So many people are so frightened to try something dramatic during their practice. They stick to the same movement patterns, or thereabouts, hoping that one day they will ‘learn golf’. This isn’t going to happen. You have to explore, you have to push boundaries, you have to get out of your comfort zone.
So why do people not do this? I know exactly why, because I have a confession – I used to be that person.
Often, a fear of making a mistake holds someone back from trying something wildly different. They are so frightened of topping a shot, or hitting a duff that they never really explore. This is a remnant of our evolutionary past, where an ancestor climbing a tree in a wildly different way may have fallen to its death. Luckily, you are not going to die by hitting a poor shot. Allow yourself to explore, fear free, during training sessions.
The other reason is a mis-belief. It is a common misconception that “perfect practice makes perfect”, one which has been unfortunately popularized by many recent books. But research in motor learning is showing that practicing ‘wrong things’ intentionally can serve a beneficial purpose. The fear of “I don’t want to mess up my swing by practicing something wild” is a belief I also used to have, which I have gladly tossed away.
One of my first lessons as a teacher, I tried to demonstrate a topped shot in front of a bunch of beginners. I couldn’t do it. The best I could manage was a slight thin which still flew high in the air and placed the spectators in awe.
I wasn’t any good at being bad.
This sounds, on the surface, to be a good problem. But it wasn’t – I lacked adaptability. That night, I chose to no longer worry about my own swing, and simply focus on making my players better and become better at teaching. So I went to the range late at night and practiced topping the ball.
I also practiced shanking, fatting, toe-ing, slicing and hooking. “My game is going to go to pieces” I thought. But, what happened over the next few weeks was astounding. I could now sense the clubhead with an extraordinarily heightened sense of awareness. I could hit any spot on the face I desired. I could move my divot forward and backwards at will, and I could hone in on a clubface and path which would send the ball flying to the target – all with ease. It was like I could see the golf matrix.
I had my first lesson in skill development.
Many years later, all of the scientific literature in variable, random and differential learning confirm that I was doing the right thing. My mind was blown.
Most golfers are destined to live the same poor golf week in week out, never improving. It is like there is a wall in their way that they just can’t get over. However, maybe they should jump over the wall and hit it from the other side. This is where extreme’s come in.
By doing something in its extreme form, you may have the epiphany/light-bulb moment which allows you to leapfrog your old, poor golf. Doing something in its extreme form may open up a new world of skill or understanding to you that you never had before.
For example, I have had slicers (who have an open face to path relationship) shut the face 45 degrees or more at address, until the ball is moving right to left in the air. I have had people who are constantly fatting the ball (hitting behind it) make a swing where they go clean over the top of the ball – leaving it there and making a divot in front of it. I have also had players who struggle with a shank to develop their ability to hit the toe of the club.
“None of these are desirable traits, but the ability to do them is a desirable skill which helps to hone in on the correct way”
You just have to let yourself do it. You have to get rid of the fear holding you back, get massively outside of your comfort zone, and allow yourself to make whatever mistake may come. Encourage the mistake even. Leap OVER the wall!
This type of training does not need to make up a big part of your overall session. If you are doing an hour, maybe 10 minutes of experimenting with extremes can be enough to push the boundaries of your skills levels.
The long term benefits of this type of training are huge, but be warned. In the short term, it may open up Pandora’s box. For that reason, save it for a training session earlier in the week. And maybe abstain from doing it around tournament times, unless you are experienced in it.
Used wisely, experimental forms of practice, such as variable, differential or practicing something in its extreme form can be very powerful tools, helping you speed up learning and leap over old boundaries.