Monday, May 18, 2015

Learning to Ride a Bike and Learning Swing Mechanics

This is a great video that was shared to me by golf instructor, Lucas Wald:

I think what is so great about this video is that it provides an example that explains the hurdles and difficulties of learning anything, particularly the golf swing.

For starters, the one that that jumps out is that it took the host (Destin Sandlin) 8 months to figure out how to ride the trick bike while taking his son only 2 weeks. As Sandlin explains, his son has more 'neuro-plasticity' due to be far younger. Sandlin has the issue of years and years of riding a bike the same way and those old habits die hard and make his brain go a bit haywire. Meanwhile, his son who had learned to ride a regular bike, didn't have those things that he has learned ingrained nearly as much and he could get the hang of the trick bike much more quickly.

There was further evidence of how learning new things plays with the brain when Sandlin goes back to try and learn how to ride a regular bike and can't at first. But, eventually learns after about 30 minutes.

I think this counters the idea of the 1 hour lesson model that most pros use today. Perhaps the 1-hour lesson model can work, but it has to be in conjunction with a series of lessons and the student has to focus solely on 1 or 2 things before the next lesson. That beats the idea of teaching a golfer one time, for 1-hour and expecting them to pick up everything in a week or two of hitting balls because simply ain't happening. If instructors, magazines, The Golf Channel, etc. can change the mindset of the 1-hour lesson it may benefit everybody involved. The students will still be paying for lessons and their income that instructors earn is more 'stable' because the student is coming back for another lesson. And the students will better learn how to improve more quickly and more substantially. They just have to understand that the substantial improvement is not going to take place over 1-hour or even 1-week or maybe even 1-month.

Of course, this change in the mindset will require so many factors. The golf instructors need to start thinking this way. Watching Sandlin trying to ride the trick bike, it appeared that he just picked the bike up and tried to ride it. Much like a golfer hitting ball-after-ball in rapid fire succession on the range. To me, riding that trick bike fights against your instincts and second nature feels of what it takes to get the bike up and moving that perhaps picking up the bike and going thru the correct way to ride it in slow motion would have helped Sandlin learn how to ride the bike sooner.

This is in line with what other experts have said about slow motion learning. As we mentioned, the issue for adults learning something new is that the old, bad habits are ingrained. We may get a few swings where we are pretty much doing our new mechanics, but then a swing will creep in there where we go back to some of our old mechanics. That's why experts who have studied music and how musicians best learn music promote going in slow motion and then picking up the pace. The idea is to practice in slow motion because you are able to practice that way CORRECTLY. Then you just pick up the pace as long as you keep performing the mechanics CORRECTLY. Every time you perform the mechanics *incorrectly*, you're just helping further ingrain those incorrect mechanics.

What did I also like about this video?

If you change any single part (of the algorithm) it affects the entire control system. - Destin Sandlin

Why is that important?

Because it shows how important it is to not only just practice your swing on the range, but to go out and actually play golf. It shows why many Tour players I have worked with have very different Trackman numbers when they go on the course versus when they are on the range despite hitting countless golf balls on the range with their Trackman.

You have all of these different factors on a golf course that you don't have on the range. So, it's much like learning to ride a bike and now a pothole gets thrown in your way. At first, you are likely going to end up in the pothole and fall down. But, if you keep riding the bike in street conditions, you eventually pick up the skills needed to easily avoid those potholes and other obstacles.

But, you also have other factors such as hitting shots off of bad lies. I know that is always the biggest struggle for me when changing my mechanics...hitting the ball off a lie that is not ideal. Then you have wind or those shots that are just flat-out difficult. And on top of that, things change even more when you start playing in tournaments.

To me, that is the biggest change from golfers today from golfers in the 80's and earlier. Today we see players hit incredible shots on the range, but they struggle to translate that over to the course. It's not that their mechanics are unsound or that they are not talented or they don't have a 'killer mentality', it's just that they spend way too much time on the range and when new obstacles are thrown in front of them, they don't know how to handle it because they have not practiced it enough by playing more. This is something I see that I was guilty of....practicing diligently on the range and then going out to play and playing poorly on the first 3 holes and walking in to go work it out on the range. That's really the worst thing one can do. You just have to accept that when you're working on mechanics, that even if you get them working on the range, that there is still a learning curve to translating them to the course.

In the end, I don't think removing golfers from the traditional 1-hour lesson model will require adults 8 months to learn something. Remember, Sandlin only practiced for about 5 minutes a day. Furthermore, his practicing technique probably wasn't as good as it could be so he could learn more quickly. But the last part is that he was learning a completely opposite technique. He also did not have an instructor to help teach him a new technique and the pitfalls of that technique. With the golf swing the changes in techniques are often less wide ranging that doing the exact opposite of what you have always done. Plus, a quality instructor can guide the student thru understanding the technique that they are trying to achieve and how to achieve it.

So maybe in the end, we learn that there is more to riding a bike than it seems and therefore a lot more to changing your swing mechanics than being told what to do and hitting a bucket of balls.



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