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Why Is It So Hard To Make A Swing Change When The Ball Is In Front Of You?

When a person is first learning a motor pattern of any kind, typically we start with instruction of the task. Next, there is intellectual comprehension or understanding. After that, there is conscious learning to perform the motor pattern. Finally, there is conscious repetition. After enough conscious repetition, depending on the complexity of the motor pattern, conscious repetition evolves into a subconscious skill. Meaning, a person can perform the motor pattern in their subconscious without conscious thought or effort.

By the time a person is an adult, they probably have tens of thousands of these ingrained subconscious motor patterns. They are called myelin. You developed one for each letter of the alphabet when you were learning to write cursive. A more complex one would be when putting individual myelin together to sign your name, then write a sentence. Everything that involves movement that you can do in the subconscious that takes movement is a myelin. When you put multiple myelin together, you can have a complex myelin. To keep it simple, I would rather just call it a “motor pattern”.

As another example, If you have ever learned to drive a manual transmission at the stage where you can perform that task in the subconscious, you have developed a more complex motor pattern, which takes more skill. There are many people who know how to drive a manual transmission. To initially learn the task, someone probably took you to a parking lot like my father took me. There was no pressure, no cars, plenty of flat space, and time for me to learn to depress the clutch, shift into gear and then decrease pressure of the clutch as I simultaneously depressed the gas pedal. Eventually, with practice, I could shift through the gear pattern fairly smoothly without much effort or conscious thought. There are people who can do it smoother and exceedingly faster under pressure than others such as a stunt driver. But no matter what level the driver can perform the task, every driver who has operated a manual transmission can usually recall the moment they felt pressure to perform the task of manually shifting their car. It was the first time you were on a hill waiting at a red light with a car in front of you, a car behind you when the light turns green. The moment you depress the clutch, with gravity your car starts to roll backward as you quickly shift into gear, while pressing down on the gas pedal. You feel the pressure of performance. If you press the gas too fast, you rear-end the car in front of you. Not enough, and you stall out rolling into the car behind you. That is pressure to perform a task. After enough time and repetition, you can perform the task in the subconscious because it is now an ingrained motor pattern. The more times you perform the task, the deeper it is ingrained.

Now, imagine I come along and show you a better, more efficient shifting pattern which, if you take the time to learn, WILL make you a better driver. So back to the parking lot we go. With no other cars to collide with, plenty of room and a flat surface, you learn the new pattern. With some confidence, you take the new pattern to the open road where there is mounting pressure because there are unwanted consequences if you fail to perform the new motor pattern. There are different levels of pressure. First the pressure of stalling out, then the gravity of shifting at a stop light on an uphill. Then the pressure of shifting on the hill at a light with a car behind and a car in front. At some point, and it just may only be not stalling out, or it may take the gravity of the uphill, a light and cars behind and in front of you but under pressure your subconscious takes control. The amazing thing is that in your conscious mind, the new pattern is understood, it is better but at the subconscious level you have not performed it enough to trust that you can do it under pressure. At that moment, your subconscious takes control and performs the pattern it has done more times because it trusts that pattern verses the newly learned pattern.

Apply that concept learning to golf. The first swing pattern you learn on the range with some general guidance, gets you to a point where you can strike a golf ball. Not all the time, or the way you would really like to, but good enough to take to the course (the open road). Now, there is a consequence for the result, which means there is pressure to perform. With enough time and repetition, you get to the point where your swing pattern becomes ingrained at the subconscious level.

For a while, you play thinking that you will be able to improve with the initial swing pattern to play at a level you would be content with, but sooner or later, you come to a place where you recognize to get better you need professional help. So, you engage an instructor, such as myself, and to the driving range (parking lot) we go, to learn a new pattern. You learn it, understand it, practice it, and can perform it while consciously thinking through the pattern. Swinging the golf club on the driving range without a golf ball is the same as learning a new shifting pattern in a parking lot. There is no pressure to perform. Just the pressure of hitting the golf ball is enough for the subconscious to take over and use the more ingrained pattern that it trusts. After time, repetition, and practice, the subconscious starts to trust the new motor pattern, even when the ball is there. The analogy is the ball represents a slight hill and not wanting to stall out. Taking it to the golf course might be like adding a stop light to the hill. Playing in front of people and maybe even a competition is like adding cars to the equation. The point is that the more pressure, the more your subconscious wants to revert to what it trusts, even though your conscious understands the new way is better.

Next week we will continue with why winter indoor practice is the best time to learn new motor patterns in your game from full swing to putting.


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You paint a great picture of exactly what we're currently undergoing with my new swing changes. I really can relate to your post and feel theses changes would of been more challenging with the pressure to preform. Wintertime is a great time to implement swing changes, especially major ones. Thank God it's January! Ha ha!
Posted by Hector Padilla on January 12, 2018 @ 8:29 am

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Todd Sones