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May 5, 2017

Coaches Do Much More Than Provide Lessons, They Facilitate Learning and Long-Lasting Improvement

By Rick Jensen, Ph.D.

The most common complaint I hear from recreational golfers is that their game simply doesn’t transfer from the lesson tee or the practice range to the golf course. They might experience some success in a lesson environment, hit a couple of great shots in a row with their coach present—or when trying out the latest swing tip they read in one of the instruction magazines—but when it comes time to deliver on the course, the same old swing flaws resurface. The high, 5-yard draw they thought they had mastered on the lesson tee is back to being a weak, stomach curdling 20-yard slice.

The reason this happens is because the skill they tried to implement was never truly learned in the first place. It was never ingrained in their motor cortex. Golf is a motor skill, it’s not an academic skill. Playing better golf involves more than just knowing what the problem is and how to fix it. It requires continuous training and feedback over time—supervised practice, both on the course and off. And it requires making good decisions on the course that have little to do with how big a shoulder turn you’re making or whether you’re shifting your weight properly.

“Only a coach will enhance the transfer of your game from the range to the course.”

This is where good coaching comes into play. Great golf coaches are experts at walking you through the four steps of mastering a skill—that is, 1) disseminating knowledge (i.e., understanding cause and effect); 2) providing feedback during practice; 3) overseeing your transfer training on the course; and 4) providing additional insights while you play (i.e., learning important decision-making and self-management skills). They will be with you every step of the way to push the development of a skill up all of the required steps, as that is the only way to achieve sustained, lasting improvement.

Think back to when you were a child and were learning how to play a sport such as baseball, basketball, soccer, or gymnastics for the very first time. Or, if you didn’t play sports as a kid, consider how your own children developed skills in these sports. Every day after school you were required to attend practice, and during that practice, the coach had you run drills, take extra batting, tumbling, or shooting practice, and scrimmage against one another to simulate real game conditions. During the actual games, your coach was there in the dugout or on the sidelines watching, providing encouragement, and instructing you along the way.

Not in golf. How many of you have actually taken an on-course playing lesson? Better yet, of those of you who have taken lessons, how many times has your teacher actually seen you play? Chances are they’ve never seen you play, which is absurd considering how most motor skills are learned. Most golfers’ methodology for learning to play better golf is broken. Very broken. They think that golf is something they can learn on their own, or they take a lesson or two and then become convinced that they can do the rest. That’s not how motor skills are learned. As these other sports point out, you need frequent, structured practice guided by a coach who provides regular feedback, some on-course instruction, and observes you play in competition. Only a coach will enhance the transfer of your game from the range to the course.

A quality golf coach is also going to teach you some things you’d never learn in a lesson, like when to hit your 3-wood versus driver off the tee, how to handle an in-between yardage, or how to overcome your fear of hitting off a tight lie. They go beyond the typical full-swing technical instruction you receive in a one-hour lesson and teach you those things that can improve your scores in a shorter amount of time, such as better course management and proper club selection.

Lastly, a quality coach is going to push you to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise do on your own. Not only do they motivate and encourage you, but they hold you accountable in terms of executing your assignments (i.e., drills, practice plans, workout routines, etc.), much like that old coach of yours in high school who expected you at practice every day. If most golfers were left alone to walk themselves through the four steps of mastery, they’d never get off the first step, and chances are they wouldn’t get any better.

When you think about it, there are so many reasons why it makes sense to hire a coach to work with you on a regular, long-term basis. Really, it’s the first and most important step on the pathway to playing better, more consistent golf.

Rick Jensen, Ph.D., is the founder of Dr. Rick Jensen’s Performance Center and a nationally recognized performance consultant, author, and sport psychologist. His clients include more than 50 touring pros on the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours, and have won more than $65 million in career earnings, including 33 majors. To purchase one or both of his books, Drive to the Top! and Easier Said Than Done, please click here.

"Your final goal is to convert your athletic swing to pure instinct rather than conscious thought."

~ David Leadbetter

April 5, 2017

We all realize that repetition of a skill will improve performance.  So practice is an essential ingredient in maintaining and improving your golf game. However, I have rarely come across an individual that practices correctly or has 8 free hours in a day to spend practicing! Practicing properly and with a purpose is the key to improvement. I recommend that you divide your time up about 50/50 between full swing on the range and time spent at the short game area. When practicing, there are 3 stages of training. The first is the warm-up; second is block practice; and the third is random practice.

Warm up. Warming up is just that and nothing more. Swing the club to loosen up and find your rhythm and balance. This is what you should do before playing a round of golf or at the beginning of your practice session. Before a round of golf, pick targets and hit different clubs. Get your body and mind ready for your round. This is not the time to work on swing changes!

Block Practice. This type of practice refers to the traditional way that we see golfers on a range practicing. Hitting twenty 7 irons at one target until you start feeling good about your swing! With this type of practice, the brain will tend to go on autopilot and golfers generally do not transfer what they are working on to the golf course. The reason it is difficult to take your range game to the course is because only doing block practice will not challenge the golfer to go through the problem solving process that we go through on the course. At the same time, all golfers need to make sure that they have a good setup and are performing their proper swing technique. It is similar to a mechanic checking to make sure the engine is working properly. Once all is in order, then the player can progress to random practice.
Random Practice. Now the real learning begins and discipline is very important. Every single shot during a round of golf is different; no two shots are ever the same. They may be similar, but are always different. We need to duplicate the problem solving process that we go through in practice in order for our range game to transfer to the golf course. The process that we go through on the course looks like this: 1) read 2) plan 3) do. In step 1, we are reading the lie, wind direction, and getting our yardage. In step 2 we are planning the shot to play and we have to choose a club, shot shape, and trajectory. In the final step, we execute the shot. Try to establish a routine in practice that mirrors this 3-step process.

Do not to hit the same shot two times or more in a row. Jump around with club selection, shot shape and distances. Keep it interesting and play a game. One great range game is called imaginary fairway. Create an imaginary fairway about 30 yards wide using flags or trees. Hit 14 drives, but the catch is that you must hit one different club to a different target in between each tee shot. This is more realistic to playing a round of golf. Keep track of your total fairways hit out of 14 and try to improve that score next time.

Our adult group-coaching program, Golf 180, has proven that the most effective way to train is by practicing in a manner that will help you transfer your skills to the golf course. The results speak for themselves: out of 31 players going through Golf 180 last season, a total of 26.4 strokes were dropped. That's an average of 0.85 strokes dropped from their handicap indexes with one golfer dropping 7.2 strokes off of their index! Goals were met or exceeded and personal best record scores broken. The different drills and games were fun and engaging. Most importantly, it got students practicing properly on a regular basis.

The discipline that you show in your practice will soon become evident on the golf course. Practice smart, you will enjoy your time on the range more and your golf game will be more enjoyable because you will shoot lower scores.

"The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important"

~ Bobby Knight

December 31, 2016

Outcome vs. Process

It may be the “off-season” here in the Northeast, but it’s not too early to set your 2017 golf goals. Ringing in the New Year is the perfect time to reflect on this past golf season (the successes as well as the things you could have done better) and put together a plan to make 2017 your best golf season yet. It is a good idea to think about what goals you might have for your golf game. When setting your goals, divide them up between outcome and process goals. Some examples of outcome goals would be “I am going to win the club championship”, “I am going to win my flight,” or “I am going to break 100, 90, or 80 consistently.” These are typically what we think of as a good goal setting process before the start of the season. But what we fail to realize is that the only way to accomplish these outcome goals is to have a process. Process goals would be “I am going to practice my putting using a drill given to me by my coach for ½ hour 4 times per week,” or “I am going to commit to staying in the present and going through my pre-shot routine before each shot consistently during every round.” Now how many times have you set that type of goal before the start of the season?

Improving at golf or any sport requires commitment to a process of developing and improving skills. If you become more skillful in the weakest areas of your game, ultimately over time you will improve and accomplish your outcome goals. So how do we really know what areas are “weakest links” when it comes to our golf game? You may think that you know, but until you assess and measure your results through keeping statistics your assessment may not be accurate. This is why you need an analysis of your game and a plan that a professional can help you develop.

That final step in the process called “transfer” is where we typically miss the boat. As a golf instructor, I can tell you that I have heard it so many times…”I hit the ball great on the range, but I can’t take it to the course.” This happens because even though you may have developed a skill on the driving range, the golf course is a completely different environment. In order to transfer your newly developed skills to the golf course, we need to make training or practice more difficult than play. What I mean by that is practice needs to become transfer training. This type of training involves drills and games that will challenge you to accomplish a goal. For example, the next time you are chipping from just off of the practice green set a goal of holing out one chip shot before you can leave the practice area. If chipping is not your strong suit, you will quickly be forced to narrow your focus (the hole) and you will be amazed at how close your chip shots end up even if they do not actually go in the hole. Eventually you are bound to hole a chip shot, hopefully before it gets dark! This is just one example of transfer training that can really improve your chipping on the golf course. When faced with a similar chip shot on the course, you can now think back to the time that you chipped in!

"Develop your golf skills, not your golf swing."

~ Dr. Rick Jensen

December 16, 2013

The off-season is a great time to work on your putting. Focusing on having a consistent pre-putt routine and working on a few drills can make a big difference when you get back on the course in the Spring!

"You can tell a good putt by the noise it makes."
~ Bobby Locke

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