Subconscious concepts

Subconscious concepts

This post is just as much for the teachers/coaches out there as it is for the pupils reading. I am going to talk about something I call ‘subconscious concept’.
I believe firmly that our mind holds a subconscious idea/image of how ‘it’ would like to hit the ball; an impact concept which the mind will try to constantly seek.
I first noticed this when I started teaching. I may come across a player hitting from the toe of the club and standing quite far from the ball. Logic would dictate that a simple tip of “stand closer to the ball” would work a charm. They are hitting it 2 cm from the toe, so standing about 2cm closer and making the same swing MUST produce a centred strike, right?  Well, anyone who has been teaching for a while will know that it doesn’t work like this. The player stands closer and next swing – BAM, right out of the toe again. Push them closer and still a toe shot. Now they are TOO close and hitting even more from the toe. This defies logic.
The same happens with someone who is hitting the ground 5cm too far behind the ball. Just move the ball 5 cm back and it should cure it, right? Same thing happens. Ball goes back 5cm, they hit 5cm further back ad infinitum. I quickly learned I had to find other ways to fix golfers. Please note, I understand that just moving the ball back is not an appropriate fix – it is just there to illustrate a point.
Why does this happen? Think back to the guy hitting from the toe. He has been used to standing a certain distance from the ball with that club. Push him closer and he senses that. His mind will try to ‘make room’ in order to get the same feeling of striking the face in the old place by organising the body pieces in ways conducive to this (such as shortening the arms, moving weight further to the heels or losing posture to create room etc). The same is true for our ‘fatter’. His mind senses the ball is further back and tries to organise his body pieces in a way which will allow him to create his old strike (typically leaving his weight further on his back foot at impact). 

Better Players

I also noticed when experimenting with a reverse pivot one day (I like to make poor swings in practice, just to feel what my pupils feel). I recorded my swing to see what it looked like as I made a typical poor player swing of moving my weight backwards through the downswing. What I found was, although the movement as a whole looked horrible, if I freeze framed impact, the club was in almost exactly the same position as if I had made a more orthodox movement. It was as if my mind was seeking my normal impact with a different movement. 
I think this is true of good players. Even if they are put out of position, they can still find a good impact because that is what they have ingrained. 
Another experience similar to this was when I started to demonstrate to beginner golfers in my teaching classes. I remember one of my first clinics, where I was trying to explain what a ‘topped shot’ looked like. but as I stood there trying to hit this awful shot, I just kept flushing the ball down the range. My brain wouldn’t let me hit anything other than my normal contact. I had to go off that night and practice my topped shots (I’ll bet you never hear someone else say that). Ironically, that night was also ground-breaking for me, for reasons other than what we will discuss here.

My personal story

In fact, the biggest light bulb moment I have had as a player was a simple concept. 

I have always suffered with a hook. I have the usual movement pattern of a hooker – club path in to out, sliding my hips aggressively towards the target, arm plane very flat at the top of my swing, club dropping ‘under plane’ on the downswing, clubface pointing to the sky at the top of my swing etc. As a youngster, I had always worked on improving these positions, in the hope that they would straighten out my ball flight. Unfortunately, as most of the positions improved, I either hit it worse, or the positions improved but the ball flight stayed the same – so I had to go on and fix the next piece in the puzzle (which seemed to be a never ending job). And some moves, such as my predisposition to drop the club under plane on the way down, never changed no matter how hard I tried to tell my body. But, like most better golfers, I battled away with it regardless, as I believed in the power of delayed gratification – that my hard work would eventually be paid off.
One day, I was watching one of my colleagues, with far more experience and success than I had, making yet another routine successful swing path change to his slicer client. He was using a ball with a nail through it, and had the nail angled slightly to the right. After the lesson, they both left to book in another – I just grabbed a club and stood over the ball with the nail, nudging it into a position which aimed to the target. As I stood over the ball, I realised

“Holy @#$%,    this is NOT how I hit the ball”
I felt that in order to hit that nail, I would have to have the clubhead coming from a completely different position to how I normally did, which was normally clearly very in-to-out (only at this point had I truly realised). So I did a few practice shots with pitches and they were coming out nicely. Progressed it to a 7 iron and just started flushing the ball like never before. The strike felt so ‘compressed’ and I finally realised that I had been thinning the ball slightly for years. The ball flew not only straighter, but at least a club further, and I could now easily make a divot after the ball. 

I got the video out and recorded my swing. My slide was much less, my hands were much higher at the top, the club wasn’t coming half as much under plane as it used to. AND I WASN’T EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT. All I had changed was my concept of how the club and the ball should interact, and my body organised itself into ways which looked more orthodox.

The thing is, no one had ever addressed DIRECTLY my concept of how the club should hit the ball. Or, if they had, it was a fleeting moment in a lesson, washed away by more of the HOW to change it stuff. I spent so much time working on things that related to impact, without working on it directly. 

Subconscious visualisation of ball flight

Why does a slicer slice the ball? Well, traditional cause and effect might go something like this. 
  • Slicer swings the club back too far inside
  • This causes an over the top move on the downswing
  • Causes path to be to the left 
  • This puts slice spin on the ball
  • Player then aims left to allow for the slice, but this just exaggerates the problem 
This is the way we have taught golf for many years, and some still do. But could it be that the real cause an effect goes something like this.
  • Player doesn’t understand clubface and path
  • Player sees the ball curve to the right – instincts kick in and they try to swing left
  • This instinct makes the body organise itself into a way which allows the club to swing left. Club comes over the top, hips open with no lateral movement, weight moves back to compensate for the low point of the swing moving forwards etc
This makes sense really, and fits in with our understanding of self organising biological systems (of which the human body is one). Their brain is trying to fix the slice instinctively by swinging more to the left (unfortunately, this tends to be the wrong/least efficient fix) and so arranging the movement in a way to produce this easily, and still hit the ball. If they understood the path/face laws better, they could make a more appropriate fix. 
Have you ever tried to get a slicer who aims left to aim straight?? They instantly feel massively uncomfortable – their brain knows the ball is going to the right as they have built a subconscious visualisation of the ball flight through the years. 
For teachers of golf, this is never more apparent than when you have successfully ‘changed’ someone’s movement into a better pattern, only to see that new movement completely revert to old when on the course, or the target is brought back into the picture. 

The problem with the ‘old way’

The ‘old way’ to fix a fault would be to ‘force’ a position upon the player. This could be through getting them to put their body/club in a certain position during the swing, or through consciously changing the movement as a whole. Sometimes, things may be placed in the way so the player has to ‘swing around’ them in order to hit the ball, with the hopes that this will improve the movement. Whilst all of these things hold a certain value, I feel it is number one priority to address the concepts.
Just keep putting more and more things in the way – that’ll stop it
Fact is, most players only know one way to hit the ball – their way. And they will try to find that way at all costs. This sounds tautological but it is not, and I will explain why. If you have experienced many different ways of hitting the ball, as I have, through Experimental practice methods, you can automatically select which ones work better, along with how much of that ‘other feeling’ you should provide. Most slicers have never experienced a clubface which is closed to the path, so they have no idea of the concept they should be chasing to hit that draw shot. 
Most players are completely on autopilot with regards the way they strike the ball. most people have never really put much thought into how the club and ball should interact to produce the required shot. Ask a slicer why they slice, and they will give you every cliche bit of info, from “because I lifted my head” (yeah right) to “because my right arm flies away from my body in the downswing”. Very rarely will you hear the words “because my clubface is open to my swing path/direction at impact”. 
If you force a position upon a player, they will just try to find a new way to get their old impact. The subconscious concept has not been addressed and so the mind is still trying to get the club on the ball in the same old way. 
Teachers/coaches/players – have you ever experienced making a swing change which looks great on camera, then place a ball there and your old movement pattern  rears its ugly head? This is the subconscious concept in action. It’s not that you can’t make the movement – you just did without a ball. It’s not that you just need more ‘reps’ to ingrain it – you did it a minute ago with minimal repetitions. You are fighting a losing battle if your subconscious is trying to do one thing with the club and ball, and your conscious mind is trying to force a position.  
Imagine the player who believes they have to ‘get under the ball’ to get it airborne (if you read that sentence and didn’t see anything wrong with it, you have a faulty concept of impact). They may be consciously trying to force their weight/pressure to move forwards after being told to by their pro, but their subconscious is trying to organise their body in a way which would be conducive to ‘getting under it’ – keeping pressure on the back foot, scooping action etc. There is a disconnect, a fight, a contradiction between what the conscious and subconscious are trying to achieve. A spiral into chaos and disorder ensues.

What can we start to do about this?

Understand that the REAL cause and effect is usually a mental one. Even if it is below the conscious of the person. There should be a clear order to swing changes.
1. Understand, fully, what the club needs to do to the ball. This starts with an awareness of ball flight laws.
2. Be able to clearly visualise the club/ball interaction/contact
3. Focus on the club ball impact you want to achieve. Get good feedback as to how close you are getting to a better answer. Allow the rest of the movement to be a result.
4. Experience the desired impact. This may require exaggeration to open up the new way of hitting the ball.
5. Add better mechanics to the picture (often this is not necessary if numbers 1-3 have been followed) to improve ability/efficiency to perform the desired contact repeatedly. 
You can also use experimental forms of practice, specifically exaggeration, so you can build a feeling for this impact.
As an example, someone is hitting the ball from the toe of the club and standing too far away from the ball. Bring their awareness to the fact they are striking the ball out of the toe – use a dry erase marker to highlight this point. Just let them hit shots for a few minutes. Often, they will improve the strike without any information needed from the coach. If they need a little nudging, use ‘differential practice‘ principles – get them to learn how to hit the heel intentionally. At first they will probably flush a few shots as they are trying to find the heel. Once they have hit the heel a couple of times, they now have all the information they need to find and calibrate the middle ground. 
People are surprisingly good at finding the middle of the face when given the correct feedback.
Might they do this in the wrong way? Of course. They could make a poor movement in order to hit the centre of the face. But in my experience, not only is this unlikely, but it doesn’t matter much, as now the ball is flying better. Also, when it is time to add on better mechanics, they have now acquired a SKILL which will transfer over, no matter what movement they wish to use. The same cannot be said about achieving a better strike through mechanistic change.

Take Home Points

Do not see a swing fault as having a purely mechanical answer. We are not robots, and our body pieces can (and will) arrange themselves into ways which which suit a mental goal (conscious or not). Therefore, we should look to address and improve any concepts of impact before we make any mechanistic change. Whereas this is normally a kind of ‘throw away’ remark in the lessons of most, I can spend a whole hour or more purely discussing club/ball interaction, without discussing any body movement theory.
The subconscious concept can be thought of as a computer program in the brain. No matter which file we click, it keeps opening up the same program. Poor players have poor programs and so need to have them updated to newer, more efficient versions. Better players have better programs, which is why they can hit it well regardless of what swing they use. For a better player, it can be more about improving access to that program, and shutting down the other programs which are running so that the main one can perform more smoothly. This article on ROUTINE should help that one 
Please do not misconstrue this information as me being anti-mechanical. I, too, get video out every now and again and work on the movement of a player. But it is my preferred method to initially address any potential concepts that the player holds, known or unknown, so that this not only opens up the possibility of the correct movement, free of ‘internal fight’, but it often encourages it without any mechanical talk at all. This information is mainly to bring your awareness to the fact this exists, and explain to you why you may be having trouble with some of your swing changes.   
If you enjoyed this article, or thought it was thought provoking, please share with others. Also, Don’t forget to add me to your twitter @adamyounggolf    and like my facebook page to keep up with updates to the blog – adamyounggolfcoaching

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