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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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Trackman Tuesday (Episode 2): Driver Loft

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Welcome to Episode 2 of Trackman Tuesday. In this weekly series, I will be using Trackman data to help you understand the game of golf in a little more detail and help you hit better shots and play better golf.

In this week’s episode, I look at driver loft. What effect does driver loft have on your shots and how important is it, really?

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How Far Away from the Ball Should You Be at Address?

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How far away from the ball should you be at address? This video is in response to a question from Tom McCord on Facebook.

In this video, I look at the setup position. I offer a simple way to check your distance from the ball at address with your driver, irons and wedges.

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Tour Pros Revealed: 3 Tests to See How You Stack Up

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You want to be better at golf, more consistent and longer off the tee. I am sure a lot of you would love to stop hurting. You would like these things with minimal work, if possible. You also want them yesterday. That about sum it up?

In the next 5 minutes, you’ll learn about the one thing that solves these problems for good. Before we dive in, though, I want to tee up three stats for you from my research.

  1. PGA Tour players can jump between 18-22 inches off the ground while LPGA Tour players can jump between 16-20 inches off the ground. Long drive competitors can often leap 30+ inches off the ground!
  2. Elite-level golfers who drive the ball 300+ yards can shot put a 6-pound ball more than 30 feet with less than a 5-percent difference in right-handed to left-handed throws.
  3. Elite golfers in the world can hurl a medicine ball with a seated chest pass just as far in feet as they can jump in inches (ie. a 20-inch vertical leap and a 20-foot seated chest pass).

What do these numbers have to do with you and your game? More importantly, what do these stats have to do with solving your problems? Let’s start by telling you what the solution is.   

Objective Assessment and Intelligent Exercise Prescription

Say that three times fast. It’s a mouth full… But seriously, read it two more times and think about what that means.

It means that before you act on anything to improve your health or your game, you need to objectively assess what the problem is and get to the root cause. You should use quality objective data to arrive at intelligent health and golf improvement decisions based on the long-term likelihood that they will be successful. We can’t just select exercises, swing changes or training aids based on what is hot in the market today or what the latest celebrity was paid big bucks to sell to us.

There is a reason why the infomercials you see today on Golf Channel will be different in 2 months. The same gimmicks run out of steam when enough people realize that is what they are… gimmicks. When looking to achieve your goals of playing better golf and/or having less pain, don’t just grab for the quick fix as so many golfers today do. 

We are in the information age. Information from quality data is power. Using this data intelligently, you can fix problems in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Hopefully, I am giving you the power to make a meaningful and lasting change in your game. I’m sorry to say that most amateurs will not be hitting 300+ yard drives despite what the latest marketing ploy will have you believe. But, if you know what tests you can do to measure the areas that affect your distance off the tee, you can at least gain insight into where your biggest return on your time investment will be. 

This is where working with a golf fitness expert can be so valuable to you. Not only can they help you interpret your results from the tests, but they will also be able to prescribe you the most effective means to move closer to 300 yards from where you are right now.  

If you have a problem with your car not accelerating as fast as you would like or not being able to reach top end speed on the highway, I hope you take it to the mechanic and don’t just look up quick fixes on YouTube to see what you can do on your own. The reason you pay the mechanic to fix your car is because that is what they do all day. They will get it done as quickly as possible. More importantly, they’ll get correctly so that the problem doesn’t pop up again in 2 weeks.

A golf fitness expert is no different. Use them for their expertise and knowledge. Once you have a diagnosis of what is holding you back and a plan to correct it, you are on your way and won’t have to waste any more time or money trying silly quick fixes that never stick.

The three statistics mentioned earlier represent numbers measured across the globe by industry leaders and at our facility 3-4 times per year on hundreds of golfers each time. Our facility has thousands of data points. With this much data comes the ability to draw conclusions from objective assessments. These conclusions drive the intelligent implementation of successful solutions directed at the root causes of problems for thousands of golfers around the globe.

The first three statistics have an R-value of over 0.85 in correlation to clubhead speed. Translation: if you perform well in the first three tests with high numbers, you are very likely to have a high club speed. Further, if you improve in any of those three tests relative to where you started, you are almost assured to have a higher club speed than when you began (assuming swing technique and equipment is relatively unchanged).  

Keep in mind that in statistics, correlation is not the same as cause and effect. But when the R-value is that close to 1 and anecdotally you have seen the results and changes we have, you put some weight behind these three tests. So:

  • See how high you can jump
  • See how far you can shot put a 6-pound medicine ball
  • See how far you can chest pass a 6-pound medicine ball from a seated position

Doing so will give you an idea of how much power you have in your lower body, total rotary system and upper body respectively. Train whichever one is the worst, or train them all if you want. Rest assured that if you improve one of them, you will more than likely increase your swing speed.  

By doing these assessments and addressing the one or two weak areas, you will improve with the least work possible. Sounds about what you were looking for, right? If you are able to identify where you need to improve BEFORE you buy whatever is claiming to fix your problems, you will save lots of money and time. You will actually start to improve with the least amount of work possible and in the least amount of time possible.  

What’s next? After completing the assessment tests, start working to improve them.

  • Coming Soon: Lower Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Upper Body Power for Golf
  • Coming Soon: Rotary Power for Golf
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