With your head swimming, Golf is nearly impossible. Here's how to calm the storm and learn to surf.
One of the first statements I heard as I began my journey into golf teaching stuck with me ever since and has guided my lessons and how I teach. It this, “People cannot and will not learn anything through information only.”
I’ve pondered this throughout my teaching career and have always come back to this statement to aid my improvement as a coach. The idea centres on the fact that information in and of itself will not improve anyone. The information, whatever it is, when given to someone will not suddenly change their behaviour, swing or results. It turns out, the information by itself can actually be confusing or even destructive.
As a young coach, this statement was profound. As I’ve coached more and studied more and seen more golfers learn this game, I’ve seen this statement remain as true as it ever was.
One of the early exercises I remember, which tested this premise involved 10 willing golfers of varying ability at a teaching facility in the UK. We gathered the golfers on the chipping green and presented them with a chipping drill written out on a piece of paper. Each golfer received a copy and were then instructed to spread out and perform the tasks written on the page. The page instructed them on how to set up the drill and then outlined the steps of the chipping motion and the task. The exercise was written, with no pictures to help.
What we noted, as observers, fascinated us all. We found that 4 of the 10 people had set up and performed the drill almost as we had hoped, 3 had made significant changes to what we wanted them to do and the last 3 were making little swings that had no similarities to what we “thought” we’d instructed them to do.
There are 2 problems that we identified from this simple exercise. Firstly, how we wrote out the information and described the task was critical. The language used had to be so precise and understandable. And secondly, how the student “perceived” the information would have a profound effect on their responses and behaviour.
Now, ask yourself, where do most golfers get their information from? The answer is resoundingly, the Internet, the TV or golf magazines. The world is awash with information about how to swing the golf club. YouTube has every piece of information you could possibly imagine. Yet, the average handicap of golfers across the world has not significantly changed since the Internet’s inception.
The challenge for all golf instructors online or on TV or those who write for magazines must be to refine the information they provide so that it can be easily understood and transferred to the student. The student must be able to “feel” the correct move and then see the result.
There still remains a problem with this way of gaining the information though. When most golfers receive this, they’re either not on the course or on the range. Typically, they’re on their couch or in front of a PC at home. By the time they get to the range this information will be vaguely remembered or vastly distorted. Unfortunately, they’ll have so much information ringing in their ears, that most of it will be lost. Remember the people who couldn’t perform the written task and they had it in front of them.
In golf, there’s no better way to improve than through experiential learning. Take information, books, tablets and iPads with you to the range and take your time to understand the ideas and concepts you wish to test. Then, test them, referring to the information as much as possible.
In Michael Gelb’s book, “How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci”, the second of his 7 principles is “Dimonstrazione”. In this, he outlines Da Vinci’s insatiable desire to experiment, practice ideas and learn from the inevitable mistakes that will occur. Perseverance and persistence will lead to learning and skill acquisition. As long as the information is sound, the practice is open and creative and the student’s desire to push past the mistakes and little failures is maintained.
Working one on one with a golf coach can dramatically improve this process too. By practicing specific movements, concepts and drills under the watchful eye of an engaged and enthusiastic coach, rapid learning is possible. The coach should be willing to make constant minor corrections and reinforce the correct movements but also allow the student to learn at their own pace and make their own discoveries. Learning new ideas is difficult if you only receive them through one communication channel, especially if it is one that you’re not predisposed to use. Learning through words, pictures and performing the moves yourself will quicken the process. You could even find our if you are more a Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic learner.
The Internet is full of great instructors and endless information. It’s up to you to identify what you want, how you would like it described to you and then find someone willing to coach you to reach your goals as fast as you would like. Information, alone, is not enough.