Today during a performance movement coaching session at the driving range, my client, just going pro this year, said to me: “I’ve only hit about 15 balls – usually I hit about 100 in 20 minutes!”.
Yes indeed. It is so tempting to just grind out empty practice: repetition without change in the hope of a new outcome is pretty commonplace at a driving range. It’s nothing but unfocused wishful thinking that something might shift if enough hours are spent, but even if it did, the chance of reproducing it are low unless some more mindful activity is taking place.
Let’s talk movement templates for a minute. Your brain is remarkably efficient, and has no intention of repeating an investment of energy on what is essentially donkey work. So, once you have performed a movement, the cerebellum, located towards the back of your skull, creates a loop between itself and the pre frontal cortex located at the front of your brain, and this forms a template of how to perform the movement next time around. Every time you line up to perform the same task, it activates that template, but what is most amazing about this is that it has completed the process before you have even started the movement.
So, every time you line up to address the ball, determined as you are to hit a better shot, your brain has already completed the job just as it did for the shot preceding it, and the shot before that. Unfortunately, this means that any likelihood of change is slim.
However, all is not lost. If we line up to address the ball and pause to alter our focus, the game has already changed. We get the attention of our brain, which until now has been getting along happily repeating the same problematic motion time after time. It sits up a bit and wonders what is going to happen next. It becomes open to the possibility of change.
In the case of my client, change started with softening the tension from the body to allow the feet to make better contact with the ground. To enable this, we first needed to find a reliable sense of dynamic balance. My client had his weight in his toes, so his whole body was tensed to maintain control in such an unbalanced position. The body tension interfered with his movement fluency and coordination, so making changes here was already an easy win.
Then it was necessary to relax his upper body, which was locked into a stiff “shoulders back, chest up” posture. Many golfers are taught this to prevent a round shouldered address position, but it can really get in the way of your shoulder and upper body rotation if you overcook it. I call it the “closed back” posture. If you are worried about your address posture, think about opening across the chest, rather than closing your upper back. This way, your shoulders are neither forward or back – your spine and shoulders are simply in a relaxed mid position that makes it easy to move
Along with all this tension, the client also had a fierce determination to hit the skin off the ball. Just prior to his backswing, he would take a big breath into his upper chest to prepare to hit hard, but all this did was lift him off the ground. We spent a little time on learning to let the air out, and then to breathe normally through the swing.
Having relaxed the body and felt some new connections, we then crystallised this into one simple pre shot thought. Lose the leg tension and connect to the feet.
The result was better timing, greater upper to lower body connection, and balance throughout the shot.
The key point is that change starts with your attitude and approach to the ball. “I’m going to hit it better this time”, “I’m going to really go for it”, “I’m going to really control it this time” are all common but completely unhelpful. There’s no new content there for the brain to do anything with. If you just keep running the same old riff in your head, there’s no reason for your body to do anything differently. The same programme keeps running every time you approach the ball.
However, if you can interrupt that script with a new piece of sensory information, for example allowing yourself to breath out before starting the movement, or to soften your body a little in order to feel your feet, you can shift your old automatic programme. New information is coming in before the movement begins. The brain pays attention and makes an adjustment.
So next time you go to the range, take a little neuroscience with you to open the window of opportunity to find something new and possibly exciting in your swing!