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Are You a Head Case? How Neurofeedback Can Help

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Have you ever wondered what in the wide, wide, world of sports is going on in your head when you hit a golf ball? I surely have sometimes.

Most of my playing career, I was mentally strong and rarely had a thought that was distracted or destructive. My routine was really solid and consistent, and it allowed for me to play well under lots of pressure. Recently at the academy, we have added a new piece of technology called FocusBand. It allows me to see what is going on in your head as you hit a golf shot and make changes to the approach you are taking so that you are more successful on the golf course.

First, let me explain how it works.

FocusBand is a strap that goes around your head with three sensors that process the electrical signals in your brain and create an algorithm that is then audio-visually translated to show your mind’s activity. This is called neurofeedback, the best known method for training the brain. I can see what is going on via the avatar on my smartphone or tablet, and it is also integrated with my FlightScope launch monitor so I have numerous ways to use it at all times.

Research has shown that being able to switch to and execute in the right part of the brain gives you a distinct advantage. The right brain is calm and able to make more appropriate decisions in a shorter period of time. The left side of your brain, or the side that would glow red on the avatar, is the analytical, training side of your mind. It can process 40 instructions per second. It is very slow and detail oriented. This is the side you want to use when checking your math homework, doing your taxes, or listening to your spouse. The right side of your brain would glow green on the avatar and is the creative, play side of your mind. It processes 11 million instructions per second and is where you want to be when playing a golf shot.

Focusband_Red

So to simplify and relate this to a golf shot, the left side is where you analyze distance, wind, lie of the ball, what kind of shot, target, club selection, and any other meticulous details. You think in mentally audible words, lists, and sentences. Once you have completed that task, you need to flip to the right side and visualize the shot you want to hit and then feel the swing that produces that shot. There are no words or commands — just visuals and feels once you approach the ball and swing.

So I thought it would be cool to do some odd field testing on my students. The first player I drilled in FocusBand was a buddy of mine who was a really good football kicker in college. He plays to a low handicap and competes in several big tournaments a year. When he practices, his game is very sharp. In competition, he gets it going. Then, as he nears a good round, he goes off the rails a little and his score goes up as a result. He has testified to me that it is ALL mental. So the test I wanted to do with him and FocusBand was to first kick some footballs and see how his brain reacted when he did something he had done successfully with thousands of people watching and screaming at him. Then I wanted him to hit some golf shots. We were going to see what the difference was in his brain activity when we compared both actions.

IMG_0305

Now, it’s not normal to see someone kicking footballs at a golf academy. People were driving by yelling, “Laces out Dan,” and other assorted Ace Ventura lines as he bombed kicks down the range. On about his fifth kick, he hit one that hooked about 15 yards offline. What happened next was interesting and made him a believer. As he got ready to boot another one, he went from bright green to red for about 3 seconds just before he approached the ball. It was just enough for me to see it, but not long enough for me to stop him and ask what he was suddenly thinking.

The kick was beautiful, end over end and bombed. After it landed I asked him, “What did you think before you kicked it that was a change to how you kicked the ball from the previous one? You told yourself to change something.” He cocked his head and looked at me like I was reading his mind. “Yea, I did think something. I thought to point my toe more so the ball didn’t hook like the previous one! How did you know?”

That was when I told him I saw the screen flash red for a second. So using that a baseline for performance, we then hit some iron shots. As he warmed up, I made a change to his swing that was minor. His transition tempo was just a beat fast, so I told him to slow it and be more calm in the change of direction so that he could casually slot the club and not get a smidge steep and hit baby pulls. He got the move down and managed to pop into green for most of his shots. Only when I reintroduced the piece of instruction did he roll into red (left brain) thoughts. What that allowed me to do was to reinforce the need to control his mind and recognize that he had gone analytical. I didn’t want him to hit shots until he had flipped back into green with a strong feel of that move and not a detailed list of what I wanted him to do.

Focusband_Kicker

I was very impressed with his ability to calm his mind and refocus, just like he did as a kicker on Saturdays in stadiums. He played a couple of days after this session and reported to me that he peeled off five birdies in a row and birdied six of the last nine holes he played. The best part was that he was so into the new routine that he didn’t notice it was five in row!

The second test was with one of my juniors who had lots going on in the attic. The squirrels were running loose upstairs for this player! He is a great kid and can stand on the range in our sessions and be so solid and make beautiful swings. On the course, his brain goes a thousand miles a second and he cannot keep it between the foul poles on some holes. So on goes the FocusBand and he lights up bright red. I was not shocked. But now the challenge… could I get him to go green and get the creative side of his brain to engage?

This player is a really good athlete from an athletic family, so I had faith in his instincts if I could get him to recognize when he started to think in lists, sentences, and descriptive words. My instructions were simple and clear. He was to hit every shot in his routine and not approach the ball unless he could see the shot he wanted to hit and then feel the swing that produced that shot. He had to hold that until he hit it or I would call him off when I saw the screen go red.

What happened next was some cool, fun stuff that makes my job so deeply interesting. It took him about five tries to get to the ball without me stopping him for the screen going red. Each time I would ask him, “What sentence, word, or command did you think,” and he would always smirk and say something like “control the clubface at impact” or “don’t let my stance get too wide.” I would calmly remind him to stay with feels and visuals. Finally, he got to the ball staying green. He managed to swing and stay green, and he hit a towering 8-iron with a tiny draw. The smile on his face told the story. He knew he was starting to control his mind and how he was thinking as he played shots.

Focusband_Green

Now, that one shot did not mean he got it every time. There were about five other times I had to stop him, and each time he would smirk and tell me what thought crept into his mind. But now he had full awareness, whereas before he was just letting his brain run wild. He even got so good at it that twice he stopped himself at the same time I saw the screen go red. It was very cool to see the transformation take place and his heightened awareness of his mental state.

FocusBand and this kind of training is one of the coolest things we do at the academy, and we are just scratching the surface of this technology and how it can help the player. I have seen it dramatically help performance in golf. And if it helps there, it’s also something that people can transfer to life in general. Who wouldn’t want a more calm mind and to live a more peaceful daily life? Exiting technology, this is.

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Gilles

    Nov 11, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    This is the most informative article on neuro-science ever on Golf WRX.
    Keep up the good work informing golfers on the latest brain training methods.

    Bobby Jones: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.”

  2. Andrew Cooper

    Nov 10, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Great article Rob, thanks for sharing. Reminded me of Gallwey’s Inner Game theory. I suspect the very best players have always had a knack for (or learned to and understood the importance of) switching between the two states, almost like flicking a switch-Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods. Or they simply just approached and played the game with feel, athleticism and simple thoughts e.g. a Snead, Couples or Daly. Anyhow, a follow up article on ideas on how to keep the brain in the green would be interesting-that’s the tough bit…

  3. etc.

    Nov 9, 2017 at 1:37 am

    For a professorial explanation of the functions and abilities of the right and left brain hemisphere view this YouTube video in it’s entirety:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0RJa5bOqgY
    This lecture confirms the basis of the FocusBand and how it applies to the golf swing.

    • SK

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:44 am

      So what Professor Jordan Peterson is telling us is that it’s useless to inject a “swing thought” during the swing, and it’s even doubtful thinking about a swing tip using the left side of your brain at address.
      The only way to improve your golfing brain function is to practice sufficiently so that the golf swing is established in the right hemisphere and the ability is transferred to the left hemisphere, and then transferred back to the right side!
      Or is it the other way around…. oy, my head/brain is hurting already!! Best I use the FocusBand and then follow the colored lights! 🙂
      —————-
      BTW, if you view Peterson’s other videos you will be pleasantly surprised by his viewpoint. He declares universities are robbing students by teaching them useless social justice propaganda, and that “God” is real (in the minds of people).

  4. Sherwin

    Nov 8, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    My instructor has a Focus Band and use it in our training. I’m familiar with the right brain (creative), left brain (analytical) theory. But at first when I use it, I thought it was made up junk science.

    But to my amazement, it worked and I hit my best shot when I switched on my right side.

    It is expensive for the everyday golfer to afford, however at $500.

  5. North Hinkle

    Nov 8, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    EEG has been relegated to the dustbin by neuroscience, and that band relies on the same principles. PET has demonstrated they are hokum. You have been hoodwinked.

    • SK

      Nov 9, 2017 at 11:50 am

      PET has determined that both sides of the brain are working together at all times and you can’t completely switch off one side. However the EEG FocusBand registers which side of the brain activity is predominant during physical activities while both sides are working furiously during the golf swing! 😉

  6. SK

    Nov 8, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Here’s a good question. How do the right and left hemispheres of the brain react when a right handed person swings left handed? How does it compare to a right handed person swinging right?
    Also, do the brain hemispheres switch characteristics if you are left handed?
    Great article which I’m bookmarking. Thanx.

  7. COGolfer

    Nov 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    I’ve wanted to get this product for a long time. The only thing holding me back is the cost. It’d be nice to try it out through a practice or lesson before committing.

  8. Alan Bester

    Nov 8, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    WOW!!!! Mindblowing and also destroys all the old dog instruction books on golfing ‘my way’!

    You say the Focus Band is also integrated with your FlightScope launch monitor. What readouts do you acquire during the golfswing sequence? Do you see color changes going from the backswing into the downswing, and if you do can you describe the patterns?

    Since this is something very new you will undoubtedly be learning how to use it with time. Please keep us science-heads on GolfWRX informed of any new discoveries. Thanks.

    • SK

      Nov 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      LOL! Sciheads v.s. gearheads. And the winner is ……

      • OB

        Nov 9, 2017 at 4:02 pm

        What’s the difference between a ‘scihead’ and a ‘gearhead’?
        A scihead knows that golfing brains are in his head.
        A gearhead thinks the brains are in his clubhead.;)

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