We are very fortunate to have a number of readers who share our passion for learning and growth. Many of them have reached out lately– curious about where they can learn more about motor learning.
It has never been easier to embark on a journey of self-education in our field. We have countless books, seminars, certifications, social media groups, and blogs dedicated to sharing and disseminating new ideas in golf instruction. And for those focused on learning more about ‘what to coach’, these sources are immensely valuable in furthering our knowledge. But for those looking for information on ‘how to coach’, and more specifically, ‘how people learn’, sources seem to be much more scarce. Ultimately, if we are in the business of human development, it stands to reason that understanding how humans come to attain mastery would be of utmost importance to becoming more effective.
There ARE great sources for learning about learning, they are just a heck of a lot harder to find. Outside of a few textbooks available on Amazon, many of our favorite texts have been circulated amongst peers who are engaged in similar knowledge pursuits. So it inspired us to compile a few seminal pieces on the topic of motor learning and performance to help you continue your path to better understanding of how mastery develops and skills are refined. And because we were hoping to discover a few new gems for ourselves, we reached out to a few leaders in the field for help. We assembled a list of the experts in learning who have focused some of their work on golf, and posed a simple question:
“What is the most important piece of motor learning research that all coaches should read?”
Thankfully, these generous leaders obliged and provided what has become our curated list on Learning about Learning. Click on the book icons for each of the articles provided by our esteemed list of experts. We hope you’ll take the time to dig in. Enjoy.
ATTENTIONAL FOCUS AND MOTOR LEARNING: A REVIEW OF 15 YEARS
Our first recommendation comes from Dr. Gabrielle Wulf, a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences at UNLV. Not only is Dr. Wulf the go-to expert on attentional focus and it’s affect on learning and performance, she is also the author of one of our favorite books (which happened to be a suggestion by one the experts we surveyed for our list).
Wulf suggested this piece, telling us, “This review of about 80 studies shows the importance of adopting an external focus of attention for optimal performance and learning of motor skills. Helping athletes adopt and maintain an external focus by giving the right instructions or feedback is critical for enhancing performance of complex skills– such as golf skills– particularly in challenging situations.”
PAR (PLAN-ACT-REVIEW) GOLF: MOTOR LEARNING RESEARCH AND IMPROVING GOLF SKILLS
Motor Control and Learning is the book that introduced us to many new coaching concepts and ignited an interest in motor learning that continues to burn. In addition to Motor Learning and Control, Dr. Lee has authored Motor Control in Everyday Actions and over 80 papers on the topics of motor control and motor skill acquisition in peer-reviewed journals.
While many motor learning texts are devoted to a broader pursuit of skill development, Dr. Lee sent us over a paper specifically dealing with the learning of golf skills. He mentioned that this would be a great starting point for many practitioners and we couldn’t agree more. The paper hits on several big learning topics: phases of learning, effective practice conditions, focus of attention, and delivery of feedback. Along with a thorough exploration of these major themes, it also includes specific implications for golf skill acquisition.
CHALLENGE POINT: A FRAMEWORK FOR CONCEPTUALIZING THE EFFECTS OF VARIOUS PRACTICE CONDITIONS IN MOTOR LEARNING
Not only is Chris a former PacWest Golf Coach of the Year several times over, for the past 11 years he has served as Director of the Human Performance Centre and as an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at UFV. Dr. Bertram recommended another paper dealing explicitly with golf. This is a paper that we have referenced in previous posts and it’s had a huge influence on our approach to coaching.
Chris suggested the Challenge Point paper because it “nicely summarize many of the important concepts relating to practice and feedback and provides a framework- based on optimally challenging a learner – for a coach or practitioner to apply in the real world.”
As a nice bonus, Chris also included a couple of papers that he credits with shaping his thinking about skill acquisition in golf:
“An early and important study on the effects of blocked and random practice. Were among the first to demonstrate that increasing contextual interference (i.e.., randomness) in the practice setting is a more efficient way to see gains in learning than blocked practice.”
“Another important early study in motor learning, this time looking at the how the frequency of feedback, and its impact on learning. In other words, in golf terms, how often should a coach be providing “information” to the student… what we see happening in practice is not always a trustworthy indicator of how much learning is going on.”
MOTOR SKILL ACQUISITION: AN ESSENTIAL GOAL OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION
In addition to reaching out to the academics specializing in learning research, we really wanted to include the recommendations of some coaches who promote the study of skill acquisition within our industry. Trill certainly qualifies– she paused a very successful teaching gig to obtain a Master’s Degree in Motor Learning and Control from Columbia University. Now, as the Director of Instruction at Woodmont Country Club, she is applying the lessons learned and can offer the perspective of a coach well versed in how golfers acquire and adapt skills.
Few are better equipped to bridge the gap between academic and real-world practitioner, so her recommendation carries a lot of weight with us. She points us towards “Motor Skill Acquisition: An Essential Goal of Physical Education”. The paper is especially relevant to those coaches developing young athletes and explores the importance of time on task, engagement, and corrective feedback.
NON-LINEAR PEDAGOGY UNDERPINS INTRINSIC MOTIVATION IN SPORTS COACHING
We couldn’t finish our list without including a couple of our own recommendations. During a bit of a research project that we conducted last year, we requested some recommended reading from Graeme McDowell, who has been a great resource for us. Like Trill, we see Greame as a bit of a hybrid between a well-versed academic and an experienced coach with real-life interactions with the topics in question. Graeme delivered us about 30 papers, focused mostly on the theme of Non Linear Pedagogy. We went about reading the list and, through a shared Google Document, recorded our notes and takeaways/actionables from each paper. Many of the papers by Ian Renshaw were among our favorites, and this one in particular tops Matt’s list.
The article tackles a key challenge for sports coaching– providing performers with learning environments that results in sustainable motivation. It provides an excellent explanation of both non-linear pedagogy and self-determination theory, two topics that have made a big impact on our coaching styles.
INSIGHTS FROM ECOLOGICAL PSYCHOLOGY AND DYNAMICAL SYSTEMS THEORY CAN UNDERPIN A PHILOSOPHY OF COACHING
Our last suggestion was also uncovered from the abundant source of Non-Linear Pedagogy papers provided by Graeme McDowell. It’s another one from Ian Renshaw and Corey includes it because of how comprehensive it is in organizing so many important learning concepts within one paper.
It provides a clear description of nonlinear pedagogy while giving insights on perception-action coupling, self-organization, variable practice, and implicit learning .
BONUS TOP 10 BOOKS ON LEARNING
RECOMMENDED BY MICHAEL HEBRON
In addition to the papers above, we were excited to get some recommendations from Michael Hebron. Michael is a member of the PGA Hall of Fame and world renowned coach that has dedicated much of his career to educating coaches. His books, The Art and Zen of Learning Golf and Play Golf To Learn Golf, have made a huge impact on how we approach golf instruction. As he has devoted so much effort to better understanding how golfers learn, we knew that our list would be incomplete without his contributions. Below is a list of 10 books that Michael has recommended. Once you have read the previously mentioned papers, we think this represents a great way to continue your path to better coaching.
–Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson