Monday, June 11, 2012

Technique, Concept and Skill

When I look at a player, it is easy to see what faults someone has. Sometimes there is just one glaring fault, other times, there are too many to even imagine how they can still hit the ball. But whilst a lot of people would just see things in mechanical terms – their left arm is moving this way, or hips are moving that way etc – I try to determine what the player’s weakest link is and improve that.

There is a model that I think about when diagnosing a fault. It could be;
·         A technique issue
·         A concept issue
·         A skill/co-ordination issue

Each of these issues has overlaps, and in some cases it is hard to differentiate between them. But I will use an example to illustrate. A lot of beginner golfers suffer with topping the ball. This is where the club is travelling too high through impact and hits the ball above the equator, resulting in a low running shot and a lot of vibration up the club with a horrible feeling. Placing the player on camera (if we were to do this), we would usually see that the player is raising their spine angle through impact, their arms are going upwards towards their chest through impact, and usually they have a mini ‘jump’ with their knees. We would also see that the player has a poor weight shift in the downswing, leaving their weight on their back foot. This puts the bottom of the swing further behind the ball, and so the club essentially travels upwards into the ball, catching the top of it more often. The player would often complain of 'looking up early'.

But is technique always the best thing to address here? In our above example, the likely culprit is a poor concept – they are trying to ‘lift’ the ball and get under it, rather than strike the ball down and forwards like a professional. If the problem is concept, then addressing technique issues can, and in most cases will, make matters worse. Why? Because if we get the weight shift better, their knee jump through impact may increase in an effort to find a new way to ‘lift the ball’. Their spine angle change may also become greater to try and compensate further. So then we have to focus on the weight shift, the ‘jump’ and the spine angle position. What happens next – their arms collapse in even further, elbows splaying everywhere. Nightmare!

So basically, in the attempt to fix the fault of the club travelling too high through impact, the subconscious mind of the player now tries to figure out new ways to do the old concept. The body and the subconscious mind are not acting in harmony, and all hell breaks loose. To add to this, the act of thinking and concentrating on co-ordinating all these movements plays havoc with our  hand eye co-ordination and we end up unable to even hit the ball at all. Usually, even the desired swing changes don’t occur, as the subconscious mind won’t let them happen.

But what if we were to look at concept? What if the player understood fully how the club hits the ball on a downward and forward arc and that a divot should be taken after the ball? Often a lot of swing faults would disappear completely. They may start shifting their weight forwards. As they work on getting the club to travel downwards and forwards, their arms may even extend out of their own free will, and their spine angle and jump disappear or become minimised.

What if we were to look at the skill aspect. Can the person make a divot in the right place? Maybe at first they can’t, but as their skill gets better at doing this, so too would their technique. The difference is, this time their technique would be improving as a result of subconscious co-ordinations rather than consciously ordered directions. I believe the human body has an amazing way of co-ordinating itself - all the moving parts and complex actions - if the task is clearly laid out, good feedback is received and it is practised.

So as a teacher, I try to look for the limiting factor in a player. Is it their technique, their skill or their concept. Whilst I will generally give one simple thing in each area, for me it is vital that concept is addressed. Without a good concept of how the club should hit the golf ball, you are making things a lot more difficult for yourself. This example can be applied across the board with your golf game. When you are working on improving something, try to understand fully (and visualise exactly) how you want the club to impact the ball differently. Work on the technique, but also try to improve the skills associated with that technique, rather than just working towards a perfect model swing. Experimenting with too much, too little and just right is the key here.   

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