An excerpt from:
Intensity and Interest – Roads into Motorways
The third rule of learning (which is a close relative of the first rule) – boredom prevents connections.
The intensity of your practice begins with a choice. You can choose to become captivated by the motion of your swing or you can choose to scatter your energy onto other things and let your mind wander. As outlined above, the simple process of noticing when your focus has shifted and your intensity has dropped can help you to return your mindset back to your swing.
Thankfully there are ways you can deliberately maintain your intensity and subsequent focus as you practice. My first suggestion is to be absolutely clear how long you are going to practice for, and to make a mental commitment that you will maintain the quality of your session for the allotted period. The brain craves certainty, so give it a dose of assurance. By giving yourself a direct instruction, such as “I will practice for 50 balls” or “I will practice for one hour” you lock in the behaviours you require to practice your game in the most effective way.
A technique to help absorb the mind in the moment, and one that is popular amongst my clients, involves asking yourself questions as you practice.
– “Did I keep my takeaway in one piece on that swing?”
– “How did that move feel when compared to the last swing?”
– “On a scale of 0-10 what would I give myself for that swing execution?”
– “What can I do differently to give myself a higher score out of 10?”
Great questions pique your interest levels. They help place your attention in the moment and on the specific swing challenge that confronts you. They help you reflect after every shot and appraise the quality of the swing you made.
A final idea that will help you turn pathways into roads may seem a contradiction to my belief that to develop technique a golfer should ignore the outcome of his shots. But hear me out.
If your coach wants you to work on an area of your swing to cure a certain shape of shot then it is likely he will help you ingrain a move that initially causes the opposite ball flight to happen. For example, if you slice the ball, your coach may work on helping you develop a swing path that makes it more likely for you to hook or draw the ball. Similarly, if you tend to balloon the ball high your coach may work with you to lower your trajectory. A new move in your swing may see you hit the ball very low – the complete opposite of what you were doing before.
In this circumstance paying attention to your ball flight can prove a useful platform to change your swing and maintain your interest levels. A slicer might try and hit 10 hooks in a row. A natural fader of the ball who wants to straighten up his drives could try and hit 5 draws in a row.
Sometimes, when boredom sets in, it’s useful to vary where you place your focus. I strongly advise that for the most part, say 75% of the time, it is more adaptive to ignore ball flight. But if you feel a little jaded and need an injection of interest then start observing the ball flight. Set yourself some challenges, but always relate the ball flight back to the swing move you are trying to change or develop.
A Sensory Blast – Motorways into Race Tracks
Take your time as you practice. Allow your brain a brief moment to absorb the swing you’ve just made. Avoid scraping in the next ball. Imagine your brain as a ‘Word document’ with every shot a different paragraph that needs saving.
The time in-between shots is so important. It’s where the real learning takes place. It’s where motorways become race tracks. It’s when the brain soaks up the information from a swing so it can repeat it correctly the next time.
It’s also a time when you can take direct control of the input into your brain. You can do this by taking plenty of practice swings. Take them at full pace and at half pace. Reduce them to slow motion so your brain gets a rich kinaesthetic snapshot of the motion you want to ingrain.
Feel the swing you want to make time and time again. Place all your energy and focus onto executing the new movement, if not with perfection at least with excellence. Turning motorways into race tracks requires precision.
Incorporate a sensory blast into your practice swings. Feel the swing you want to make, feel a great strike on the ball and as you swing through – see the shot fly away on the perfect trajectory. Feel it, hear it, and see it.
Don’t be afraid to do this in your mind. In psychology we call this ‘imagery’ or ‘visualisation’. Take your stance and, without moving, feel yourself move the club away from the ball. Travel through your swing in your mind without stopping. Make sure you click into that perfect swing mode, really see it – if you can’t get it right in your head you won’t get it right for real.
This process works because the brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. What we now know in science is that when you imagine yourself swinging a club your brain cells fire. There’s even evidence to suggest that the cells start to connect up – just by imagining the movement we want.
Whether the science community discover this to be 100% accurate or not, it is without question a worthwhile process. Taking sensory rich practice swings helps create a blueprint for your brain that you can then re-create when you swing for real. Using imagery when standing over the ball adds that sense of realism that boosts your ability to turn motorways into high speed race tracks.
This isn’t groundbreaking stuff. Open up any book on sport psychology and you’ll read about the importance of imagery and visualisation. But despite its mainstream popularity very few people actually use their senses in a practical way. It certainly isn’t commonplace on the driving range. I rarely see golfers take time between shots to practice their swing physically or mentally. Of course I can’t see whether golfers practice their swing mentally, but it doesn’t take a psychic to know that the beat balls mentality probably doesn’t fit with the feel it, hear it, see it process that enriches the learning experience.
Golfing race tracks crafted in your brain are not as a result of simply ‘doing’. They are the end result of doing and thinking. Great practice incorporates swing and think, think and swing. That process produces a deeper more meaningful method of learning. It produces a powerful engine room. Perhaps even a Grand Prix engine.