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Learning By Mistakes: How the Amplification of Errors Can Improve Ability4 min read


Posted on: 8th Aug 2013

Ordinarily errors are a negative, but groundbreaking research by Verona Sport and Science University in Italy has flipped this on its head. Here PGAs of Europe Board Member, Luca Salvetti, details the culmination of 20 years of research into how errors can be a good thing when it comes to teaching in golf.

As coaches, we all arrive at a stage in which we realize that the more we know about our job the more we have a huge mountain to climb. We have experienced an evolution of swing theories and technology to support us, from old video cameras to advanced computers and portable devices.

Everyday, we have pupils who challenge our coaching ability, each bringing their own experiences and individual challenges. As coaches, we realize the value that these bring to our coaching development. We start to reflect on whether these theories and tools can be used in a more supportive way. We see that they can be powerful, but also useless, without a better understanding of how learners react to the learning process. Quite often, pupils have difficulty translating theoretical information into practical expression. Equally, coaches struggle to measure the ‘real’ effect of instruction on a pupil’s ability, which drives us to discover new ways to improve the learning process.

Sport and science university research departments now enable us to go deeper into the learning process through the application of neurological and physiological science. Recently I had the privilege of taking an active part in this kind of research – Verona Sport and Science University in Italy conducted a study to test the efficiency of an alternative strategy called Method of Amplification of Errors (MAE) in which the pupil exaggerates their main errors as much as possible.

The amplification of the main error allows the pupil to become internally aware, thereby enhancing the correction of motor errors. The results of this method were then compared to the traditional method of direct instruction. The study was inspired by the work of Nobel prize winner Gerald Edelmann.

The research was conducted with three groups of pupils with a range of beginners to pros in each group. A number of sports were involved in the study, I personally took care of the golfing sector of the project. A series of sessions were conducted with each group focusing on a different learning strategy: Traditional Direct Instruction, Pupil Directed Learning and Amplification of Errors. The biomechanics laboratory at the university provided the tools/equipment to measure the effectiveness of each method. The outcome of the research showed that the MAE delivered the most significant improvements in club speed and swing sequence.

This scientific approach, in an environment in which cause and effect are measurable at any stage, affects the way the coaching routine is managed; how effective it is; and how it reflects the pupil’s learning attitude. It also increases awareness of the finer details and how the instruction is delivered from the coach’s perspective. The research process and findings encouraged us to approach coaching from a different perspective, one that focuses on the physiological, the biomechanical and the pupil’s attitude to the methodology delivered. We can consider these steps as the fundamental aspects of the MAE.

As a result, what we see is a series of notable changes in our relationship with the pupils. Psychologically they react positively, and they value the way they are managed during the coaching process in the respect to their own needs. As a coach, you notice even more of the differences from pupil to pupil, and you start to consider every pupil as an opportunity to develop/improve your coaching ability. You became more an educator than an instructor; you look after the pupil’s needs differently; and you open your eyes and your mind to different checkpoints. The pupil’s awareness of their errors increases, which results in an improvement of their motor skills and their golfing ability, whilst the exchange of feedback builds a more established relationship with the pupil.

What is clear is that we have a new frontier to explore further – the Learning process. We can now measure how our bodies react in response to information from coaches; we should respect the different ways of learning; value our interactions with pupils; and be ever more conscious regarding the way we work with pupils. Human beings are a never-ending story – we have much more to discover, but as always, we have to enjoy the journey.

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The outcomes of the research have been presented in June 2013 at 18th Annual Congress of the European College of Sport Science. To read the research abstract click here: http://eur.pe/13Tj96c, and to request access to the full research contact aw@pgae.com.