Harvey Penick – A man ahead of his time

Harvey Penick – A man ahead of his time

Constraints-led learning is where we apply a constraint to

  • The task
  • The equipment
  • The environment
  • The player


in order to create a desired change. Often the change happens automatically, and becomes developed without any conscious thought.


 This is not the correct interpretation of constraints-led learning


Scientific Support

As there is a ton of complicated brain science and motor learning research supporting this way of learning, it would be tempting to think that this way of coaching is a relatively new phenomenon. However, it has actually been going on for years.

One of the most famous pioneers of instruction, Harvey Penick, once had a pupil come to him in the middle of a lesson claiming he was unable to strike the ball solidly. Harvey said

Just let me finish up with this lesson and I will come and help you. But, in the meantime, could you go over there and hit some balls under that oak tree for me?



About 20 minutes later, Mr Penick waltzed up and asked the gentleman how he was doing.

It’s amazing, I’m hitting it just fine now



What happened?

It is likely that Harvey saw this poor gentleman practicing like most golfers; trying to scoop the ball in the air, flipping and staying on the back foot in order to launch it higher after a topped shot.


 Image from www.mytpi.com

He knew that if he put this gentleman under an oak tree, he would have to try and hit a low shot. And in the act of trying to launch the ball lower, he would likely produce mechanics which are more conducive to striking the ball well.

This is an example of an environmental constraint.



Coaching versus teaching

When we learn something new, we can be pushed into the answer quickly by learning new information about how we should move (teaching), or we can be coached.

I work with a few high quality players, and would hate to have their heads filled with lots of ‘how-to’ knowledge. This can make a player over-analytical and can destroy talent (under some circumstances), as it can affect things such as co-ordination, and cause perception/action issues.

For that reason, although the teaching method offers a quick solution, it can have some detriments which can be difficult to recover from. Anyone who has become over-analytical after reading a golf magazine can attest to this.

I would much rather the player have the ability to do the necessary skills instinctively, as well as ways of fixing themselves instinctively. For that reason, I am constantly coming up with constraints and tasks which automatically develop the correct techniques unconsciously and intuitively.

At the same time, the teacher in me wishes for better technical ways of hitting the ball. Luckily, I have outlined the right blend of both methodologies in my book “The Practice manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”. I also discuss how to use constraints led learning to improve both technique and skill in a more instinctive way which fits with the brain science and motor learning research.

To get a copy of the bestselling book and learn more about constraints-led learning as well as a whole boatload of other things to make your golf great, click below

One Comment

  • Craig pollard

    Great article Adam. Found something similar in a recent junior session. Juniors had task of hitting a sand wedge under a noodle (3-4 feet in front of them, 2-3 feet off of ground). Improvement in ball striking was immense.
    Keep up the good work Adam. The Strike project looks great!!!

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