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Boost your practice regime with experimentation

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Recent strides in motor learning theory have led to a lot of questions being answered, and even more being asked. But one of the more startling discoveries could really shake up the way you view learning, and lead to a paradigm shift in how people conduct and think about practice in general.

It tends to be that most people practice to ingrain a movement. The typical theory has been that you should practice in a way which brings you toward perfection; usually manifesting itself in picking a model swing and trying to copy that, or elements of it. While this can serve a purposeful function, it may be holding you back more than you think, and you could be missing out on a big chunk of learning.

Think about how most of the PGA Tour pros of the pre-video analysis/trackman/K-vest era built their swings. They often worked out the best method for themselves through trial and error, experimenting with different ideas until they found what worked. Not only did this experimentation give rise to brilliantly functional swings which all looked similar in macro-technique (the overall look of a swing), but it also encouraged individual variations. For example — Ben Hogan and Sam Snead both shifted their weight forward in the downswing and exhibited quality swing plane, yet their techniques were not identical.

There are certain elements of every golfer’s swing which are fundamental, the variations arise because of the fact we that are not all built the same. We vary in so many minute areas, and each of these little things can influence our technique. Flexibility profiles, strength profiles, power-production sources, limb lengths, joints, tendon attachments and even things such as eye dominance can influence our technique. So how on earth can we find out truly what is right for us?

Luckily, we have an ability to arrange all these pieces into a way which is both functional and fits our specific body. This ability is not only present in human beings, but across almost every living organism. Parts of the brain are able to sense what we cannot yet measure and will organize all of the components together in a synergistic fashion. So why haven’t we done it yet? Why is our golf swing still suffering the same faults year after year?

It is this idea of experimentation which I want to pay close attention to, and so should you. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was to try the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Yet that is pretty much what many golfers do. What I want to encourage is more experimentation in your practice — try things you have never tried before.

What happens when we do this? At first, we may get a little worse, as we are trying out new moves, new positions and new feelings. But then the human body does something amazing; it takes all the new information and starts to selectively pick the most appropriate strategies/moves. In scientific terms, we call this self-organizing, and all of this will happen without your conscious awareness. Your skill sets literally grow as you’re practicing things you actually don’t want to happen.

As an example of this: Instead of standing on the range and beating balls to the same target over and over, trying to calibrate a straight shot — why not try to hit the biggest hook you can hit (by really closing the club face more left of the swing path) followed by the biggest slice you can hit (by opening the face to the right of the swing path). Although this is completely what you would not want to ingrain into your swing, learning is much more dynamic than that. From practicing the two extreme variants of shot shape, your brain is learning different methods to control direction, so it can create straighter shots through this information.

In the scientific circles, this is called differential practice, and has been shown to dramatically improve motor skills and even technique (even though you were not practicing good technique). So what are some more ways which we can implement this type of training?

  1. Hit high shots and low shots.
  2. Tee the ball at different heights than normal -– even use a driver tee for an iron.
  3. Hit balls off the ground with your driver (or try).
  4. Why not try a few shots from your knees?
  5. Try a ‘Happy Gilmore’ swing or two -– it’s fun.
  6. Grip cross-handed (left below right from a righty). Maybe try inventing your own grip.
  7. Try a flop shot with a 4- or 5-iron.
  8. Try and shank the shot. You heard right! Hit a hosel rocket intentionally, followed by an extreme toe shot.

Don’t be frightened to invent your own. Be creative, that is part of the fun of these sessions. I personally learned to get to scratch in just over three years, and a big portion of my time was spent hitting trick shots and creating humorous ways to hit a ball. I would recommend picking one day to go to the range and hit a bucket of balls trying out different variations. The aim is not to hit good shots, it is to learn, explore and practice variation, so that your brain becomes a supercharged hub of information which it has more chance of drawing out the correct information when required.

Adam Young is a PGA professional and works for the Leadbetter Academies. He spends his summers teaching new golfers and mid-handicap players to play better.

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Adam is a golf coach and author of the bestselling book, "The Practice Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Golfers." He currently teaches at Twin Lakes in Santa Barbara, California. Adam has spent many years researching motor learning theory, technique, psychology and skill acquisition. He aims to combine this knowledge he has acquired in order to improve the way golf is learned and potential is achieved. Adam's website is www.adamyounggolf.com Visit his website www.adamyounggolf.com for more information on how to take your game to the next level with the latest research.

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  1. paul

    Feb 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Im totally trying trick shots this season. Where i play virtual golf in the winter they said not to do any cause i might hit a sensor. Party poopers 🙁

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Playing in your mind vs. playing out of your mind

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Comparing the recreational beginner to the elite player

As a player, I know there are rounds of golf where I feel like I worked extremely hard to achieve the results and there are also rounds that are effortless and just plain easy. Why do we go through these peaks and valleys in golf?

As an instructor and player, I want to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be playing out of your mind vs. playing in your mind.

I want to address both beginners and elite players on their quest for better play. All beginners and elite players must understand that, as players, we are all experiencing ups and downs. The bottom line is that some handle them better than others.

Why is this a feeling golfers have: “playing out of your mind”?

Well, it is pure relaxation. It is fluid, seamless, continuous motion. No hang-ups. No hiccups.

The next big question, how do we achieve this regularly?

We get to this without forcing it, by believing in our makeup. It is locked in our subconscious. It is a controllable, uncontrollable. Subconsciously, your nervous system is in the green light. You are just doing. This is peak performance. This is the zone. This is playing autonomously, out of your mind.

I believe that over time, a golfer’s game is compiled in his/her built-up expectations of the player they truly believe they are. Expecting to make a putt vs. just so happening to make it feeds two different minds. When you place an expectation on an action tension is created. Tension creeps into our nervous system and our brains either respond or they don’t. This is called pressure. This is what I call playing in your mind. You are in your head, your thoughts are far too many and there is just a whole lot floating around up there.

The more players play/practice, the more they will expect out of themselves, and in result, create that pressure. (ie. Why progress is difficult to achieve the closer you get to shooting par or better). The best players are better at responding to that pressure. Their systems are auto-immune to pressure. (ie. Think of practice like medicine and think of a pre-shot routine like the Advil to help calm the spiking nerves.)

  • Playing in your mind = high tension golf… you might need an Advil.
  • Playing out of your mind = low tension golf… you are in a good headspace and are doing all the right things before your round even started.

The key to understanding here is that we can play in both minds and achieve success in either situation. It is all about managing yourself and your re-act game.

Subconscious playing is beyond enjoyable. It is more recreational in style. I believe beginners are playing more subconsciously, more recreationally. I believe elite players can learn from the beginner because they are achieving superior moments and sensations more subconsciously, more often. All players at all levels have off days. It is important to remember we all have this in common.

The goal is always to play your best. When I play my best, there are no preconceived thoughts of action. It’s simply action. Playing out of your mind is an unwritten script, unrehearsed, and unrepeatable on a day to day basis, you’re living it.

Say you have that one round, that out of your mind, crazy good day. The next few days, what do you do? Do you try to mimic everything you did to achieve that low number? As good players, we take these great days and try to piece it together into a script of playing. We know we can get it down to almost damn near perfect. The more a player rehearses the better they get. Edits are made…knowing that things are always shifting. Visualization is key.

No doubt, it’s a huge cycle. Players are in a continuous race to achieve results in numbers. Players looking to reach great success should generate a journal/log and compile a record and playback method and revisit it repeatedly.

There is no secret or magic…it takes mastering the minds to achieve the best results more often. Most important, as players, we must recognize that during our amazing rounds…

  1. We are relaxed
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  3. We are just doing

In this game, the deeper we go, the more we propose to be there. It will always bring us back to the basics. One complete full circle, back to the beginner in all of us. So, the next time an experienced player sees a beginner on the first tee…take a moment and appreciate that player!

Remember to enjoy the walk and believe that hard work always works!

Please reach out to me at dmfiscel1482@gmail.com to learn more about the zone and how to become accustomed to playing autonomously.

 

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