Golf Practice, Play… and Learning

Your most productive golf practice will come from having an attitude of “What can I learn?” Any other mindset is setting you up for frustration. Golf is a game that is imperfectable. It’s part of the lure of playing this game. The purpose of any game is to learn – about ourselves, our body/mind connection, and our interaction with our environment including the tools we play with.

So, what is the most efficient way to learn? Watch any child in their developmental years. The child learns naturally and instinctively through a process of play, fun, freedom, enthusiasm, curiosity, exploration and self-discovery. The child doesn’t judge its play based on results, it instinctively and unconsciously knows that it’s all about trial and error, adaptation and learning. It’s the essence of effective learning. Could we as golfers, utilize ‘the way of a child’ to improve our golf swing and our golf game? You bet we can if we make our golf practice playful and fun without expectation or judgment. (See the November 2018 Instinctive Golf Blog, Play and Golf Practice and the March 2019 Blog, Golf Practice and Play on this site).

As we grow into adulthood we’re taught that the primary vehicle for learning is information. Our instinctual abilities are often ‘educated out of us.’ It may not be the most effective method of learning but it’s become inherent in our educational system. Play is the most natural and efficient way of learning – especially a motor skill. A child doesn’t need information to play. It instinctively uses the imagination that Nature has gifted us with. There are some private schools (such as the Waldorf Schools) that are challenging the rote process of feeding students information. They encourage independent thought and hands-on experience. My approach to golf practice is similar – to explore, discover and have fun learning.

The only source of knowledge is experience.
Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.
Albert Einstein

So, how does this apply to your golf swing and your golf game? Before any real significant and permanent learning of any subject can take place there needs to be a foundation. Children deepen the learning process after they establish the necessary foundations of reading, writing, spelling and the use of numbers. Effective learning of the  motor skill of a golf swing first requires that we establish foundations of an effective grip and effective posture in order to use the tool of a golf club as it’s designed. Following Einstein’s proclamation about information, we don’t learn an effective golf swing using information about golf swing positions and golf swing mechanics. The mechanics of a golf swing can be described with words, but it has little value in helping you learn the swing. Words speak to our conscious analytical left brain which is not responsible for our motor skills. In his book The Golf Swing, Chris Riddoch states, “Humans don’t have learning systems that can cope with large amounts of information. In fact, the human brain works in exactly the opposite way – to learn physical skills, it requires simplicity.”

Because we are using the unique tool of a golf club designed to swing and hit a golf ball on or near the ground, establishing foundations of effective grip and posture allows us to use the tool as it’s designed. An effective grip allows us to leverage and swing the weight of the clubhead, and effective posture allows us to utilize our bodily instinct to generate movement from our torso to swing the tool effectively. This is the simplicity required to learn the motor skill of a golf swing efficiently. Too much information complicates the process and often paralyzes our kinesthetic instincts. First we need to establish the physical foundations and then we are free to utilize the innate kinesthetic learning abilities that Nature has endowed us with.

Just as progressive educational methods use hands-on experience to encourage curiosity and awareness, you can develop curiosity and awareness about your golf swing by practicing golf exercises with variations in swing, grip, stance and use of imagination (such as those in Awaken Your Inner Golfer) to stimulate your kinesthetic adaptability. I suggest that you let go of results in your golf practice and focus on play, fun, exploration and self-discovery for the sole purpose of experiencing the joy of learning. Your golf practice will become extremely productive and positive results will seemingly happen automatically.

Traditional golf swing instruction methods utilize verbal instruction and “golf drills” to drill certain movements into our body/mind and our golf swing in order to learn a “correct golf swing,” whereas, “golf exercises” stimulate our natural instincts and innate adaptability through the physical experience of trial and error. It’s how we learn a motor skill effectively, rather than trying to regurgitate information and instruction. Golf exercises are a much more efficient way for our body/mind to learn the motor skill effectively and permanently. To quote PGA Master Professional Michael Hebron from his book The Art and Zen of Learning……Golf, “Muscles don’t understand words….Learning a motor skill is mostly self-organization, self-development and self-discovery….Nature designed mankind to learn by doing, observing outcomes, and adjusting as we see fit….What we are looking for is not outside, it is inside, awaiting discovery, awaiting awakening, awaiting the spark that reveals.”

The instinct-awakening golf exercises found in Awaken Your Inner Golfer provide the variety and stimulus for kinesthetic awareness and the spark that reveals your natural abilities to learn and improve a golf swing you can own for a lifetime. As Fred Shoemaker states in Extraordinary Golf, “It’s the letting go that’s the tricky part.” It’s ‘tricky’ because our conscious analytical mind thrives on information and control because of its conditioning. It feeds on information. It is often a hindrance to learning and growth in both our golf game and our life. We’re taught that “If I have more information, I’ll perform better.” It’s worthwhile here to repeat Chris Riddoch’s quote, “Humans don’t have learning systems that can cope with large amounts of information. In fact, the human brain works in exactly the opposite way – to learn physical skills, it requires simplicity.”  Nature endowed us with the innate ability to integrate conscious intention with movement generated from our unconscious – to adapt, refine and improve a motor skill. It’s how Nature designed our brains and our neural/muscular system.

Traditional golf instruction teaches us that we can ingrain a consistent and repeatable golf swing through golf drills. Chris Riddoch states, “Players with the most variable swings produce the most consistent shots – variable, self-adaptable, self-correcting swings clearly work better than fixed, constrained swings. This is the opposite of perceived golf wisdom, which views swing variability as a problem, which needs to be coached out.”

According to recent research from Johns Hopkins, “What we found is if you practice a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more and faster than if you just keep practicing the exact same thing multiple times over.” This is research that contradicts traditional golf instruction’s reliance on golf drills to master a “correct golf swing.” On his website, Michael Hebron examines “Golf Myths vs. Neuro Learning.” Myth 2 states, “Golfers should have a consistent golf swing. Not so. Many golfers strive to build a consistent golf swing. However, golf is about adapting to the inconsistencies that the course presents. We never have the same shot twice. Therefore the goal is to have a flexible and portable golf swing. If you just had a consistent golf swing, you could only play one shot.”

I encourage you to explore the instinct-awakening golf exercises in Awaken Your Inner Golfer by embracing the learning process of play, fun, exploration and self-discovery – the way of a child – and even use your own imagination to come up with unique golf exercises that help you learn and develop an adaptable and reliable golf swing – you can own for a lifetime!

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