Be the ball

“I’ve had a breakthrough!”

These were the words Scott first mentioned to me. He was calling from the airport lounge, and had been watching the TV before departure.

“Not sure what event is on, but I’ve been watching some golf and it’s all making sense to me how a golfer should play.”

The event was the recent US Open (Scott isn’t a golfer and I mentioned to him that his ignorance to this was quite offensive). He continued,

“This golf thing is all about hitting the shots. A player has to hit so many shots from different locations that focusing on your swing would be fruitless. I know this is exactly what you’ve been saying all this time … but I really get it now. It’s clear as day”.

Nice.

Sometimes you can read or watch something. Other times someone can explain a theory to you. But the lesson doesn’t always sink in right away. It can take a while for the internal digestion to take place. When it does, it seems so obvious you wonder why it took you so long to “get it”.

Also, the lesson learned usually presents itself in a nice and simple way. All the complexity has been removed (this golf stuff is not rocket science) and just maybe this is why you had a breakthrough.

This breakthrough has motivated Scott to action. I’ve been asking him for ages to contribute to this blog. His “non golfer” attitude to coaching can provide insight and perspective for all.

Some back story: Scott was referencing my previous post listed here. Here’s what Scott sent me overnight,

For me, part of what we are talking about is the difference between knowledge and knowing.

To declare from the outset, I am not an experienced golfer. Not even a half good or regular one. But what I am is experienced in coaching, learning, skill acquisition, movement and performance.

In golf, an example of knowledge is the analysis from identifying so called technical flaws in the swing. It’s thinking, it’s theory, it’s fixing in relation to an ideal. Knowing, on the other hand, is feeling and experiencing what is actually happening in the moment, observing it and finding easier and more effective ways to hit the ball while still putting it all the context of the name of the game – getting the ball in the hole in minimum shots. While there is a relationship between knowledge and knowing for golf, no one said we had to be picture perfect doing it! And there’s no evidence that says a universally perfect model exists or even correlates with ongoing improved performances. If you wanna get good at something, then practice that something. So in golf, working on your swing might get your swing better. Might. But it’s not automatic that your game will get better.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the typical golf coaching approach.

I think it’s a brilliant business model.

Somewhere along the line striving golfers became convinced that the prerequisite for good golf is a perfect swing. They’re always in fixing mode. Rarely just going with what they’ve got. How disempowering is that!? The devil’s greatest trick. The thing is, this fixing and “I lack” mindset kills enjoyment and our ability to take responsibility for performing right now. As the saying goes, If not now, when? “When? When I just get my backswing right, then redirect my downswing, clean up my impact and then I’ll be right…..” Traditional golf coaching has reduced the game to just one part of the game. A large part of it granted, but just one part of many.

I actually feel there are plenty of shots in golf that don’t require anywhere near a technical ideal, but more of an ability to feel the swing and make clean contact. In fact the top applied skill acquisition expert in Australia, Damian Farrow, says research supporting the idea of a biomechanically ideal template in any sporting action doesn’t exist, even for simple, stable motor skills like putting!

Yet most golf coaching I see is for only 2-3 shot types in the game.

Video can be used and can definitely help but its the way it’s used that either causes the problem or adds to the solution. If it’s used to support the development of body awareness during, and general awareness of, the swing then great. But if it’s used to “teach” mechanics then forget it.

In any movement, trying to really understand it is the problem. Understanding will assist motivation to change and work on stuff, but it’ll also get in the way of doing. Understanding is thinking, and thinking can’t get it done subconsciously during movement. It can’t feel, it can’t compute fast enough. You can have some principles and touchstone points but that’s about it. Unless they are converted to things to feel and be aware of during the action, they get forgotten in skilful movement anyway.

The question for the golf learner isn’t “how do I do the movement?” but “what is the movement?”. And the movement will be dictated by the task, and your intention. So in golf, what is the task? Example: To get the ball to the right hand side of the fairway level with that bunch of bushes.

Here’s the rest of the equation – what a great framework:

Task ⇒ Intention ⇒ Attention Action ⇒ Perception Reflection

And regarding top players using certain methods? They’re often not that different to us ‘normal’ players. Top players in all sports including golf, try and use things all the time that either don’t work or are unproven, in their quest to uncover something that really makes a difference. Again sometimes the idea is logically great and romantic, but the results don’t justify it or can’t be attributed.

And improvement of the ball flight? Well I love and believe in the idea of the ball flight telling you everything about a swing and impact. But again, it’s a large part of the game but only one part. To perform well in an accuracy sport like golf requires an accurate, consistent swing of course. But the two questions I offer are:

1. What is the best way to achieve this, and
2. What context does the swing sit in with regards to the overall objective of “getting the ball in the hole”?

So until next time, as Chevvy Chase’s character said in the classic Caddyshack: “Danny, I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking…let things happen…and be…the ball.”

“Be the ball Danny.”

Scott Barrow

Some great stuff here. My advice? Go read it again.

Leave your thoughts below.

References: Visit the original lesson over here.

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9 Comments

  • Andrew

    Reply Reply June 22, 2012

    “In any movement, trying to really understand it is the problem. Understanding will assist motivation to change and work on stuff, but it’ll also get in the way of doing. Understanding is thinking, and thinking can’t get it done subconsciously during movement. It can’t feel, it can’t compute fast enough. You can have some principles and touchstone points but that’s about it. Unless they are converted to things to feel and be aware of during the action, they get forgotten in skilful movement anyway.”

    That paragraph from Scott really hit home about knowledge and knowing, when you are just hitting the ball not thinking and then as soon as you start thinking about how you are doing it, the feeling is lost and you start chasing the feeling through thinking.

    The three comments/quotes below are along the same lines and helped me to understand the difference between thinking and doing.

    We never do anything well till we cease to think about the manner of doing it

    With complete attention, a hallmark of optimum states of learning and performance, complete attention is invested in meeting the challenge of the moment. Complete means 100%. This means no attention left over to evaluate how we are doing while we are doing. Complete attention means total engagement.

    Thinking about maintaining your spine angle and actually doing so are not the same. You can come up out of the angle on every swing and not even know it because you are paying attention to a voice in your head saying “stay in your spine angle”, NOT TO THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF YOUR SPINE ANGLE.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply June 23, 2012

      Thinking about maintaining your spine angle and actually doing so are not the same. You can come up out of the angle on every swing and not even know it because you are paying attention to a voice in your head saying “stay in your spine angle”, NOT TO THE PHYSICAL REALITY OF YOUR SPINE ANGLE.

      Like it. Almost perfectly sums up the reason why golfers struggle to improve their swing. Thinking is not always the answer.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply June 25, 2012

    As far as trying to grab the concept of PLAYING the game of golf both Scott and yourself have hit a major home run with this post.( No pun intended)
    On the weekend I had a shocking round as far as score goes. Hit great shots and got really bad results. Wasn’t angry or upset I just realised that that’s the game sometimes. Yes there were times when I got “Lucky” for want of a better word with a defelection of a tree or a assy outcome.
    As you keep saying Cam instead of trying to be in the fixing mode GOLFERS NEED TO GIVE THEMSELVES THE BEST OPPORTUNITY OF A SUCCESSFUL SHOT BY BEING AWARE NOT OF THE SWING BUT THEIR SURROUNDINGS THEIR BODIES AND HOW THEY ARE FEELING ON THE DAY.
    I’m using capitals to emphasise what you are on about.
    If I’m wrong let me know. Yet golfers have been hypnotised into thinking that create a “better swing” your handicap/score will come down. Ask Jim Furyk if thats true.
    I was just happy to be out there playing on Saturday. It has been 8 weeks since I had the chance to play a comp round.
    Just to get out there was a bessing.
    Ta Steady

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply June 25, 2012

      Steady: Yep, learning to put your focus somewhere else (other than on your swing or score) can have an amazing impact on your game.

      Thanks for posting.

  • Steady

    Reply Reply June 25, 2012

    Scotty left 2 questions the first.
    1. What is the best way to achieve this,(ie sport like golf requires an accurate, consistent swing of course).
    For me experimenting on the range. Notice I said experimenting not practicing.
    We must be curious enough to know the What if? question. If I chip with a 3 wood, open the face ofan 8 iron and close my stance, IF i play a 6 iron off my back foot with an open face what is the result? Not once but a couple of times.
    And the second question
    What context does the swing sit in with regards to the overall objective of “getting the ball in the hole”?
    The swing is only a vehicle to your destination that drops you off on the green or just off it. I feel a swing less important than a putt because 2 swings and two putts equal 4. Still i think putts should be worth half a shot.In comparison to the skill of a 2 foot putt or the 250m drive which really has more skill?
    Ben Hogan thought that if you get on the green in regulation and then you shouldn’t take anymore than 3 putts.
    Ta Steady.
    PS I meant blessing not bessing in my last post.

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply June 25, 2012

      Steady: I think you’ve highlighted some important concepts discussed here. I don’t necessarily buy into the thinking that putts should be worth less. I doubt the game (rules) are ever going to change here so we’ve got to accept the fact that putting is important. It’s easy to brush putting aside as an afterthought (I used to) but you can’t. At least you can’t if you want to score as well as possible. Learning to sink a majority of your 1 metre putts and learning to avoid three-putting too much is key to maximising your score.

      I read somewhere (can’t remember where), that Hogan lost the plot as he got older with respects to putting. He then started proposing that the shorter shots should be worth less.

      Not sure this attitude helped him much.

  • James Smith

    Reply Reply January 10, 2013

    “In any movement, trying to really understand it is the problem. Understanding will assist motivation to change and work on stuff, but it’ll also get in the way of doing. Understanding is thinking, and thinking can’t get it done subconsciously during movement. It can’t feel, it can’t compute fast enough. You can have some principles and touchstone points but that’s about it. Unless they are converted to things to feel and be aware of during the action, they get forgotten in skilful movement anyway.”

    This is monumental!

    • Cameron

      Reply Reply January 15, 2013

      It is monumental. It is one of the most important paragraphs on the entire website…

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