Practice Golf

How do you practice golf?

Do you practice how to play or do you play how you practice? There is a very real difference so let me explain. How you practice golf is driven by your philosophy. Do you think golf is about trying to hit a target with a ball or trying to hit the ball with a club? This matters because ineffective “grinding” on the range will be inhibiting your ability to perform.

Are You A Good Driver?

Let’s step away from golf for a moment. Do you know anyone who thinks their car driving skills are in any way flawed? Maybe before your driving test you possibly weren’t sure but after the test, no doubts. Amazing. A 45 minute test and you were certified to drive!

Who would now admit that their driving technique was flawed in any way? How dare I even suggest such a thing!  Our strong beliefs are based on our ability to drive without hitting other objects. Should we ever have an accident it’s never our technique which gets questioned but our concentration levels or that of the other driver!

After just 40 hours or so of effective instruction and practice, the motor skills required to drive are learned and put into neurological storage. Good for life. We are set free to perform. We never again doubt our ability to drive. We allow our “non-conscious” self to take over the control of the vehicle where our lives and those of our family members are at risk whilst we happily chat to passengers, on the phone and listen to the radio.

10,000 Hours To Perfect A Skill

The conscious mind is occupied with any number of erroneous thoughts but it’ll never be trying to control the vehicle. So how does this happen so quickly when there are academic learning theories which suggest you need 10,000 hours to become expert at a skill?

Based on your car driving experience, it’s clearly NOT the number of hours which is the key to mastery but what you focus your ATTENTION upon which matters. Firstly, in a car we are physically constrained by the environment which ensures we carry out the same physical movements time and time again (without focusing our attention on them). It’s very difficult to change gear using alternating motor patterns so the neurological memory gets developed quickly. This repetition is important when developing any motor skills. One move, the same move, one neurological memory.

Secondly, we naturally want to shift our attention away from our physical actions and on to the road ahead. This attention shift is the most significant element in mastery of life skills for it enables us to hand over our physical actions to the non-conscious self. Imagine what would happen if you spent all your time looking down focusing on your gear changing? You’d never learn to trust your non-conscious self to change the gears or ultimately learn to drive.

The above 2 step process happens in every life skill we master. First we develop the motor patterns to use the tools, then we use them without thinking “how” to use them. From riding a bike to playing a musical instrument, the non-conscious self is always trusted to manage your actions.  So have you ever thought to yourself  “Why can’t I ever trust my non-conscious self to putt a golf ball or swing a golf club?” You really should because you can but unfortunately not the way you are currently practicing golf. You will need to shift the focus of your attention.

Where To Focus Your Attention

Firstly, you have to want to break the destructive habits of a lifetime.  A habit which established itself during and after your very first golf lesson. One which may have lead you to believe that consciously controlling the club in your hands was the same as learning how to play golf. It never was or ever will be. Clearly, you need time to develop the correct motor patterns and put them into neurological storage but this stage does not happen successfully for the vast majority. Then you use the clubs to carry out the task in golf – which, in my world, is to hit the ball at a target. That is playing golf.

However, many get psychologically ‘stuck’ by a philosophy which suggests golf is about hitting a ball with a club. The obvious consequences of such a philosophy results in a life time attempting to consciously control on the range that which needs to be trusted, your technique. This not only inhibits the critical external attention switch but the constant ‘tinkering’ with your swing creates multiple competing neurological memories. Which one will you use to swing the golf club? You have little chance of consistency as you may have observed in competition.

I know of no life skills we perform successfully thinking and behaving that way. Do you? Golf is not a unique life skill but how you are currently practicing certainly is and unfortunately you are left believing that YOU are the problem, not the practice METHODS themselves. Can you imagine someone sitting in their car after driving home from work analyzing their technique telling themselves “I really suck at driving, I’ve got to improve my technique”. What would you think of someone who did this? What is the individual saying to themselves at the subconscious level? I am flawed. I am broken. I’m not good enough. Would you feel comfortable being a passenger in their vehicle? I doubt it.

So why do so many think that very same mental approach to practicing golf on the range can ever lead to anything other than self doubt and poor performance? If you believe your technique is flawed every time you head off to the range (and typically after you leave it!) you will sadly be right. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. What are you confirming to yourself? You may be thinking “but my technique IS flawed and it does need fixing!” but have a good think about when you have NOT thought this way in your golfing life? Haven’t you done enough “grinding” to realize your current approach to practice is not working? Stop for another moment and have a think. Do you know anyone who thinks their golf technique is anything but flawed? Is it co-incidental you probably all use the same philosophy when you practice golf?

The reason why you never develop strong motor patterns you can trust in golf is because you never stop modifying them. The neurological pathway for the motor skill never “sets”. What you currently perceive as golf “practice” is often little more than re-enforcing your self doubt in your ability to play. When you hit a poor shot, most will immediately analyze their swing as if ‘it’ was the problem. If this is your dominant behavior on the range, you’ll not be surprised what comes to the fore on the golf course. What if your intention and attention were mis-aligned? What if the poor shot was due to poor attentional focus control and your non-conscious self didn’t have a clue what it was supposed to do with the club in your hands?

Improve How You Practice Golf

Your technical instructor will have hopefully already identified the correct positions for your swing based on your anatomical and physical capabilities. If you would like to understand a more effective and efficient way of training your motor skills at home and on the range, whilst simultaneously learning how to stop consciously controlling them, here is a 5 hour online golf coaching course which explains in detail how to break those destructive practice habits of a lifetime.

For the price of a sleeve of golf balls, treat yourself to some “alternative golf coaching” and discover why your current practice methods inhibit your progress. Practice golf how you wish to play and you will then start to play how you practice.

*Photo by Keith Allison

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Colin Cromack

is the creator of Target Oriented Golf, an independently produced applied golf psychology coaching program. He specialises in the brain function of Attentional Focus. This lies at the heart of skills acquisition (how we learn) and psychology (how we perform). His work is supported by the very latest academic research. He is a PGA UK recognised Coaching Specialist and presents his work to PGA coaches, Pro players and dedicated amateurs.

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