The golf swing in its purest form is a skill. It is a very complicated, often misinterpreted skill. One should think of the swing as a series of smaller movement patterns that combine to be large pattern in the end. Like many other skills, the most efficient way to practice the skill is in its highest effective specificity. Golf is not a very fatiguing sport therefore the swing can be practiced very often and very specifically. The opposite of golf would be a sport such as Football. If a Football player were to practice it in its most specific manor, they would play a full game wearing full pads as much as possible. However, Football players do not practice this way because they would be very “beat up” from playing too much.
Highest Effective Specificity
A golfer should practice a motion that is specific enough to make progress but not so specific the golfer engrains bad habits. Most of the time an amatuer golfer will practice on the “too specific” side. For example, they usually go to the driving range and only take full swings. Virtually every time there are flaws in the full swing and the golfer will spend an entire range session ingraining bad motor patterns. Because of this, every bad swing is a step backwards from the direction of the overall goal.
Every golfer falls on a spectrum of what “unmissable” movements they can perform. A “better” golfer will be able to perform movements that relatively close to the full swing, while worse golfers will have to perform movements slightly less specific. An instructor should be there to find these “unmissable” movements and teach the student exactly how to perform them.
It seems that many instructors lean too close to one side of the spectrum as well. I have seen many instructors that have their students perform motions that are “too specific”, meaning they will tell the student what they are doing wrong but continue to have them do full swings. It is important to remember, one bad swing has just as much as an influence as one good swing. Then there are teachers that are not specific enough. These teachers will spend way too much time performing movements without the golf swing in mind. These people are often self proclaimed “movement specialist”.
Learning a motor pattern
The only way to truly learn a motor pattern is by performing said motor patterns enough times until it occurs naturally. A golfer should not have any swing thoughts over the golf ball. Someone who has prepared correctly should be able to step up to the ball and just swing. This is because the golfer has ingrained the motor pattern needed to perform it using “muscle memory”. I often like to use the “road analogy” when explaining learning a movement. One should think as a correct motor pattern as a finish line at the end of a long road. Every time a student makes incorrect motion they take a step back from the finish line. Every time they make a correct motion they take a step towards the finish line. A golfer who finds “unmissable” movements takes a step towards the the finish line every time they perform the drill. Keep in the mind the step may not be as large as a correct full swing, but consistent steps forward are always better than one step forwards and one step backwards.
What does inefficient instruction look like?
For the most part it looks like the typical golf lesson anybody would imagine.
Instructor is trying to tell the student to stay more connected in the backswing
Student: takes swing
Instructor: “you let your hands travel a little too much that time”
Student: takes better swing
Instructor: “That looked better, just like that”
Student: takes worse swing
Instructor: “you let your hands travel too far again.”
This back and forth goes on for about an hour and the student makes less progress than they should have.
What efficient instruction looks like?
The instructor is trying to have the golfer stay more connected in the backswing.
Student: Takes swing
Instructor: “The hands traveled a little too far there. This time step back from the ball and take ten back swings in slow motion the correct way. After that step up to the ball and swing with zero swing thoughts.”
Student: performs drill and takes better swing
Instructor: “Better but not perfect, perform the drill again and then take a swing.”
This type of instruction is very effective but not necessarily fun. This has been mentioned to me by several people. People will say it is much more to “play golf” or “hit the ball” rather than perform drills. I reply by saying I completely understand but performing these drills now will make you a better golfer and will allow you to have more fun in the long run. It is not a successful lesson in my eyes if the student did not make progress. Even if they tell me they thoroughly enjoyed it. If the student leaves the lesson not being a better a golfer I feel very guilty because I essentially wasted their money and their time.
The lesson should not be difficult
When an instructor teaches correctly the lesson should not be difficult for the student. If the student is having a hard time performing the drills they should move to less specific drills. The most difficult part for most students is trusting the process. Students will take full swings as much as possible, especially beginners. They do this because they want to “test” the progress they are making. Because of this fact, it is important that instructors should be transparent with their students and keep students informed as to what we are trying to accomplish.
Coordinated vs the Uncoordinated
As I have said before every golfer will fall on a spectrum. On one end there are golfers who are the most athletic/coordinated on the other end there are golfers who are the least athletic/coordinated. The golfers on the athletic end of the spectrum will need less repetitions to make a swing change. The less athletic golfer will need more repetitions. This is why the less athletic golfer needs to find “unmissable” movements, that are less specific to a full golf swing. My mom does not play golf. She came in to the studio to drop off my little brother and offered to film her swing. She made one swing that looked fairly decent but I explained to her that she should work on clearing her hips at impact while keeping her shoulders square to the ball. This is accomplished by proper swing sequencing. My mom said “oh I can do that, let me try again really quick”. She grabbed the club and took one more swing and performed the motion perfectly, hitting a ball flush with a tight draw she then left the studio to run the rest of her errands. The point of this story is not to brag that I had given an amazing lesson that only included too swings it’s to say that my mom is an athlete. This is no surprise because she played two sports in college and has been an athlete her entire life. She had enough kinesthetic awareness to make as much progress in two swings then people will an entire lesson to make.
Battling your swing
Naturally, we want to make the most possible amount of progress in the least possible amount of time. Most often, this does not happen. A student should swing the club with zero swing thoughts. They should simply take the club back and swing through using the technique that is completely natural for them. Often times students will make positive changes to their swing but shoot higher scores. They either justify it by saying “I am going through a swing change” or they blame the competency of the instructor. This is not how it should be done. The correct way to approach an improvement is by performing drills were the golfer is consciously thinking about a change they would like to make. Then when they finally approach the ball just hit it, with zero swing thoughts. The swing will not be perfect at first but over time the motor pattern will be trained. If a golfer comes way across the line at the beginning of a lesson, I will have them perform reps of drills that get the club closer to on plane with the end goal if the club being on plane completely. If they immediately start doing the motion correctly a red flag goes up in my head. It is very unlikely a student will perform the motion perfect immediately without even having swing thoughts. This means they are “battling their swing”. This golfer might go play the following day and play poorly making the correct motion because they have too many swing thoughts. It is counterintuitive as an instructor to think that is possible to make a swing change too quickly but that is exactly what often happens. Our goal as instructors to get the student performing the correct movement without any thought in many cases. Worse technique performed naturally is better that better technique performed unnaturally.
The overall strategy to encourage people to perform “unmissable” movements is a segmented approach to learning the golf swing. This means the golfer is learning the swing as it is broken up into many different parts. The opposite would be a global approach. The global approach would mean trying to teach the golf swing all as one. Unfortunately, a global approach is simply too difficult to perform for most people. Most Golfers who practice a segmented approach will make progress much faster.