Locus of Foci

Locus of Foci

I wrote
about this idea a while back, but thought I would upgrade the article and apply
the principles to some things I have more recently written. Time to put the kettle on, get your pipe and slippers and settle down for a long one. This one is worth it though, trust me.

learning and playing golf, we can have many different thought styles. While I
am sure there are many more than this, I will summarise some of the common ones

INTERNAL-          This is typically characterised by
being aware of one’s body movement. Conscious  
control of limbs or individual body parts are the main focus, such as
“move my hips this way” or “keep my left arm straight.

This is where the attention is
directed more externally from the body of the player. This would typically
include thoughts of the club itself, or more commonly the clubhead and the
ball. An example thought would be “Hit the sweet spot” or “contact/brush the
grass as close to the ball as possible”.

EXTERNAL (super external) –     
thought pattern involves a heightened awareness of the target and/or ball
flight required to get there. This is typically less verbal, so I would
struggle to give an example of what it sounds like (perhaps “draw the ball”),
but would more commonly come in the form of visualisation and/or keeping your
‘minds eye’ on the target.    

This would be a thought process which is irrelevant to or not directly related
to the performance. A poor example would be someone thinking “what shall I have
for food tonight”. A better example would be where someone is humming a tune to
themselves during the execution of the shot, after doing a good quality
pre-shot routine.

TRANSCENDENTAL-        This is where you play golf in Tibet
with Buddhist monks after meditating on the thought of life after death. Just
kidding!! This is more commonly referred to as ‘the zone’, and is characterised
by a distinct lack of self-awareness, or even awareness of the situation. A
typical thought would come retrospectively – as in “shit, I just stiffed that
shot and I can’t even remember pulling the club out of the bag”.

We have to
understand that there may be many crossovers in the thought styles during a
shot or during a routine. Ideally, you would like to keep things as consistent
as possible, at least for the type of shot you are hitting. But there will be a
dominant thought style for each player, and one which will optimise
performance, and one which will optimise learning too. 
I may hit a shot with a ‘result external’ focus
(target awareness), yet also have an awareness of the club movement required
through impact to produce this (external process). Another example would be to
have a main focus on where you strike on the face of the club in terms of toe
or heel (external process) yet have a subtle awareness of the feel I need to
produce in the swing which matches this (internal).
Let’s look at each a little more in depth; but
first, let me ask you this – When you drive your car, do you focus on the road,
or do you focus on the pedals and degrees of rotation of the steering wheel? If
you’re younger, where is your focus when playing a computer game? Do you focus
on the buttons pressed, or is your awareness on the game itself? Let’s go


This is
where about 99% of all coaches and players go when playing and
learning/teaching the golf swing. “Move your body this way”, “Hinge your wrists
this way” etc are common prescriptions for the day. I liken
this to trying to driving your car to your destination by having someone else
looking at the road and directing you on how much pressure to apply to the
brake, or how many degrees to turn the steering wheel. Whilst you could
possibly get to your destination, it would be very unnatural and a ‘forced’ way
of doing so. This method also drastically reduces the PERCEPTION – ACTION COUPLING of a player, so their ability to compensate for errors such as
poor alignment may be greatly reduced.
worse, when these prescriptions are given, they are often given to players
without explaining the destination. Shift your weight forwards could be given,
but you had better tell the player the reason for doing so (destination) – to
move the point of contact with the ground closer to the ball (but then, this is
an external process focusJ). Without this information, you could be
fighting a lot of SUBCONSCIOUS CONCEPTS, and this disparity between mind and
body would lead to poor performance.

For the
younger generation (or big kidsJ), this would be similar to playing a computer
game whilst someone grabs hold of your thumb and guides it onto the correct
button to press. Whilst it would get you to press the right button, your
ability to co-ordinate the movements fluidly and link them with what is going
on in the game (the result) is almost non-existent.
But this is
not to say that it is not a valuable tool. Used correctly, and in the right
place at the right time, internal focus can greatly improve learning (as
opposed to performance, which it can also help in some situations). After all,
in order to drive a car, we have to understand how the steering wheel creates a
turning of the car,  and for British
drivers, we have to learn how the clutch and accelerator works, as well as
shifting gears. These things have to be practiced in a safe environment (away
from the road) until they are automatic, and then you can change your mindset
to a more external focus).
Also, there
are some situations where people learn to drive but with bad habits which make
it either dangerous or inefficient. They may get to their destination, but are
doing so in a way which risks crashing, damages the car, or uses more fuel than
they need. This would be the same as getting your ball onto the target, but
swinging the golf club in a way which may pose a risk for injury, or greatly
decreases your margin for error (such as taking a massive divot – it can be
functional but margin for error is smaller).

Big Divots can work, if they are in the right place

This type
of mindset can also ‘bridge the gap’ if there is something/move you are not
getting. For example, if you are struggling to square the face of the club correctly
to hit the shot on target, a tweak in the grip may be the spark needed to
improve your performance.
Also, although in general, performance is decreased with an internal focus, it is not
always the case. If someone is way off the mark with their technique, providing
a better movement through an internal focus can really speed up the acquisition
of performance. For example, a slicer with a poor body motion may be taught a
more functional movement of the hips and experience immediate better quality shots,
which may take a lot longer through a more ‘coached’ process. Although it would
be arguable that the coached process comes with it several other benefits that
a ‘taught’ process would detract from (save that one for a later date).
Mentally, someone who suffers with poor quality external thoughts may be better
suited to an internal focus. If someone fears the water hazard short of the
green, for example, and as a result of this fear tends to chunk it in, they may
be better suited to a more internal focus where the water disappears from their
attention (this hints at a concept of inattentional blindness, but is not).
So, while
this thought process can have several potential benefits, it can also have some
disadvantages and slow down the process of someone getting to the autonomous
stage. If you go to this mindset every time something goes wrong, you will be
forever stuck in the internal (as most players are). We say, in the industry,
that you would be playing golf swing, rather than golf. Use this attentional
focus wisely and sparingly for maximum effect.

Don’t get trapped internally

External process

This focus
involves placing your attention on WHAT would be required to achieve the task,
rather than HOW (as in an internal focus). Your attention would also be placed
on the implements used, such as the golf clubhead and ball, allowing the body
movements to self-organise.

Focusing on your strike on the face would be classified as 
External process

have shown this to be very beneficial in terms of speed of learning and
retention of learning, as well as performance benefits. Such as simple act as
changing the focus from the pressure in the foot of a skier to the pressure
applied to the ski makes a dramatic difference, even though the focus has moved
by only a few millimetres.
In our car
analogy, this would be likened to focusing your attention 20-30 meters in front
of your car. You are not focused on the final destination as such, but your
focus is more on the thing you can control to get there. In the computer game
analogy, it would be the equivalent of learning which buttons do which, and
trying to play the game by looking back at the X button every time you need to
pass the ball. Whilst you could explicitly understand that the X button passes
the ball, without linking this to the actual result (result eternal focus)
through being aware of it, you are not learning as much, and you would likely
suffer poor performance and lose the game. 
In golf,
there can be several ways in which we could see an external process focus. One
of my most used is with players who need to get a ball over a bunker. What is required
for a ball to go up in the air and fly over the bunker is for the clubface to
contact the ball correctly. Most people who struggle with this shot do so
because they thin or fat the shot. While an internal thought may help, it
rarely does.

You could get all the basic ‘fundamentals’ of chipping technique and still
duff it if you don’t brush the grass in the right spot

guarantee that the ball will fly over the bunker is the club brushing the grass
in the right area. So, for this reason, I prefer to get my players who struggle
with this shot to focus on this exact thing. Through understanding, focusing on
and preparing for (through a routine) the club to brush the grass as close to
where the ball is laying as possible, players almost ALWAYS improve their
performance in this area.
This type
of thought process, as I have said, allows the body to organise movements in a
much more co-ordinated fashion, synergistically and naturally improving all
elements required for the motion, as well as the motion itself. Players will
tend to work around their physical limitations in a way which is possible for
them, as opposed to being forced into a position by a coach or their own
conscious mind. This is not to say that this is a better way (it usually is
though), but it allows the person to do what they need to TODAY, thus improving
performance. We’re all so individual with our ligament/tendon insertions,
muscle lengths, lever lengths, muscle max stretch points, muscle max power and
strength points, muscle flexibility and stability profiles, myofascial slings,
motor patterning, injuries (that you are and are not aware of), myofascial slings
etc etc ec. These individualities make it almost impossible (or more of an
exercise in futility) for a teacher or pupil to know the ideal movement or
positions for them to play their best golf (if they even exist) – and these
‘ideals’ in themselves may change over the course of the player’s development.

We are all so different

The human
body, on the other hand, has a very intelligent system of feedback and
instinctive/genetic information which can allow it to organise into much more
appropriate and efficient ways for the task in hand.
An external
process focus is also very CONCEPT BUILDING. It allows the movement to develop
as a result of the desired goal, rather than the opposite way around. Do you
learn as a child how to use a fork by focusing on getting the food into your mouth
and using feedback as to how close you are (hint – yes you do), or do you learn
to use the fork by focusing on the angles, muscle contractions involved, speeds
and forces applied by your hand etc (hint- no you don’t). Also, as a result of
appropriate concepts being built, lots of movements develop harmoniously with a
singular focus – now that is efficient.

An external
process focus can also improve perception-action coupling abilities in terms of
perception of CONCEPT and improvements in action (take a deep breath and read
that again slowly). For example, you are more likely to see improvements in
divot position with someone who is focusing on improving their divot position
than someone who is trying to improve divot position through correct weight shift
(internal focus). On top of that, once a player has improved their divot
position relative to the ball through an external process focus, THE SKILLS
BECOME TRANSFERABLE. That is, a player can now make the correct divot regardless
of where  they put the ball in their
stance, or what lie they have, or what angle of attack they use or swing path
they use. The same cannot be said with improving the divot position through an
internal focus, such as weight shift. This would tend to only improve it for
one given situation (flat lie with ball in the same position in stance).
That last
paragraph is HUGE – read it again.

Negatives of external process

Are there
any negatives to this? Of course – It may be that a player’s body starts to
move in a way which is not – textbook, or worse, injurious. However it is my
experience that the players usually make a less injurious swing, and the
textbook stuff doesn’t matter if the ball is doing what you want it to. And I
would rather ingrain a correct concept through an external focus and THEN improve
efficiency later on than the reverse.

I feel it is better to build a foundation of SKILLS
and add technical elements later

Also, for a
better player, this focus may not provide the best performance benefits. For
example, the top level player is able to automatically brush the grass in the
correct place on a pitch over a bunker – it is a skill that they have ingrained
already. So for them, it may be more beneficial to have an external result
focus (which we will look at next).
I like to
see what the limits of this type of focus are before I delve into the internal
focus and ‘guide’ the player into better movements. In my own opinion (from the
players I have worked with and tested), and with my own personal teaching
philosophy, it is also a quicker way to get a multitude of performance and
learning benefits in a short time.

External result

This would
involve a focus on the target or ball flight. A player may be very unaware of
their movement, yet through a pure focus on seeing the end result, the movement
can respond accordingly. This is the ultimate in Perception-Action coupling.
The easiest analogy for this would be in throwing a ball to someone when
playing catch. Complicated data regarding weight of the object, trajectory,
muscle force required, angles in wrist and arm to produce throwing action along
with precise release points are needed to get the ball the correct direction
and distance. Yet your brain somehow figures these out instinctively and
improves it through practice. Studies have shown that speed of learning,
retention of learning and performance can be improved through this focus over
an internal focus in putting and other tasks. That is not to say it is better
than internal foci – there are lots of factors to take into consideration.

visualise the end result

In our car
analogy, this would be the equivalent of looking ahead on the road a few
hundred yards (your destination) and allowing your body to figure out the pedal
pushes and turns of the steering wheel required to get there. For the child
with the computer game, this is the same as keeping your eyes and mind on the
game being played and allowing your brain to react with the appropriate buttons
Whilst it
could be argued that you need to be taught the buttons in order to play a game
and get to this stage of thinking – I have learned computer games without
reading the manual. And when it comes time to teach my friend how to play the
game, I literally can’t explain to them what button does what, as I don’t
consciously know. It is more of an implicit knowledge. You keep your eye on the
game, press buttons and see what the response is, then your brain links up the
desired command (pass the ball) with the appropriate action without any
conscious knowledge.
Golf is a
complicated game, but I still believe there are many things which can be
learned without any conscious knowledge of how to do it. I believe, and have
experienced, that through DIFFERENTIAL PRACTICE principles, a lot of core
knowledge can be gained implicitly. The advantage of knowing how to strike and control the direction of your golf ball without any conscious effort is
unknown. But I believe it helps people get into a more optimal performance
state as there is less conscious interference. Movements which are learned
unconsciously use different parts of the brain, and I think more science will
emerge to show that learning this way will show distinct performance

obligatory picture of a brain

I suppose
the negative effect of this is that players may have less of an ability to
repair themselves on the course when things go wrong. For example, through my
own conscious knowledge, I am able to fix my hook by weakening my grip and/or
opening the clubface slightly at address. However, that being said, this
argument is weak as I know several south American players who learned golf
through self-teaching, and they can shape the ball both ways without
understanding how to do it (purely through their experimentation in practice).
As a result, they can just as easily calibrate a straight shot just by feeling
the difference between their hook swing and their slice swing, and working
towards the middle ground.

PA coupling

For another reminder of what this is, click HERE to see the article 
One of the
biggest advantages I see in the improvements in perception
action coupling in terms of both performance and learning. With
performance, it is much easier for a player with good PA coupling to make
positive compensatory moves. For example, if he/she were to align slightly out
of whack (as we all do), a good player will still be able to get the ball on
the target by changing the face and the path in relation to their body lines to
a more appropriate combination to get the ball on the target. An example of putting
would be a player who consciously misreads a putt (thinks it breaks 4 inches
when it really breaks 10) and then, through a better External result focus,
this improves the PA coupling abilities of the player which results in a slight
pull/push back on-line and some extra speed to keep the ball high.

If you think the top pro’s don’t pull or push their putts, think again.
difference is, the pull and push it towards a better read

Why do you
think confidence is such a big thing in putting. Normally, confident putters
are more outwardly focused (visualising it going in the hole) which improves
this PA coupling. A more inward focus (such as trying to perfect the technique)
would not only detract from good PA coupling, but may make the person miss the
putt (as they have aimed too low). I remember a clinic Tiger Woods held where
he talked about a drill his Father taught him. He told Tiger to look at the
hole and say “click” as he took an image/mental picture of the hole and the
ball going in. The tiger would bring his eyes back to the ball with the picture
in his mind and just GO. This is the ultimate in creating an external result
There is
also a strategic element to good PA coupling, in that I am more likely to miss
the target to the right if there is water left. As much as I can consciously
aim at the flag on the left, my subconscious brain is firing and weighing up
complex algorithms of risk/reward and skill level/probability, beliefs and past
experiences. This will then influence my movement in a way which steers towards
a different outcome. This is not inherently a bad thing – in fact for better
players it is usually a good thing.
learning, an external result focus fires the areas of the brain relating to the
visual stimulus of the target. If the movement pattern is learned in
conjunction with this stimulus, the two become effectively entwined and it is
easier for the visual stimulus to recall the movement. For example, If I learn
how to pick something up by keeping my mind on what I want to pick up, then
next time I see something at a similar distance away from me, my brain can
recall the movement necessary to pick that object up much quicker and
efficiently. However, imagine I had learned to pick objects up with my eyes
closed and feeling around. If I were then one day able to use my eyes to see an
object of similar distance away, the visual stimulus wouldn’t improve my ability
to pick the object up. In fact, it would make my ability to pick it up worse,
as now new information is coming in which was not learned with the movement.
Ask any person who was once blind who has been given the gift of sight through
medical advances.

Neurons firing together wire together

learning a movement with the target/result in mind creates neural pathways in
the brain which link the two together. So now, a simple visualisation of the
ball flight and/or awareness of the target can fire the neurons in the brain
relating to the movement required to get the ball there.


For me,
this works great, but only when I am confident. When I am feeling a little
nervy, those images can quickly turn sour and my attention keeps flitting
towards the water. This rarely happens in practice play, but in competition,
when nerves and stress are heightened, you don’t have as much control over your
attention as you believe. There would have to be a deeper look at why this is
happening in your psychology if this is the case for you, but it is just
something to be aware of.
beginners, this can cause some problems too. A beginner trying to get a ball
over the bunker for a short pitch would be best advised against using this
focus. The focus of flighting the ball high and landing soft usually produces a
less than desirable action from the beginner where their weight goes back and
they scoop the ball. This results in the low point of the swing moving back and
fats and thins ensue. They would be better off with a focus of brushing the grass
(External process). Learning may be limited through that approach, but
performance improves. This is a case where a player’s concept of how to produce
the desired shot is not yet understood or ingrained, and so they would need to
work on this through better external process focuses. 

Also, I
have seen where players have learned a new movement through a ‘less external’
thought process. This can then cause the old movement to come back when they
start to become more aware of the target. For example, a slicer learns to draw
the ball through a focus on club path through impact (external process). Now,
on the course, they switch their focus to the target, and the thing which is
most connected (neutrally) in the brain with this visual is their old swing. Their
slice comes back.

Neutral Focus

This is an
interesting one. A neutral thought is one which doesn’t directly relate to the
performance or process of the shot. In terms of our car driving analogy, this
is like driving while listening to and singing the music. You still do
everything required of you (stopping car at lights, pressing accelerator etc)
but you are not even really ‘focused’ on the destination. This could be a
similar idea for our computer game analogy. For our golfer, I often use tasks
such as counting down from 10, or counting up from 1, or singing a song during
the hitting process, humming or breathing out during the swing.
It is
almost like a conscious distraction. You are putting your focus on the neutral
thought and allowing the actions to arise automatically. Whilst there would be
some crossover between neutral and other thought processes, it is very possible
to hit great shots whilst having close to 100% neutral focus. I have hit some
great shots onto my target while counting and focusing purely on the counting,
and one of my best rounds ever came when I had a song stuck in my head. This is
a very conscious decision to make to focus on something other than the
movement, and most people believe it is impossible to hit a shot without
thinking about the movement in some way

You don’t have to be conscious to play great golf

And I consistently
prove this to people. My favourite type of person to work with is someone who
is massively over-analytical. I know, because in my younger days I was the same
way. I am sure you can tell by the depth of my blog posts that I am a deep
thinker, and I used to try and control everything in my swing mechanics (READ ABOUT MY STORY HERE) before I ‘saw the light’. Within a few shots with
a counting or breathing routine, I can convince most analytical people that it
is perfectly possible to hit a GREAT shot without any conscious thought of the
process necessary to do it. This is a BIG STEP in breaking free of the troubles
many people have in playing golf effectively. This is basically the start of
the journey which will allow the players to get into a more transcendental state
more often, and not fear it (more on this later). If a player can experience
something closer to transcendental (non thinking state) then their mind is much
more likely to accept it as a possibility and understand it when it is
Add to
this, a neutral thought gives a player consistency in their thinking and
routine. Counting down from 10, or singing a tune and hitting on the same note/lyric
creates a sense of flow, rhythm and consistency to the routine, which will
result in more consistency in the performance. And if there is anything which
is likely to create a transcendental state, it is consistency and rhythms
CLICK HERE to read my article about routines and the flow state.
I often
find, and have found in myself, that there is an increased pressure resistance
with a neutral thought. Thoughts about that bad shot last time you played this
hole, thoughts about the fact you are nervous because you are shooting the
round of your life, and thoughts about playing with players who are better than
you, or the danger down the left hand side of the fairway seem to disappear
when your focus in on a neutral topic.
Add to
this, an increase in concentration. As the player is so focused on their
neutral thought, they tend to become attentionally blind to distractions such
as noises, crowds etc. Also, negative thoughts are much less experienced in
this state. It seems to be the ultimate pill for all mental problems.

I typed “pressure resistance” into Google images.
This came up

I also
notice in my pupils who do this that they experience a more fluid, free and
natural swing movement, as they are free of fear and just going on automatic
responses. Due to the fact they are more automatic, we often notice the results
are crazily consistent. A drawer of the ball will often now get rid of their
odd push shot, and their draw becomes more consistent and repeatable. I
attribute this to the player being less conscious of the movement, and so there
is much less ‘interference’ from the conscious mind, leaving the subconscious ingrained
motor program to arise more effectively.

Any disadvantages?

Going on
from the last point, the fact that a player is now more automatic and running
on subconsciously ingrained movements means that if the result is not as
desired, it can be hard to change it. However, this is truer for players who
have not developed their own TOOLBOX for controlling their shots through their
own differential practices.  Players who
have a better understanding of how to control their ball flight often find that
the adjustments necessary to bring the desired flight will happen on their own,
with the added benefit of the consistency of the neutral focus. And for players
without this implicit understanding, we could look at simple set up fixes (such
as a grip change) which could allow the player to maintain the consistency of
their ‘neutral focus’ but with an improved ball flight.

Do you have your own ‘toolbox’?

There is
also the argument for lowered Perception-Action coupling abilities with a
neutral focus. As the person is not visualising the result consciously, there
may be some element of lowered brain activity in the visual-motor areas of the
brain. However, you can get around this quite easily. Through a good pre-shot
routine with effective visualisation, we can prime the brain to activate the
correct neurons – allowing us to have a little of the best of both worlds. So –
visualising the ball flight clearly, then walking in and hitting the ball with
the neutral focus can give us both good PA coupling abilities, massive resistance
to several mental problems (pressure, fear, analysis, distractions etc) and may
even alleviate a problem associated with the external result focus – the problem
of the images turning negative.

A neutral focus can make you feel like you are
in a bubble of invincibility

One of the
main problems with this focus is that it can be very difficult to learn new
skills. Learning something new normally requires a higher level of
focus/awareness/attention to problem solving. This neutral focus can detract
from this ability (I personally believe that one of the main reasons for us
having evolved consciousness is so that we can override our subconscious brain
to learn complicated tasks quicker).  A
slicer is not going to be able to cure their slice by switching to a neutral
focus (unless their slice was caused by a fear of the left side), but it may
make it more consistent. To summarise this idea, I would say
“Neutral focuses will
not raise the ceiling of your potential, but they may help you reach that
ceiling more often”.

The slicer
may not fix their slice and add 20 yards to their game with a neutral focus.
But they may make that slice much more consistent, tighten their grouping and
then use good on course strategy to make that shot pattern work for them (aim
20 yards left for example).
One last
problem I see with this focus is that, as it is a conscious focus (albeit not
related to the movement) it can initially cause disruption – especially for
people who struggle to let go of control. People who want to be in constant
conscious control of their swing really struggle to have this neutral focus and
just ‘let it happen’ on the course. But, this is the whole point of this focus.
It is to train them to be able to do exactly that – let go – and increase their
chances of getting into the next stage of thought – transcendental.

Transcendental ‘focus’

Watch this –
from 2 minutes onwards is GOLDEN

This type
of focus/thinking is rarely experienced, although most of us will have had perhaps
glimpses of it. It is often referred to as ‘the zone’ and is more easily
reached in other sports which are more active. In other sports, such as tennis,
it is much easier to experience a flow state – due to the flowing or rhythmical
nature of the game (such as a rally back and forth). This state of mind is
characterised by a distinct lack of consciousness, yet high performance. It is
called transcendental because, in this state, we transcend or go beyond ourselves,
almost like an out of body experience or a zombie like state.

That is why
Golf is so difficult to experience this. We have all the time in the world – we
decide when we are ready to hit the ball. Also, the rhythm and the flow of the
game is very stop/start – hit a ball, walk 5 mins, hit a ball etc. Add to this
a high level of analysis and conscious control of movement, and we have a
situation where we rarely get into this ‘optimal’ state (I say optimal in
inverted commas because it is not always the best state to be in).
It is my
belief, and there is evidence to support it, that;
  • 1.       Lowering of conscious thoughts
  • 2.       Rhythms
  • 3.       Repetitiveness

create a
mental environment in which the mind is able to enter this transcendental state
of mind. Have you ever drove all the way to work, got out of your car and then
said “Holy cow, I can’t remember ANY of that journey. What happened? The drive
was very RHYTHMical, it was the same CONSISTENT route you always take, maybe it
was early in the morning and you had a LOWERING OF CONSCIOUS THOUGHT. It is
almost like a meditative state – yet you are still able to perform all the
necessary actions such as stopping at lights etc.
What is the
opposite of this? Imagine having a shot down the last hole. If you get it on
the green and two putt, you will have your best score ever. What do we do?
1.       Slow down our routine – we don’t want
to rush it do we?
2.       Rhythm gets jerky
3.       Maybe we take one more practice
swing for good luck
You are
basically going against everything which gets you into a flow state. This is
one of the biggest reasons people choke under pressure. It is a feedback loop
on itself. Slowing down your routine or changing it in any way signals to your
brain that something is wrong/different and it needs to become more conscious.
You come out of the flow state (which ironically got you into that position in
the first place) and end up completely messing the shot up.

Why did I rush that?

This is why
I spend a lot of time with better players (and even beginners) developing
routines which are consistent, include less conscious thought and also include
some rhythmical element (such as counting). Whilst this is not a transcendental
focus (as you are being conscious about the process), it is something which
will bridge the gap nicely. And one the neutral focuses are ingrained, and the
belief is build up that it is possible to hit a good shot with a lowered
consciousness, people are now more ready to mentally accept the transcendental
It is not
easy. As one of the most analytical people you will ever meet, I always wanted
to be in control of my movement. I wanted to be in the driving seat rather than
letting things just happen. But I can tell you, playing in a transcendental
state is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have, and performance can
be absolutely beyond belief in this state. But if you don’t understand it, you
may think it is a bad thing (as I used to). I remember shots as an amateur
where I would hit something fantastic, before claiming “oops, I got lucky on
that, I wasn’t even concentrating” and then following it up with “right, I
really need to focus for my next shot, I don’t want that to happen again” – if only
I had known.
Like I
said, through practicing neutral focuses, I have been able to train myself to
get into this transcendental state much more often. The more ingrained a good
routine becomes, with improvements in consistency of routine, rhythm of routine
(and timing) and lowering of conscious thought, the better the chances of the
routine being on autopilot. When the routine is on autopilot, this is when the
magic happens. The paradox is, to develop a good routine requires you to be
conscious. This is why I get players to spend a lot of time practicing their
routines when they are due to peak for a tournament. We want it ready, and we
want it automatic. And I go into incredible detail when developing a routine
for a good player. But for a beginner it could be as simple as keeping the same
time between walking forward and hitting the shot – just like the Tiger video
I would hazard a guess that tiger is not thinking about his
routine here, but it is so practiced that it is running on this automatic
transcendental state.
I know from studies in that we emit a different frequency of
brain wave during times of meditation. It is not unlikely that the same thing
happens when we hit the zone in any sport, especially a serene one like golf.
But without going too ‘new age’ on you, I will leave you with that as a

Any disadvantages?

This state
is, in itself, a paradox in that, the more you try to get into it, the further you
get from it. The only way I know how to increase your chances are through 1. Understanding
it is possible to hit great shots without conscious control  2. Experiencing the ability to hit shots
without conscious thought and 3. Practicing a good quality consistent routine
until it is automatic. If you get all of these, you will know when it is
happening and you will be ready for it and not frightened of it.

This state,
although possibly the best for performance, is potentially not as good for
learning a new skill. I say potentially because, there are situations where I
have been in this state on the range, hit ball after ball, got into a rhythm
and performance increases. If done long enough, your body is self organising
into better and more efficient ways using the deeper part of your brain as
opposed to your conscious mind. That said, it is much more difficult to make a
quick change to technique when you are on autopilot. Given enough time, it can
happen for sure, but most people want to speed things up a little.
Leading on
from that, if things are not going so well on the course, it can be difficult
to make a change to that pattern. For example, say I do get into a transcendental
state yet my ball is hooking left, I will need to make some kind of conscious
change to improve that pattern, such as visualising a different ball flight
(external result focus), imagining the club coming through with a more open
face (external process focus) or making a quick change in my set up, such as
setting the face open at address (which I would consider a lower conscious
version of an external process thought). However, I think people are too quick
to jump into these ‘more conscious’ states. For the average handicap player,
every single bad shot is a reason to jump back into ‘control mode’. I have
learned, through time, improvements in expectation levels and understanding of
probability, that we must accept a certain amount of poor shots. And not every
shot is an excuse to jump back into control. People essentially sabotage their
own chances of entering a transcendental state of mind by not understanding the

So there you have it

The 5 areas
of focus I have identified (I am sure there are potentially more, and the above
can even be broken down into subsets of themselves). Different areas of focus
will improve or detract from learning and/or performance. Often, in most cases,
they are completely at odds with one another. For example, in my own game, in
order to learn something I am better off with a highly focused external process
thought. But for my best performance, I use a less conscious Transcendental
focus (if I am lucky enough to get there). Good coaching will help you identify
these states, and all players should work to understanding what ways suit them
best. The better you understand yourself, the more you can self coach.

Self-coaching. The ultimate in being a player

states may be different at different times also. I know that I really struggle
to get into a transcendental state during competition, so for me a neutral
focus is better in these situations. During practice play, when there is no
pressure, if I am unable to get into a transcendental state, an external result
focus is best for my performance.
“How well do you know

Can you
describe yourself like I did above? Have you ever even thought about it? I’ll
bet 99% of all readers here have only ever experienced the internal focus of
attention (it is an unfortunate fact that most teaching is based solely around
this). Not to say this focus cannot be useful, but for most people it is not
the optimal state for improved performance (or even for improved learning).
My suggestion
to you next time you’re on the range is to try and experience some of these different
states. Hit some balls thinking about your left arm (for example). Then hit
some thinking about the club movement through impact. Hit some just focusing on
the target as if you were going to throw the ball there, and then try some
neutral focuses. If you can, try and be a zombie for a moment, but as I have
said, the more you try to force this state, the further you get from it. You
will know when you have experienced it though J
Try this in
chipping and putting too. You may be surprised at what works best. Through my
teaching, I have become better at identifying quicker what will help a person
in terms of maximising performance or maximising learning. I also try to guide
people into understanding this. But as you can see, it is a very big topic
(about 10,000 words so far) which will need to be digested thoroughly. But understand
improve your golf, simply by a shift in focus/attention”

There is a
simple way to find out what works best for you, but you will have to have a
lesson with me to find that out J

A general overview of my
teaching philosophy

The general
goal in my teaching philosophy is to get someone from internal to
transcendental as efficiently as possible. I will also try my hardest to start
someone as far up the ladder as possible, possibly retracting back down the
ladder if I feel necessary, before travelling back up again. For example;
  • I may start
    a slicer by setting a task which is ‘external result’ (curve the ball left).

  • If they are
    unable to do this simple task, and breaking it down into easier chunks is
    ineffective, I may go to an external process thought process (such as getting
    them to focus on the path and clubface movement through impact).

  • If this is
    also ineffective, I may go to an internal focus, and look at changing body
    movements/positions which will be conducive to hitting the desired shot. Once
    this is achieved, I would go back up the ladder to an external process thought,
    then a external result focus, then possibly neutral and/or transcendental,
    depending on goals with learning/performance.

That is not
to say that a slicer cannot become a better player starting with a neutral
thought. I have seen people cure their slices with neutral thoughts, as there
was obviously a mental block before causing a ‘steer’ in their technique. When
a neutral thought is introduced, the action becomes more natural, the release
of the club (rotation rate) happens more effectively and the slice gets
minimised. But you don’t have to reduce a slice to become a better player,
sometimes just making that slice more consistent, through lowering of conscious
thought, can improve the pattern of a player – and a small adjustment in
strategy can then make that pattern effective. For example, if you slice it 20
yards every time, you now can aim 20 yards left and make it work (All good
players do this to some extent, so don’t give me any bull that aiming 20 yards
makes a slice worse – it doesn’t if you know what you are doing). Most people struggle
with inconsistency because they are TOO CONSCiOUS – they slice one shot and
then try to correct it the next time, resulting in a pull. Now with a change of
swing thought every shot, how can you expect to achieve consistency? Most of
the better players in the world will accept what shot they are hitting on the
day and make it work. The time to make big adjustments in swing technique are
during your training, not playing.

CAVEAT – I will do whatever the pupil NEEDS at that time. If I see their goal as maximal learning, then I will give them the focus which produces that. If they need performance, I can switch their focus to what is optimal for THEM


understand that there is not one way which is inherently ‘better’. We have to
look at the individual player, and see what their mix of learning abilities,
styles, learning stage (beginner or advanced) and seek to provide the thought
process which will maximise performance (if performance is the goal) or
learning (if this is the goal) or both, if attainable. This is the art of
performance coaching.
There may
not be one way which is better for all, but there is one way which is better
for YOU at this moment. This may change over time, but it is only if you
understand this principle that you can control it better and become the master
of yourself and your own game in varying situations. 
If you enjoyed this information and the hard work put into writing it, please spare a second of your time to share it on facebook/twitter/google plus etc. The more reads and comments I get, the more motivation I have to write more for free – and it only takes a second, lazy.
Also, don’t forget to check out adamyounggolfcoaching on facebook and @adamyounggolf on twitter to stay up to date with new articles.


  • Anonymous

    A generous and terrific article. It seems that you have researched Gabriele Wulf and Cary Mumford? Can you provide some insight as to the origins of your views?
    Thank you.

    • admin

      I am aware of Wulf's work, but not Mumford. I will research it.
      most of it has come from a general and gradual building of a philosophy and my understanding through observation during lessons. I am aware there is research to support these claims too, although tend to shy away from being dogmatic about research, as there are always limitations to it.

      Thank you for your kind comment

  • Richard Wallace

    Hi Adam,
    Great article as always. Just a quick question why would a swing thought work so well one day , but yet let you down the next? Maybe the answer is in your post , I just cannot work it out.. Do you work with people remotely via e-mail or Skype? Keep your posts coming , they are always a good read.

    Cheers Richard

    • admin

      Hi Richard,
      I think the problem lies in how variable we are as humans. We are literally different every day. Cells die and regenerate, and, more importantly, our brain wires and re-wires. This can change our perceptions as well as co0ordinations.

      As an example, a player is struggling with a shank. As a fix, they try to hit the toe of the club and it works – it moves the pattern of shots more toe biased and towards the centre. The problem is, our brain will re-wire overnight and try to do this new thought more automatically. Next day, they try the same thought and every shot is a TOE hit.

      The same philosophy will be true of mechanical changes. We may try something which feels opposite to what we do normally. Whilst it is new, we seem to find a balance which works. But next day/week, we are probably going to over do it and tip the other side of the scale. Usually, people will attempt to solve this by trying to exaggerate it even more, but as you are already the other side of the scale, it makes it worse.

      This is why a coach's eyes are important for players.

      The other reason could be that, as humans playing an insanely difficult sport, we are going to have bad days. Most people start tinkering with a million different swing thoughts when this happens, which makes things worse. I have learned to just deal with it, brush it off and continue with whatever focus I am working on.

      Shit happens, deal with it, stick to your game plan 😉

  • jasper7

    Adam, top stuff

    So how do I do improve my weight transfer and divot indications using External on a Range?

    As I'm working on weight transfer (To many fat shots), on a range your are on mats. I don't use full internal, as in hips must move here, weight etc. Its more a feel through the ball and a Pre-Routine practice before hitting. So actually not a swing thought, lets say a swing feel.

    By the way, my best shots are when I think about nothing, which I work on at the back-end of a session or Thurs/Fri ready for a course. I go through the Pre-Shot, align, address and then switch it off and just swing, No thoughts, no target focus just a swing.


Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.