use the words non-random, as the lay person indicates random to be mystical. The mutations are actually caused by very defined physical laws which we could predict if we had enough data available to us. But as the amount of variables involved are humongous, making the whole system very chaotic, but not random). These mutations often cause variability in the species (such as higher strength, different colour coat etc), and then natural selection takes over and the organisms which are best adapted/suited for their environment are left to prosper. What the hell does this have to do with golf?

( A flock of starlings) Just because something is looks 
random, doesnt mean it isnt created by very definite physical laws. 

Also, just becuase something looks so perfect, 
doesnt mean it wasnt created by chaos. 

And Golf?

The same principles which apply on the macro level of natural selection (and even on the more macro level of cosmology) also apply to in the micro level of our bodies. As I stated, the body is very adept at self organizing. However, it is also very adept at ‘closing off’ variables – it is why we get more stubborn as we get older. The body figures “well, if it hasn’t got this old fool killed already, it must be working – let’s ingrain it so it is automatic”. This is not a good thing when we are looking to develop better motor patterns – which every golfer is.

The way around this, then, is through introducing variations of movements during your practice sessions. The body can then take this new information, and use it to self-organize into a more effective pattern – one which suits better the environmental and internal constraint of the player currently. Who is going to find out the more optimal technique in something – the person who only tries one way, or the person who uses a multitude of different methods and can pick the best option from those methods?

An overused quote from Einstein. 
Most golfers are afraid of experiementing with variables
out of fear of 'ruining their swing'. I'm here to change that false idea

For example, if a slicer struggles to hit it straight – why not learn to intentionally hit the ball differing directions (the variation) in different ways (through change in grip/clubface release/set up position/top of swing position etc).  Through introducing these variations of movement and ways to hit the ball left and right, the user can then consciously or unconsciously start selecting appropriate fixes for their slice. In fact, the human body will automatically start to self-organize into better patterns without the player’s knowledge at all.

To maximize the efficiency of this type of learning, we should explore extreme variants of motion rather than trying to make subtle changes (hit a snap hook as well as a baby draw). This will give the brain and body maximum information from which to draw appropriate conclusions.

Skill boundaries and improvement in co-ordination

Experimental practice (variable practice/differential learning) can also help massively in the broadening of skill boundaries. You will essentially be pushing yourself and the movement into areas previously unknown in most cases. As with lifting weights in the gym, by pushing yourself beyond a boundary, you grow and get stronger. This applies to the body as much as it does the brain.

On top of this, you open up new belief patterns in your cognition. “I’ll never be able to get rid of my slice” – well, if you just learn to hit a snap hook, you have all the tools you need to get rid of it/control it. You will also find, through your experimentation, that you are able to perform things at a level you never could before. Through development of the systems which deal with co-ordination, spatial awareness, depth perception and proprioceptive awareness, we can really start making leaps and bounds in our motor skills.

Ever wonder why kids wobble when they walk, and why they love to play? This wobbling and playing is evolution's way of developing co-ordination skills through testing certain boundaries, making subconscious links between what is and what isn't successful. When successful variants have been found, the body 'locks in' on these through strength improvements and minimizing of flexibility, as well as neurological changes in the brain which make those movement patterns more 'attractive' (through myelination, improved synapse sensitivity, firing of electical impulses etc). 

Useable and transferable skills

Lots of skills we acquire during our experimentation phase will be of great value to us directly (such as learning the ability to hook it around a tree, or developing the ability to spin the ball more). But some skills will not be of direct use, but will be transferrable.

I was training some mini tour players one day around around the short game area. I told them to get their 7 iron out, and proceeded to take them behind bunkers and into situations where a 7 iron is the worst club possible to use. The guys immediately responded with “why are we doing this? We are never going to use this shot in tournaments”. What they didn’t understand is that, if they developed the ability to hit a flop shot with a 7 iron, that skill would transfer over to doing it with a sand wedge. And as the flop shot with a 7 iron is so much more difficult, it would make the shot with the sand wedge seem comparatively easy.

Seve was known for his ability to get out of anywhere

Even though this trick is 'worthless' - many transferable skills
are learned from this. 

I responded to their whining by asking a simple question. “Do you think Tiger or Seve would be able to do this shot if I asked them?”. There is no-coincidence that they would be able to. A couple of days later, I found one of the more diligent practicers on his own hitting pitches. As I walked closer to him, I saw that he wasn’t using his wedge, it was way too big a club for that. I asked him what club he was using – he was standing there hitting delicate landing pitches over a bunker with a 4 iron (wow). He then told me that his ability to pitches the ball got so easy after his 7 iron session with me that he was now seeing how far he could push his boundaries.


Please stay tuned for next week, where I continue this article and explain even more benefits of this method. I will also make suggestions/recommendations for how to implement this into your own practice.Sign up to the email list/go to adamyounggolfcoaching on facebook to stay up to date Click here. If you liked this article, please take a second to share on facebook and twitter by clicking the little buttons below. Thank you

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to Change your Golf Technique

Some people never do this; some people do it too much. Regardless of your philosophy on change, you are never going to get better if something doesn't change. Now, that may be as simple as to continue with your current swing which slices the ball, and simply work on ingraining it deeper so you at least slice it a consistent amount. Or, you could try and change something directly in your technique so that you turn that slice into a straighter shot/draw shot. 

Knowing What

The first step in making an appropriate change is to know what it is you want to change. Fixing your slice is a pretty futile process if you don’t know what causes a slice in the first place. Like-wise, can you fix a top shot if you don’t know what you should actually be doing?  

Most people know a 'topped shot' looks like this.
But do you know what your club should be doing through impact?

In this example, I am going to use someone who tends to hit fat shots (where the club hits the ground before the ball). So the ‘what to fix’ here is the bottom of the swing arc. If you imagine the swing as a circle, the bottom of that circle is positioned too far behind the golf ball, so the divot begins behind the ball. We need to get the divot position further forward

The How

This is where individuality comes in, as is the spice of life -you can fix the fault in many ways. A player could literally just focus on getting the divot in the right position at impact, and use their instinct to make the change. Or they could take a more body focussed approach, where they focus on getting their weight more forwards at impact (as an example) as to influence where the bottom of the swing is. A good golf coach will give you a few ways to attack the problem you have, and you will find out which way works best for you over time. 
                             This is where the divot should be in relation to the ball, in a good golf shot 
                                                   (the target is the top side of the picture)

Get Feedback 

This is important to you progress, as feedback really highlights whether you are improving or not, and allows you to make adjustments in order to close in on your goal. If you were focusing on your weight position, having a coach watch you and tell you if you are doing it enough/too much can be a great help. Or you could video yourself and use one of the many applications out there to analyze your swing.

There are many quality swing analyzer apps
on the market now

One bit of feedback I would definitely recommend for our example player is to draw a paint line on the grass (use spray paint if allowed) and place the golf balls on the line. You can then see where your divot is in relation to where the ball was. Having feedback like this allows you to set goals also. You may not be doing what you want perfectly (perhaps you are hitting 3 inches behind the ball), but are you at least getting closer (maybe you were hitting 10 inches behind the ball last week). This is both motivating and confidence building.

One thing at a time

In order to be effective practice, we need to really increase our level of focus. Changing a motor pattern is very difficult work, and is a slow process if we are not mentally present during our practice. It is going to require your full attention, so I would recommend only focussing on one thing at a time. If you have 3 things which you wish to improve, do 10 solid minutes devoted solely to each thing, rather than half an hour of jumbled practice where you try to get them all together and end up getting nothing done. You know what they say about too much of a good thing, right?

This is especially true when you are at the beginning stages of learning something new/ new move. As you become more proficient, you can attempt to blend them into one feeling. Eventually, given enough practice, the moves will become automatic.

Get rid of the result

One of the biggest obstacles I see amongst amateurs trying to change their swing (trying being the operative word) is that they really struggle to let go of the result. What this means is, they want to hit great golf shots so bad that they can’t make the swing change. 

When we become focussed on the result, the focus of the change gets lost. I often see this when a player comes out to the tee after viewing their swing on video. They will have a clear image of what they want to do, and usually their first shot is great – but then they notice the ball flying through the air beautifully, want to repeat that, and now their focus is not on the movement which produced it. 

A net like this is pretty easy to set up

Find some way of taking the result away. At my academy, I often use airflow balls or milk bottle tops, so the player has less concern with where the ball is going and more with what they are trying to achieve. You could use these items yourself, or maybe hit balls into a net.

Eventually, you will have to bring the result back into the picture again, as it is the important for the mind to be able to link the visual stimulus with the motor program. But for the very early stages of learning, taking away the result can help make that jump from the old movement to the new one that little bit easier. 

Understand the paradox

One paradoxical situation that often occurs with heightened awareness of movement/ an internal focus / too much concentration is there is a drop in performance. I wrote about this here - it is nothing to worry about. It doesn't matter if you are performing great whilst changing your technique, that is a separate goal - one which many people don’t understand at all, but it is vital you do or many potentially beneficial swing changes could be lost because your weren't patient enough. 

Obviously this doesn’t happen every time, but a lot of the time, a new move can throw you off because it is unfamiliar/fresh and the brain hasn’t had chance to re-wire itself yet. But stay patient, keep focus on what you are doing and you will get the benefits in time. Read this too - an article on Delayed Gratification – one of my most popular articles.


I wrote in more depth about this idea here but the basic premise is to progress gradually. Trying to make great leaps and bounds in your technique is probably going to set you up for more harm than good, so make sure you take baby steps. 

Start out by making small swings, visualizing clearly what you want to achieve. Don’t be ashamed to use tee’s, I am a professional and occasionally use a tee when working on something in my swing. As you reach about a 60/70% success rate (you define success) add a bit more. Maybe swing a bit longer, use more power (within reason) until you are swinging at normal speed and doing the new movement successfully.

Take baby steps in the right direction
You will soon be running away with your new swing

When you have reached this point, you can consolidate the learning further by pushing yourself with more difficult versions of the skill. Try utilizing RANDOM PRACTICE principles to make it more difficult – or even try the move with your eyes closed. 

Take home notes

Changing a part of your swing is not easy, but you can reap great rewards if you do so – it’s all about seeing the bigger picture. If you want to play your best golf all the time, keep doing what you are doing and try to get more consistent at doing it – but understand that if your best golf is 28 over par, it will probably stay that way unless you start making a change.  

Just understand that the whole process of change takes time. You need a clear goal of what you want to achieve, you need to know how to achieve it (see your pro for help, or contact me) and you also need good feedback.

But the mind needs to adjust – old neuronal networks in the brain need to be broken down and new ones formed. This requires deep concentration during practice, and a period of time. Also, your body is going to need to change. Through practicing the new movements, your body is gradually getting stronger and more flexible to accommodate the new move. But this too takes time.

As a side note, but a very important one. You can take technical practice too far (Click HERE to see my most popular article to date) . By getting obsessed with chasing a perfect model, or even perfect impact factors, you can lose the feel for the game. This is why I recommend this aspect of your practice as a small part of the whole regime - and limit it mainly to off season.

If you liked this article, please feel free to share it on facebook/twitter by clicking the buttons below, and don't forget to search and like my page at adamyounggolfcoaching to stay up to date with new articles (or simply click on the link).

Next week, I will be discussing a very important topic which goes against what a lot of the teaching industry will tell you. It could be the key to unlocking a new and much improved game - which my pupils are finding.

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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