This idea is vitally important for all golfers and sports-people who desire to learn and perform to their best. I will attempt to take this massively complex topic and condense it into an easily understandable and applicable form, via use of examples and analogies.
Imagine you are suffering with a toe-strike one day – In other words, you are intending to hit the sweet spot, but your body is not listening, and is presenting the toe of the club to the ball.
Your goal is the sweet spot, but you keep hitting the toe
In order to improve this pattern, you decide to attempt to hit more towards the heel of the club, as shown below.
By trying to hit the heel, we can shift the pattern more heel-wards, resulting in a match between goal and reality.
However, in order to do this, it requires mental effort – and there is also a gamble going on internally. Do it too much and we actually hit the heel, or do it too little and the pattern doesn’t shift.
Diamonds Are Forever, But Perceptions Change
While it is clear that trying to hit the wrong part of the face in order to get a centred strike is not optimal, what most people don’t realize is that this won’t be forever.
Our brains have an amazing ability to change our perceptions so that reality matches our intention. This can often take weeks, but sometimes this change occurs in as little as a few seconds. This change is called perceptual adaptation.
In fact, our perceptions are constantly shifting and changing without our awareness. However, with appropriate feedback, they can remain much more stable.
Feedback helps us to bridge the gap between our perception of events (feel) and reality)
This was never more evident than in 1890, when George M Stratton wore glasses which made everything appear upside down for 8 days. You can imagine how difficult this was for him initially – he went to grab something to the left, but his hand moved right. He moved his hand down, but his eyes saw it move up.
But something strange happened after a few days; his brain flipped the image so that it was the right way around again. Now he viewed everything as he did before, and his perceptions finally matched his actions again. His eyes were seeing things upside down, but the brain was changing the image so that it matched what he was trying to achieve. This is how PA coupling improves over time; it is called Perceptual Adaptation.
For perceptual adaptation to occur, it does require that we have a feedback loop between what we desire and what we are actually doing.
Click the video below to see this in action
Reality doesn’t always match intention – this is reality.
Unfortunately, especially in a sport as precise as golf, our perception-reality coupling is constantly shifting, and can even shift in the middle of a round of golf. This is why it is vital that you develop an ability to manipulate your perceptions to achieve a desired outcome.
Sure, it is great when intention and reality matches, but this is not necessary for great play. I have had many a good round of ball striking when I am trying to hit something other than the centre of the face – trying being the operative word.
Change Requires Effort
At least in the initial stages of change, a large amount of mental effort may be necessary. However, as our brains go through perceptual adaptation, the amount of effort will be minimized.
In fact, it is not uncommon to see perception flip so dramatically that opposing faults start to occur without effort. For example, one day you may be suffering with a heel strike and need a toe-strike-intention to hit the sweet spot. A week later, this toe-strike intention may actually produce a toed shot.
I had a player just last week who was suffering with heel-shots. During a test, they only managed to get one shot to hit the toe side of the club.
However, they underwent perceptual adaptation overnight and, when re-tested a day later, were able to not only get 7/10 shots on the toe side of the club, but they also were unable to hit the heel side anymore – even with effort.
Not Just Strike
Perceptual adaptation doesn’t just pertain to strike issues.
- Ground contact issues
- Direction issues
- Internal strategies
- Green reading skills
- Speed control
- Mechanical changes
all have an element of perceptual adaptation, so understanding this concept will help you. In “The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers”, several strategies are outlined to help speed up this perception change (such as variability and differential learning, attention changes, feedback sources etc). Click below to learn more.
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Our ability to present the centre of mass of the club to the centre of mass of the ball is a perception issue. When we are having difficulties with it, it is either down to
- Normal human variability (higher in beginners and less-practiced players)
- Lack of awareness (no idea where they are hitting on the face)
- Lack of skill malleability (a topic I will discuss in the future)
- Difference in the perception of intention and reality
While there may be technical issues correlating with a poor strike, 99.99% of players can manage to contact the ground in different places laterally when asked. This shows me that EVERYONE has the skill of being able to change strike location – the skill may just be higher in some than others.
When strike location is improved and the above bullet points are improved, technique always self-organizes nicely by default. This is not to say I never work on technical issues with players which relate to their strike patterns, but (for the purposes of this article) they are not relevant.
To those who say that a perception change is a quick fix , you could also fix with a technical change. However, this also requires mental effort and perceptual adaptation to occur before less effort is needed. Also, in my opinion, one of the longest-term improvements you can make in a player is via improvements in perceptual skills.