Practice

Successful Motor Learning Means You Have To Pee

I know, I know.  The title is a bit graphic. You won’t forget it though.

(I didn’t realize that the three steps created this acronym until Dr. Bhrett McCabe had me on his Podcast, the MindSide, and I discussed the three steps to successful motor learning.  He said to me, “Oh, so you are telling people they should PEE.”  There is no going back now I am running with it.  If you’re offended, you can blame Dr. McCabe.  I myself might never have noticed.)

 

THE STEPS

This critical concept in how people learn can be summarized in three simple steps.  Without these steps, learning will not be as directed and possibly unsuccessful. 

1.  Plan.   Whatever you are trying to do, there must be a very specific intention or plan.  It should be simple and manageable.  If you are working on your putting and you have a habit of cutting the ball with an overly across the line swing (like yours truly), then the plan could be “draw path”.  The plan is specific, clear and singular. 
2.  Execution.   Now is the time to make the movement.  This means that you already have a clear intention in your mind about what should happen, and now you actually do it.
3.  Evaluate.  This should occur directly after you completed the movement.  The evaluation primarily is to compare the plan to the execution.  Ask yourself, “Did I make the movement according to my plan?”  If the answer is no, then you will start again and try to figure out why the execution was unsuccessful. 

 

WHERE PEOPLE GO WRONG

People often get these steps wrong not because they have bad intentions or are lazy, but because their plan was not clear to begin with.  If there isn’t a plan, or the plan is too complicated, then the signals to the brain aren’t going to create a clean output (action).  This is when you see people hitting ball after ball trying to get one that feels right.  But because they weren't very clear with the intentions,  they may not really know what they did to hit it well.  So from a learning standpoint, that person probably was not as productive with the time spent hitting balls. 

The plan doesn’t have to be complex, it could be as simple as “I will swing in a relaxed way”, or “My plan is to feel softness in my right hand”. 

When you have two or more thoughts, your brain and body is overloaded and none of them really get done.  As the Chinese proverb goes, “If you try to chase two rabbits, you’ll catch none.”

So the next time you’re on the practice tee, dig up those notes that your instructor gave you and choose just one of them to focus on.  Before you let your mind wander off while firing off shots, tune in to the outcome of the shot and then think about it.  Match up the feel with the intention.   Did it go as according to plan? 

 

HINTS

Find ways to give yourself feedback that will assist you in the evaluation step. In the putting example, you might put a tee in such a place that if that cut stroke were applied your putter would collide into it.  This way you have help in evaluating whether you’ve executed the movement according to the plan.  Sometimes what you FEEL is not REAL, and obstacles are a big help in telling us the truth. 

The bottom line is that you need to have a clear intention otherwise there is no way of knowing whether you executed the right way. 

Motor Learning Presentation

My presentation to the Proponent Group at the PGA Merchandise show is titled, A Framework for Motor Learning and Teaching Golf, and consists of a 30 minute lecture on motor learning.  I chose to cover four factors, variables and conditions that are mainstays of motor learning research and use examples of golf within each one.  

To download a six page summary of my presentation, click here

Quality, Quality, Quality, (and quantity)

The most prominent approach to training students to play golf and gain proficiency is through repetition. It’s no mystery that practicing a skill leads to improvement. 

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the number 10,000 in his book, Outliers, but was criticized for his proclamation that in order to become an expert in anything, one must spend at least 10,000 hours.  The criticism was mostly from people who understand how motor learning occurs. 

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Indeed, motor learning research supports repetitions and time spent practicing, however the research is stacked with studies that conclude that the number of repetitions is not the critical variable, as Gladwell suggested.  His 10,000 hours proclamation was based upon a seminal study by Anders Ericsson and Neil Charness (1994) which found that although an extensive time period is indeed required for expertise, additional factors come into play, such as “deliberate practice,” individual developmental history, and training methods are also part of the picture.  Unfortunately some readers interpreted the Gladwell’s best-selling book to read that if they invest a lot of practice time, they will become experts.   However, just from the points previously outlined it is clear that learning might not be maximized by the amount of time spent if the level of difficulty is not met.  Nor would learning be maximized if the environment does not present challenges that prepare the golfer for the course.

If a golfer decides he wants to become an expert, he should spend hours in practice, but it’s what he does in those hours are the critical missing piece – and this is the same reason behind why a golfer has trouble taking his or her “range game” to the course.   The way they were practicing was more than likely insufficient because they haven’t really learned it very well to begin with. 

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Ericsson, A.K. & Charness, N. (1994) Expert performance: It’s structure and acquisition.  American Psychologist, August, Vol.49, No.8, pp. 725-747.