Let’s assume for a moment that, just like golfers have bad rounds, every once in a while coaches also have bad lessons. We’re not perfect and sometimes we don’t meet our own high standards. Just as we insist our students reflect on poor rounds, we always try to take a look at those less than stellar sessions to uncover any common threads that we can avoid in the future.
For us, the common tipping point in our poor sessions is the moment we take the reckless leap down the rabbit hole of technique. We encounter a technical change that must be addressed, and as is easy to do, we mistake the amazingly evolved learning machine in front of us for a brainless cadaver fit for our technical experimentations.
It’s not just addressing the technical aspect of performance, that’s obviously an important and necessary part of coaching golfers. But in the bad sessions, possibly due to an ineffective technical solution being applied or mistakenly prioritizing style over functional ball control, we lose our way and our student ends up internally focused on explicit cues. Phrases like ‘maybe we could try this now’ can be overheard during these doomed lessons, which at best, yield short term results.
The research that we are drawn towards obviously has urged us to NOT do this. We know that in the off chance that these lessons actually produce some kind of positive change, it’s not likely it will stick. If we get lucky, some transient changes will occur and golfer and coach alike experience a short-lived illusion of mastery.
Some motor learning research suggests that the mechanical changes we seek of our players can often emerge as a result of effectively designed learning environments that allow the coach to act merely as a facilitator. But sometimes they don’t.
Either we aren’t good enough at designing these environments yet or maybe the complex series of movements required in a functional golf swing don’t always appear so spontaneously. This is where the experience of the practitioner may diverge from those of the researcher. Sometimes we have to dig in. We would love for every lesson to be play-based explorations of performance, but it’s not always the appropriate strategy. If the changes that need to be made to enhance performance are not ‘emerging’, we have to improve the dysfunctional technique.
So how do we stay mindful of how golfers learn and still effect technique without letting a session devolve into an internally focused lesson that won’t transfer to the actual performance context? To prepare us to deal with this conundrum in a proactive fashion, we wanted to develop a framework that allowed us to attack technical change in way that kept us organized, respectful of the learning process, while keeping us from the rabbit hole of explicit technique tinkering. When we follow this framework, we have found that the player is best equipped to begin their journey down the pathway to permanence.
THE 4 C’s – THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK FOR ADJUSTING TECHNIQUE
It is paramount that anyone set on learning anything has a clearly defined concept to work with. In golf, this is usually as simple as describing how the club has interacted with the ball to produce the resulting shot. For our more coordinated athletes, this clear concept can solve much of the issue. And for some, as a result of receiving some bad information, they may be trying to do the very thing that is the root of the dysfunctional technique. In essence, the ‘what-to-be-learned’ serves as a compass, directly influencing how the learner perceives their results and orients their attention. So that’s our starting point– clarity for both coach and player for what changes will occur and their relevance to improved ball control.
CALIBRATION OF AWARENESS
Once we are clear on the concept, we need the player to become more aware of the critical variables at hand. Calibrating the feel of the player through exercises that expose them to both ends of the movement spectrum are critical in facilitating the change and expanding awareness. Experiential reference points enable the learning process to start (and continue) by providing something concrete that the learner can refer back to, that helps them gauge improvement.
In essence, we can tell someone to do something, but if they are unable to either execute it, and/or feel a difference between what we are asking them to do and what they do by habit, any change will be difficult to make. Developing a solid base of kinesthetic awareness, that is rooted in an understanding of the difference between the habitual and desired movements, is critical to traveling towards the pathway towards permanent change. This article from Cameron McCormick demonstrates a fantastic way to help people heighten their awareness of what they need to do. A good rule of thumb; feel opposite to find optimal.
When a performer possesses the capacity to accurately detect whether or not their movements were successful, the variability between trials decreases, thereby leading to increases in skill and performance. To develop that capacity, people need to be cognitively engaged during practice, actively assessing what they felt, relative to their kinesthetic awareness, conceptual understanding, and the outcome of the movement. The better foundation of ‘knowledge’ that the coach can help the athlete develop, the better this process goes. How, can we as coaches, do a better job of this? Ask them what they think caused the effect. This enables the learner to contrast their experience with the augmented and intrinsic feedback, thereby helping them close the gap between feel and real.
To enable the athlete to self-coach, we work diligently to develop the golfer’s problem-solving skills. Specifically, during practice, we have quizzes. Quizzes are 10 ball sets where the athlete will guess and/or quantify a key element of their performance after each ball. At the start, the guesses are usually quite a bit off, but over time, the ability to detect where her club/body is moving and then make the necessary adjustments, increases tremendously. By being asked to think critically about the preceding motion, given only the ball flight and internal feedback to work with at the start, helps golfers refine their movements to meet task demands once augmented feedback is provided.
It is very easy to get stuck at the first stages of the learning process, learning the ins and outs of the technical change. However, at some point, the movement will need to be performed on the course. To that end, it is of critical importance to the integrity of the process that the learner is exposed to situations similar to what they would experience during the course of play. Varying, or mixing up the practice, forces the player to apply the new movements for the purpose of accomplishing a wide array of tasks and ensures that the technical changes are trained to withstand the demands of golf.
Ultimately, training the skill under game-like conditions tests the strength of the motion and helps bridge the gap between practice and play. In the poor lessons that we described in the beginning, this step is inevitably omitted. This step is what differentiates instructors from coaches.
In closing, it is important to view our roles as coaches as facilitators of learning. In the case of technical interventions, we need to empower players to self-coach by helping them develop their understanding, awareness, correction capacity, and ultimately, their ability to perform the new pattern in context and under pressure. However, only through sustained diligence and effort can something become truly permanent. By walking the learner through the pathway to permanence, we can facilitate positive change, and start the process of building skills, expanding confidence, and improving performance. And as a side benefit, when we follow this general framework, we feel a lot better about our lessons. We are hopeful it has the same effect for you.