There is a saying in golf that “feel isn’t real.” What people mean by this is that often, what a golfer thinks he or she is doing is not actually what is happening. As an example, take the golfer who is aligned too far to the left, but in fact thinks he is aligned straight. If we align this golfer straight, what do you think his perception will be? Of course, he now believes he is aligned too far to the right.

This brings up the principle that in order to make a change, a golfer has to feel as if he is doing the exact opposite of what he is actually doing. We emphasize the word feel because it is exactly that, a feel, and not reality. We don’t want the golfer to actually be aligned too far to the right, but the perception has to be as such in order to be aligned properly.

This is where some caution must take place. A golfer who needs to feel as if he is aiming too far right in order to be straight will undoubtedly be aiming too far right at some point, so constant monitoring is necessary. Other examples might be that of a shanker who needs to feel as if he is hitting the ball off the toe of the club – at some point, he is likely to actually do that. Or, a golfer who takes the club back too far to the inside and later is now taking it back too far to the outside. This phenomenon of overdoing a change cannot be overstated enough, and the teacher needs to make the student aware that this could very well happen.

This is where the concept of awareness becomes paramount. Tim Gallwey, in his classic book The Inner Game of Golf, theorized that awareness, as opposed to “do” instructions, was the key to improvement. In other words, making the student aware of what he was actually doing was far more effective than merely telling him what to do.

Although sports psychology and motor learning theory have gotten far more advanced than what Gallwey’s book offered, awareness is still a valuable principle in making motor pattern changes. Have you ever struggled to get a student to change a bad habit?  If  you’ve  taught  for  any appreciable  length  of  time,  you  have  indeed experienced  this. You might have explained to the student what the problem is and how to fix it (verbal instruction); demonstrated what the student is doing wrong and what he needed to do correctly, and/or shown the student a video of his swing (visual instruction), or moved the student through the correct patterns or given him drills to fix the problem (kinesthetic instruction). You’ve used all three senses available for golf instruction, but you have failed to effect a change in the student’s habits.

This is where alternative methods to create or increase awareness come into play. Let’s explore a few of them:

Deliberate bad practice swings
Having the student deliberately create his bad swing habit during a practice swing can give the student insight into what is actually happening. For example, a student is coming over the top but he cannot feel it.  You might have him deliberately come over the top on a practice swing and then contrast that to a good practice swing, something that virtually everyone can do. The student might say he feels his trail shoulder being thrown outwards when he comes over the top, but feels it going more downward on a good practice swing. We would then have the student monitor what his trail shoulder does during the actual swing. Gallwey recommends using a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 might be no coming over the top while 5 is the maximum over the top move.

Half-speed swings
When a student is given a “do” instruction and then makes a swing full-bore, his automatic motor response may well kick in and no change will occur. Instead, if we have the student swing at half-speed, the conscious mind takes more control of the action, and most students are able to make a swing with the suggested change…at least to some degree.

Reduced-motion swings
Akin to making half-speed swings, this is where we have the student make a smaller swing. An example would be if we’re trying to teach a student to release the club properly through impact.  We might have them do the toe-up to toe-up drill, where the club goes no farther back than horizontal to the ground and the follow-through matches that, concentrating on the release through impact. Or a student might early release. The pump drill, where a student fully cocks his wrists and goes up and down a couple of times in a half-swing motion, can give the student the feel of not early releasing.

Sam Snead once said the problem with most amateurs’ games is that they don’t use their practice swing to hit the ball. This is because most golfers, regardless of skill level, can make an acceptable practice swing with proper fundamentals. We can have  our  students  take several  practice  swings, take  note  of  what  the  overall  motion  feels  like, and then have them hit a shot. The key here is not to have them try to duplicate their practice swing, but  instead  compare  and  contrast  their  hitting-the-ball  swing  with  their  practice  swing. Most students should be able to feel the differences and similarities within a few shots.

We need to accept that some students are completely unable to make any changes to their swings, no matter who is teaching them or what methods are used. A few prominent teaching professionals have written that this has happened to them, too, so you’re not alone. But giving students an awareness of what they are actually doing is an invaluable tool that is probably vastly underutilized by most teaching professionals. Take the techniques mentioned here and give them a try when a student is having difficulties in making a change. You should find some forward progress with one or more of them.
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