I recently found myself at the Celtic Manor Resort (if you watched the Ryder Cup, you can picture where this is), working alongside Welsh National Coach, Neil Matthews, on swing optimisation with four talented young golfers on the national programme.
In four young men of approximately the same age and experience and competing at junior international level, the swing issues were so very different, as were the solutions. The body/mind is an incredible goal directed problem solver – even when the parameters of the skill are quite closely defined, as in this case of a straight drive, the body/mind of each individual finds a way to draw on its assets and wiggle around its liabilities in order to produce a workable, if not optimal swing.
You only have to spend half an hour watching the first tee at a local club to see that golfers can be successful enough for their own enjoyment using the bizarre array of individualised styles that can come about as a result of this process. However, it is not unusual for the golf swing to cause injuries or a barrier to improvement, so golfers seek help in the form of a golf professional/books/videos to address their swing issues. They frequently encounter the traditional “top down” approach, which involves accumulating things to think about (the brain being the “top”), in order to make the body and the club do something specific. This is the classic “mind over matter” approach.
As a particularly insightful coach with an excellent eye, Neil knew that there was only so far that his young golfers could progress in this way without looking at and working on their individual characteristics. They had the minds, but did they have the matter?
The first golfer was very straightforward – he simply did not have the flexibility to create the motion, so he found a way around his restrictions by putting his body into stressful positions. For this young man, flexibility, particularly in his shoulders, was the critical issue.
The second golfer had long struggled with control of his right leg on the backswing, and having focused for a lengthy time on greatly increasing the muscle tension in his leg to make it “stronger”, he had in fact functionally fixed the leg and pelvis together, losing the fluid motion necessary to be able to “wind up”.
The third golfer was overcoming physical asymmetries, and needed to experience the sensation of a straight spinal axis to permit effective turning. This required some work on creating a supportive pelvic platform to carry the spine through rotation. The fourth golfer found that if we ‘lit up” his system prior to striking the ball, his upper to lower body integration and timing improved markedly.
The common thread between them all was that instead of having something to “think about”, they all needed something to “feel about”. By cueing them into their senses, accurate information became available from the body, providing an alternative way for them to experience and alter their swings.
I thoroughly enjoy finding solutions for more effective, efficient, “beautiful” movement, and it has been made possible through opportunities to have worked with some superb coaches like Neil, all of whom have deepened my understanding of the specific demands of their sport, and who have generously embraced the opportunity to work together to find new ways to bring out an athlete’s potential. It benefits everyone if we don’t just bring out the best in our athletes, but also bring out the best in ourselves, and these inspiring people certainly challenge and stretch me!