Learning Golf Skills: Observation, Imitation, and Experimentation
Remember way back when you learned so many recreational and sport skills by watching more experienced players. Skipping rocks across the water…riding your first two wheeler…that first jump shot, fielding grounders, hitting wedges over the highest trees. We observed, imitated and experimented until we found something that worked. Over time, and with practice, the skills became rhythmic, in-sync and functional.
So, we’ll start our skill learning newsletters with the oldest tried-and-true Motor(skill) Learning theory. Observing, imitating, and then experimenting with the movement until satisfied with the results.
Here’s the process!
During the observation stage, you can either watch a live demonstration, which could be by one of the best players at your club, a pro, a video tape, a sequence of pictures on television or computer screen, or assimilate a verbal explanation.
Next: Imitate the movement you’ve observed. Whether you’re working with a coach or not, imagine the shot, rehearse the swing, and gain a feel for it.
During the imitation stage, if your working with a coach, he should use external feedback (instruction) sparingly and randomly. And sometimes, withhold feedback entirely as you’re allowed to attend to the tempo, the rhythm, the sound, and feel at impact, as a consequence of the swing. No thinking allowed. Just engaging your imagination!
Finally, experiment with this new skill by
repeating the movement. With imagery combine a picture of the target, with a feel of the swing, and with the sound and feel of the club-head at impact. It will take some time, but eventually the skill will be yours! It’ll be logged into your long term memory as you modify it to meet your needs. Small tweaks may be necessary before you feel comfortable with the new movement and begin to play automatically.
Try it! You’ll find that activating your internal feedback system like this, with no swing thoughts, really works. Your athletic mind/body is totally engaged. And that’s where we play our best games.