Learning and Performance

PGA Master Golf Professional and teacher Michael Hebron presents his insights and research into the nature of learning in his book Learning with the Brain in Mind.  The book reviews volumes of research about how our brain and our body learn useful life skills – both physical and intellectual. The book is not geared specifically toward golf, but every aspect of the nature of learning can be useful in understanding how our brain and our body function to learn and improve our golf game.

The nature of learning looks for a balance 
between what can work and what can be understood. Learning will not arrive before students understand
the information that is being shared.
Michael Hebron
Learning with the Brain in Mind

This quote made me think about the nature of golf instruction, and if golf students truly understand WHY they are being told how to swing a golf club in a certain way. I believe that substantial improvement in learning would occur if golf instruction was geared more toward helping golfers’ understand the dynamics of a golf club and the function of the golf clubface – which determines how we swing the golf club. If golfers were told what to do and what the purpose of the golf club is rather than how it should be done, we would begin to tap into the limitless resources of curiosity, imagination and self-discovery. We would be utilizing how the student/golfer’s brain and body learn a physical skill most effectively. What follows may seem so basic that it would primarily apply to beginner golfers, but I believe it has value for any level golfer to help understand how the brain and the body function supportively to learn and improve the skill of hitting a golf ball effectively.

BEFORE being able to utilize any golf instruction about movement and a golf swing, the golfer/student needs to first UNDERSTAND how the tool of a golf club functions. The golfer needs to understand the simple physics of how the clubface works to hit a golf ball. This will help the brain establish an intention to ‘hand off’ to the subconscious abilities of the body to coordinate a golf swing. When the brain understands how the golf clubface gets the ball airborne, with speed, in a certain direction, the body will intuitively create effective movement to satisfy the brain’s intention. It is a natural, collaborative function that Nature built into our being. It is a process of utilizing the body’s natural ability and intelligence – by first educating (giving information to) the brain and then allowing the subconscious intelligence of the body to carry out the necessary mechanics and dynamic movements to satisfy that intention.

Now, for some real basics about the golf club and clubface movement. The golf club does not move in a vertical circle, but moves in a rounded arc around our spine and our body because our torso is slightly bent or angled from our waist in order for the clubhead to reach the ball on the ground. The golf swing is a hybrid of a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round because of the angle of our torso.

As the golf club moves around our body, the clubface opens on the backswing, squares to the target at impact on the forward swing, and closes on the follow-through. Here’s an analogy for the brain to digest and massage. How the golf club and the clubface operate is similar to how a swinging door operates. The door frame is the ‘hub’ around which the door swings open and swings closed; our body is the ‘hub’ around which the golf club swings and the clubface opens on the backswing, squares at impact, and closes on the follow-through.  The door frame has hinges that allow the door to swing; our body has muscles, tendons and joints that allow us to rotate our torso to swing the golf club around our body. If you want to experience an unnatural motion, try swinging a golf club without the clubface opening and closing by trying to keep the clubface facing the target for the entire swing. You won’t get a swinging motion, you’ll get an awkward motion that stresses muscles, tendons and joints – with no swing and no speed! Allowing the clubface to open, square and close in the golf swing allows the clubface to gather….apply….and dissipate the energy and speed necessary to get the golf ball airborne.

The example of a swinging door is meant to convey the concept of the opening and closing of the clubface on the backswing and forward swing. The door and door frame represent a mechanical operation; it functions and repeats consistently. The golf swing involves human application, and therefore imperfection. It is not realistic to attempt to achieve a consistently repeatable golf swing. What we want is a consistently adaptable golf swing. The golf swing is not, and cannot be a mechanical movement like a door when a golf swing is initiated by human involvement. We could have a “perfect golf swing” if we were a machine like the “Iron Byron” machines that test golf clubs. Nature designed us to be perfectly imperfect. We are designed to adapt and learn from our imperfections. I urge you to experiment by letting go of any attempts to control the clubface in your golf swing, and trust the intelligence of your body to instinctively adapt and square the clubface at impact as desired.

As Michael Hebron emphasizes, an important point to consider is that the brain functions best with general concepts rather than “how-to” instructions. The purpose of the example of the swinging door is to provide the brain with a general concept and understanding of how the clubface functions similar to the swinging door. Once the brain understands the function of the clubface, the brain can establish an intention for the body to instinctively respond – as it is designed to do. Just like a lubricant in the hinges of the door frame allows the door to swing easily and efficiently, we can ‘lubricate’ our golf swing to function easily and efficiently when we allow and trust our body to instinctively and subconsciously respond to our conscious intention.

The nature of learning realizes that the mind-brain connection
seems to learn best from metaphors and stories
that bring prior knowledge into play, often unconsciously.
Michael Hebron
Learning with the Brain in Mind

What follows are a few metaphors and examples of swinging motions in order to help the brain further understand how a golf club and the clubface function. I suggest that visualizing, imagining, and actually making the movements to simulate the following examples will help your body/mind to integrate the concept of the opening, squaring and closing of the clubface in a golf swing. The general concept for your brain to understand for the following examples is that the function of each is a swinging motion with an opening on the “backswing”, a squaring at impact on the “forward swing”, and a closing on the “follow-through” – just like the clubface on a golf club.

  • A fly-swatterA tennis racket
  • A ping pong racket
  • A grass whip
  • A ‘spank’ by your hand

In his book, Michael Hebron makes it clear that he is not criticizing all instruction, but he does convey that most methods of teaching and instruction do not take into consideration the true nature of how we learn any skill – whether it be intellectual or physical. The following quote reminds me of the vast majority of traditional golf instruction, which tells the student how to make a golf swing and “the right way” to swing a golf club with “correct golf swing mechanics.”  He states, “It appears that meaningful learning comes from the best ingredients on earth, curiosity, imagination, and improvisational skills and not from criticisms, or trying to get it right.” 

The primary focus of traditional golf instruction is often on results, performance and “getting it right,” whereas a focus on the true nature of learning and how the body/mind actually learns a skill most effectively, would capitalize on the student/golfer’s innate learning potential – which would automatically translate into improved performance.

Meaningful learning is supported by moving toward self-discovery and self-reliance….
Self-learning….is more effective for long-term learning than following directions….
Curiosity is at the foundation of all learning experiences.
Michael Hebron
Learning with the Brain in Mind

  • Learning is about being in the present moment….with awareness.
  • Learning is about letting go of pre-conceived ideas.
  • Learning is about exploration and self-discovery, not attempts at repetition.
  • Learning is not about trying.
  • Learning is about being open to something new….to self-discovery.
  • Learning is not about trying to fix or “get it right.”
  • Learning is about exploring the unknown.
  • Learning is a result of imaginative, exploratory play.
  • Learning is about curiosity.
  • Learning is about trusting our innate ability to learn and perform.
  • Learning is about honoring all our experiences….both the successful and the “clunkers.”
  • Learning is about understanding that failure is just feedback.

A  Master of anything was first a Master of Learning.
Michael Hebron
Learning with the Brain in Mind

One thought on “Learning and Performance

  1. So Joshua, if you really wanted to get into this whole golf swing analysis. My buddy Jerry Brown can give you the info you need. His book is a simpler, more mindful approach to golf. You could start by signing onto his Golf Blog.


    On Sat, Aug 1, 2020 at 2:21 AM Keep it Simple Golf wrote:

    > Jerry Brown posted: ” PGA Master Golf Professional and teacher Michael > Hebron presents his insights and research into the nature of learning in > his book Learning with the Brain in Mind. The book reviews volumes of > research about how our brain and our body learn useful l” >


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