Ever since the first golf teachers and coaches emerged hundreds of years ago in Scotland, these professions have continually evolved. From the feathery-era St. Andrews swing to today’s modern action, technique has evolved as more knowledge and data permeate the teaching profession. Coaching practices also have evolved as motor learning techniques have become more refined, and other aspects of developing competitive players have taken on importance. First, a reminder:  Teaching involves imparting instruction on technique and various aspects of the game such as the swing, rules, etiquette, etc., while coaching involves preparing golfers for competition. Some teachers coach, and some coaches teach, but there is a definite distinction between the two. Here are the current trends in each: TEACHING If you watch a televised event these days, you often see players taking what appear to be over-the-top practice swings, with players such as Matt Kuchar and Miguel-Angel Jimenez coming to mind. What exactly are they doing? Some tour players have a tendency to use their lower bodies excessively to start the downswing, more often with too much lateral hip slide. This results in dragging the club to the inside during the downswing, creating an inside-out swing path through impact. The player then has to time the hand action perfectly in order to hit the ball to the intended target. Players such as Kuchar and Jimenez are focusing on making a more rotational move during the downswing, and the feeling they are trying to achieve is one of swinging the club drastically to the left through impact. Of course, that’s not the reality, but simply a feel to overcome the opposite tendency. Tour players also talk about “covering” the ball with their chest at impact. This is another way of expressing making less of a lateral move with their hips, and also promotes the feeling of the rear shoulder working on the proper path, rotating around the spine instead of moving too much vertically downward. David Lead better’s A Swing has received some notoriety on the professional scene, most notably in his work with Lydia Ko. The swing features several elements, of which the most visually-pronounced is the steeper back swing than what is considered conventional. Others who swing with elements of this method are Ben An, who works with Lead better, Jim Furyk and Ryan Moore, although the latter two developed their swings well before the A Swing came onto the scene. Some teachers of professional players are incorporating this steeper backswing move into their teaching repertoire, although time will tell if this is merely a fad. More players today are looking to make a more centered move as opposed to a noticeable shift to the rear leg during the backswing. The emphasis today is on the difference between pressure and center of mass, which can be two completely different things. It’s possible to have most of the pressure on the rear foot, for example, while the center of mass is well to the forward side. Of course, this is nothing new: USGTF national coordinator Bob Wyatt has spoken of this difference for years. COACHING On the physical side, more professional players are emphasizing building muscle mass, the most notable of whom is Rory McIlroy. Johnny Miller has questioned McIlroy’s obsession with the gym, but naturally McIlroy defended his practices, saying he wouldn’t be the player he is today without his intense training and weightlifting regimen. The building of muscle mass in golfers wasstrictly frowned upon years ago, with only Gary Player and Frank Stranahan putting any serious effort into physical fitness. It was only when Tiger Woods began his dominance that other players and coaches realized they were wrong all these years and that building muscle mass can be a good thing for golfers. Gone are the days when professional players congregated at the bar after the round, slurping down multiple alcoholic drinks and eating unhealthy snacks by the handful. Nutrition plays a big part in not only keeping energy levels high enough to stay focused, but also in an overall health and fitness regimen. Since fitness and nutrition are so important to golfers, the USGTF has created the International Golf Fitness and Nutrition Association to address these needs for golf coaches. Successful golf coaches, for the first time ever, are now receiving the training and certification they need in order to stay ahead of the game. More can be found at www.USGTFFitness.com. Additionally, motor learning is finally, but for some reason grudgingly, receiving more attention from coaches, as distributed, random practice schedules are being substituted for massed, blocked schedules. The difference between distributed and massed schedules is that distributed allows for down time between repetitions or a series of repetitions, while massed means little or no down time. Learning research strongly suggests, in most cases, that a distributed schedule works best for most players who are not beginners. A random practice schedule means that the repetition changes each time, while a blocked schedule means doing the same thing consecutive times. Even today at the professional level, blocked practice is the overwhelming choice of players, despite the evidence showing random practice to be much more effective in turning out better performance. This disconnect likely is because a massed and blocked practice regimen produces better results during the practice session than does a distributed and random regimen, but ironically it produces lesser results in the field of battle – or in our case, the golf course  than does distributed/random. As more coaches encourage their players to adapt a distributed/random form of practice, we are likely to see more bullet proof and stronger performances from tour players, even at the lower levels. The International Golf Psychology Association, which is part of the USGTF’s coaches division, serves to address the psychological and motor learning information that coaches need to be at their best. This program, designed by world-renowned sports psychologist and USGTF member, Dr. Gregg Steinberg, is available at www.MasteringGolfPsychology.com. Again, this program is the very first for golf coaches and has proven to be very popular worldwide.
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