One of the biggest lessons I can pass down to someone learning golf, or anything, from my experiences as a player is this – patience. Although not one of the key factors in learning, it certainly helps. This is just a quick article to allow you to understand the learning process a little more, and why it happens like it does.
I remember the most recent swing change I made; I was attempting to get my club swinging more to the left through impact. My natural swing sees the clubhead swing out around 10 degrees to the right, so I was working on neutralizing this in the hopes it would give me more consistency. But whilst I was practicing, I remember just how difficult it was to do; it seemed as if my body was just resisting it. At best I could get it to swing around 5 degrees right, but it was still nowhere near neutral.
But one day it just clicked. Surprisingly, it happened a couple of days after a rather frustrating practice session where I thought I would just never ‘get it’. The next session I was just able to do what I wanted with the club. There was no ‘light bulb moment’ or any bits of new information. It was the same thing as I was trying to do in the sessions before, but now my body was much more receptive to it. I have never lost the ability since – it is safe to say that it is now ‘learned’.
It reminded me of when I was learning a guitar song a few months earlier. I knew exactly what notes I was supposed to play, but I kept making mistakes in the timing and occasionally hitting the wrong note in the wrong place. I practiced until my fingertips were sore, but ended up having to put the guitar down (because if I didn’t put it down I would have thrown it down). I gave it a rest and decided maybe guitar wasn’t for me. But a few days later, I had an itch to play again. After a quick warm up, I noticed that I was suddenly able to play the song perfectly – and I hadn't practiced in between.
Although I mastered the song eventually, I really
wanted to burn my guitar at one point
So what is happening here? Most people mistakenly think the goal of practice is to get it right during the session. Whilst this should ultimately be the goal, it is far more important that your INTENTION is correct. When your concentration is fully on your intention (for example, the intention to swing the club more to the left), even if you are unable to do it there and then, your brain is re-wiring itself to create a new movement pattern. Neurons in the brain are firing and connecting with each other in a new and fresh way. But because they are not yet connected efficiently, the performance can be poor. When we sleep/rest, those new neuronal connections fuse and strengthen further so that next day we are able to perform the movement better than before. Through repetitive practice, they are then insulated further (myelination) and skill becomes further refined.
Think of it like going to the gym. When you lift weights, you don’t get stronger as you lift. In fact, you get weaker (due to glycogen depletion/CNS output) – similarly, you can sometimes get worse during a golf practice session because your mental concentration can fatigue. But fear not; just as your muscles repair, grow and get stronger during your rest period, so does your brain and all those millions of neuronal connections.
Your intention is more important than what you actually do. Make sure you have a clear goal for each swing, and maintain concentration during your session through a sets and reps approach. And stay patient; just because you can’t do it today doesn't mean you won’t be able to do it tomorrow.
As a note – sometimes your body will not do what you are trying to do because of a physical limitation or a mental concept issue. Make sure you are capable physically of what you are trying to do. Also, make sure that you fully understand what you are trying to get the clubhead to do at impact, as failing to understand this can contradict the change you are making in your swing. A good golf coach should cover this though.