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Don’t be so critical! Research shows it pays to be positive



A lot of golfers spend their time focused on what’s wrong.

My club should be over here, my head should have stayed just a little stiller, my back swing is a little too steep. The list goes on and on.

Honestly, it’s really easy to do. In golf, the default status is to focus on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed.

However, there is a lot of research happening (and plenty already out there) on motivational learning, which looks at the factors of motivation that have an impact on how effective an individual’s learning can be.

Let’s look at the research and to see if there’s a better way to approach learning and practice.

Let’s kick this off with a quick story

We’re going to talk about a study that was released just this year (if you’re interested, you can read the paper here).

The study involved two groups of golfers asked to complete a putting task. Researchers created circles around a golf hole — a large circle (14 centimeters in diameter) for one group and a smaller circle (7 centimeters in diamter) for the other group.

golf putting task

Each group was told that their putt would be considered a success if the ball made it into the circle around the hole.

Interestingly enough, it was the group putting to the large circle that outperformed the small circle group, even though both groups were actually putting to ultimately the same target (a regular sized hole).

studygraphNot only did the group that putted to the large circle perform better in the initial test, but also in retention tests when they were retested the following day.

So what’s the point?

What this study shows is that how success is defined has an impact on how we learn and how we perform.

This concept has major implications, because viewing a performance in a positive light fosters learning, while being overly critical dampens the learning effect.

In other words, it pays to accentuate the positive. Taking this idea and extending it even further, coaches and instructors can help their students by creating and fostering positive motivation.

how success is defined has an impact on how we learn and how we perform.

We used to think that motivation had a temporary influence on performance. It was something we believed energized players to perform better, but now we think that pairing positive motivational factors with early learning actually enhances the learning.

Creating positive motivation

There are a few ways to create a positive motivational opportunity: One is to enhance the sense that a player been successful as they go forward. The other is to provide them with opportunities to choose or have autonomy over their actions.

In a recent interview, Dr. Rebecca Lewthwaite shared her suggestions on how to best go about this.

There are really several ways you can go about creating this positive motivational opportunity.

One is to enhance the sense that one has been successful as you go forward, and the other is to provide people with opportunities to choose or to have autonomy in their actions.

So, one way you could pair these things is tell people early on, it’s quite good if you can hit this target or be close to it in this way, provide them with positive feedback, you know, “For that early trial, it was excellent.”

And then the next thing you said is, “Let me know when you would like to get some more specific feedback.” So it’s an invitation to have to take a little charge of when you get further detail or when you dive into it more deeply.

You can hear more from her on motivational learning here.

Set better expectations

Another problem that a lot of golfers face is being in a constant state of inadequacy.

Most amateurs look to the professional ranks as the goal they should be chasing. So when looking at stats, whether it’s driving distance or scrambling percentages, there is always a negative reaction.

It’s time to compare apples to apples and not look at the PGA Tour as the goal for you game (unless you are a competitive professional).

For more reading on this check out Monte Scheinblum’s GolfWRX story, Golfers have ridiculous expectations

It’s really the long-term that matters

One of the aspects of this study was learning retention, which is important for golfers because one of the biggest problems most of them have is taking their best game to the course.

So let’s assume there are two groups of people and each group is asked to perform a motor task. One group is told their score after the task, while the other group is told their score in addition to some positive feedback such as “you have performed well relative to others.”

The second group — the one that received a second form of positive feedback — will do better, as it appears that this additional sense of success is what potentiates learning. Returning to the scenario a day later, the second group will also retain more of what they learned the first day when asked to perform a similar or somewhat related task. Not only that, but they will once again outperform the group that did not receive the additional sense of success.

In terms of practical applications for improving your game, it looks as though positive thinking is a key player. We all know that a strong mental game is a major component of success in sports, but the glass-half-full mentality really does seem to make a difference in performance and learning retention.

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Cordie has spent the last four years working with golf instructors, helping inform thousands on business and teaching best practices (if you're a coach or instructor check out Through that he's realized that it's time for the way golf is taught to be changed. When looking at research and talking with coaches and academics, he's launched the Golf Science Golf Science Lab , a website and audio documentary-style podcast focused on documenting what's really going on in learning and playing better golf.



  1. Matthew Cooke

    Nov 27, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Great article Cordie, well rounded insights with scientific support. I love that it supports the deliberate practice framework! Working on the things you have less skill at rather than more skill, but intelligently reframing the perception to be more appropriate for the individual (hence positive motivation). Bravo!

  2. gvogel

    Nov 25, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Give me a guy with a lousy swing and a lot of confidence over a guy with a good swing and no confidence.

  3. g

    Nov 25, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    “Be the ball”…..where did it go? “Right in the Lumberyard”

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6 reasons why golfers struggle with back pain: Part 1



This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others.

You find more information on Marnus and his work at


Back pain is by far the most common complaint among regular golfers. It is estimated that up to 35 percent of amateur golfers endure lower back injuries. And in our experience working with tour players, the prevalence is even higher in the professional ranks! 

Back pain can affect our ball striking and short game, diminish our enjoyment of the game, or even stop us playing altogether. It can make us feel anxious about playing (and making the pain worse) and just generally disappointed with current performance falling way short of our expectations. 

There is certainly no shortage of information on the topic of back pain, and with myriad back pain products and supplement options available, confusion about the best path to pain-free golf is one of the main reasons we don’t actually do anything effective to alleviate our suffering! 

We aim to present in this article an easy-to-digest explanation of the common causes of back pain, alongside some simple and practical ways to address the underlying issues. 

The recommendations we make in this article are generic in nature but effective in many of the low back pain cases we have worked with. However, pain can be complex and very specific to the individual. You should seek the personalized advice of a medical or exercise professional before undertaking any form of remedial exercise.

Reason 1 – Lack of mobility in 2 key areas

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected. 

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Area 1 – Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercises – Hip Mobility

Foam roll glutes, you can also use a spiky ball

90 90 hip mobility drills, fantastic for taking the hips through that all important internal rotation range

90 90 Glute Stretch – great for tight glutes / hips

Area 2 – Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

Foam rolling mid / upper back


Cat / Camel – working the T-Spine through flexion and extension


Reach backs – working that all important T-Spine rotation

Reason 2 – Alignment and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right and back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and/or below.

For example, if we have short/tight/overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knee to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain. This would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance

Reason 3 – Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).


The 3 major spinal curves – 1-Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures. 

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

Fortunately, re-establishing good posture is really simple and you can combine the information and exercises featured in the videos below with the mobility exercises featured in the Reason 1 section above. The equipment used in the videos is the GravityFit TPro – a favorite of ours for teaching and training posture with both elite and recreational players.


In the next installment of this article, we will cover reasons 4, 5 and 6 why golfers suffer from back pain – 4) Warming Up (or lack thereof!), 5) Core Strength and 6) Swing Faults.


If you would like to see how either Nick or Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais –

Nick Randall –

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Stickney: The dangers of technology on the lesson tee



One of the best things about golf instruction is the advent of technology to help teacher to better understand what is really happening during the swing. As we know, the swing takes but a blink of the eye, and it’s hard to see, much less, feel, what is going on when you hit the ball.

Therefore, teachers have employed different technologies in order to help them (and you) understand what is really going on…but the key is still the communication of the data output.

One of my biggest complaints in the industry is the teacher who uses technology and consistently ties their students up in knots mentally. Of course, you can have a simple misunderstanding between the teacher and student from time to time- we all fight this, but I’m talking about the teacher who would make a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering confused leading to paralysis through over-analysis.

In fact, take a look around your club, we all know a guy who has taken lessons and has become so over-consumed with the minutia of their mechanics that they can’t even draw it back! Where did this over-technical approach come from? Usually the teacher they have been working with.

My job is to insulate my players from all the crap that they don’t need to be concerned with while using technology and provide them the simplest way to improve.

Therefore the message from the teacher MUST be tailored to the level of the player and the player’s learning style. As players, we learn either verbally, visually, and/or kinesthetically and the teacher must have a working knowledge of the differences. Using technology makes this easer on the student—you can do it without technology, but it’s much harder.

Golf instruction does NOT have to be complicated when using technology, as many people falsely believe. In fact, the more complex it becomes when using these tools, the LESS proficient the teacher is in his level of understanding of what is truly going on, not to mention his skill in communicating with the student!

As it pertains to golf instructional technology you will find three basic types, and if you’ve taken a lesson lately, you have probably used technology like this….

  • 3-D Motion analysis systems like GEARS gives us the ability to measure and understand everything that happens to your body and club in real-time
  • Launch monitors like Trackman show the interaction between the club and the ball during the impact interval
  • Digital video analysis systems like V1 allow the swing to be viewed at different speeds and compared to your other swing files or even Tour Players

In my opinion, the key to golf instruction at the highest (technological) levels is the ability to combine these systems into a useful conglomeration that defines the student’s problem. From there, the teacher is left to explain the data output in a way (using the proper learning style) that ANY level of golfer can understand.

But that responsibility falls directly on the shoulders of the INSTRUCTOR, not the student. The most successful teachers in the world give the player in front of them exactly what they need in order to improve and nothing more and nothing less. It’s a learned art and skill, one that takes thousands and thousands of lessons to accomplish proficiently.

Therefore if your instructor possesses high tech instructional tools make sure that their communicational skill are as impressive as their technology if not, find someone else or you’ll find yourself in mechanical purgatory!

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50 Second Fix: Course management



Want to fix your tee shots?… Stop falling into old habits, and start standing on the correct side of the tee box!


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19th Hole