We all want to make a better swing, but changing our movement pattern can sometimes be like cracking some incredibly difficult computer code. This article is going to turn you into an expert “movement hacker”.
While I don’t believe there is one perfect way to swing it, this is not to say that anything and everything goes. There are certainly blends of moves which can increase or decrease your ability to achieve your desired outcome, as well as certain moves which can increase your consistency/ability to achieve your desired result.
I also believe that, as an industry, we put far too much emphasis on the movement pattern, and not enough on the skills/concepts which make a player good at the game. However, with that said, there are times and places where we may want to dive directly into and change a non-functional movement pattern.
Let’s have a look at the top ways to change a movement
#1 – What’s The Point?
Our brains are the most sophisticated “movement creators” in the world. Set it a goal, such as “Pick this mug of coffee up from that table” and it can coordinate all the moving body parts to do the task. In fact, it can coordinate them in many different ways.
However, this ability is severely compromised when we either
- Don’t know what the goal of the movement is (or have incorrect goals)
- Don’t receive adequate feedback
I often see amateurs changing movement without understanding why. For example, they may be attempting to change their weight shift. While this may serve a valid purpose (contacting the ground closer to the ball), they may not understand that this is the goal.
Worse still, they may actually believe they have to get under and lift the ball in the air (incorrect goals). This competing concept can be a real roadblock in making a desired swing change.
Lesson – understand the goal of the change
#2 – Change The Right Bit Of Code
Your computer keeps crashing when you open up a certain program. You keep fiddling with the code, but to no avail. The actual problem may lie in a different program which is interacting with the other one.
You are essentially fiddling with the wrong bit of code.
This is similar to golf – I often see amateurs attempting to change movement patterns when the problem lies elsewhere. For example, a player may be trying their hardest to get some weight shift, but they have a 12 degree left swing direction.
As a coach, I understand that a leftward swing direction puts the low point of the ball so far forwards that the player can’t shift their weight, or they would miss the ball. The player has been working so hard on weight shift, but they have essentially been trying to fix the code in the wrong program.
This is why help from a professional teacher can greatly aid you.
Lesson – make sure you are changing the right thing
#3 – Are You Sure?
You hack into the program and are about to change the code, then your computer asks
Our subconscious mind acts like this “are you sure” message. It sees any change as a potential threat and puts up a guard against it.
For this reason, you have to fully commit to the change mentally. Any time you start to commit more to “hitting a good shot”, your brain will just load the old code that it knows gives you your best chance of that – your old “shitty” swing.
Lesson – commit 100% to the change, not the result.
#4 – Try Harder
Golfers always complain of inconsistency, yet I don’t see it. In fact, I see golfers making the same replica poor movement patterns over and over again. The difference between your best and worst shots resides in the minutiae of impact variables, not making a wildly different movement pattern each time (as you believe).
In fact, as humans beyond the age of 20, we have incredibly stubborn bodies. This means that it requires incredible effort to be able to change it (as opposed to kids who change too easily).
As a result, at least initially, you may have to magnify the feel of a change tenfold in order to get your desired change. This magnification will reduce over time as you go through perceptual adaptation.
Lesson – increase your effort levels initially during the change
#5 – You Can Make Mistakes
Probably the biggest roadblock of all to making a movement change is the fear of hitting a poor shot. Taking the ball away often instantly enables a person to make the movement they wish, but they revert back to old patterns when the ball is re-introduced out of fear of hitting it poor with the new movement.
As a coach, I often experiment with different movement patterns in order to increase my knowledge of the swing. One of the reasons I can instantly and dramatically change my mechanics in a short period of time is because I am not scared of hitting a bad shot.
Lesson – stop letting fear control your movement. Allow yourself to make mistakes in the learning process. It’s ok, no one will remember it, but they might revel at the classy new swing you possess.
#6 – If A=True, Then X
I often set up constraints for my pupils. These constraints mean that the old movements can’t be performed, and the new movements must arise out of necessity.
For example, if a player has an incredibly outside-in swing direction which is causing issues, I may set up a constraint which prevents them even hitting the ball with this movement. This is like a computer programmer setting up some IF-THEN-ELSE constructs.
By setting up a constraint such as above, you are forced to shift away from a heel-biased strike pattern. A toe or centred shot will pass through, but anything slightly from the heel will clatter into the bottle.
Lesson – set up constraints so that the desired technique must arise
#7 – Disconnect
Due to our minds/movements having a strong coupling to the target/ball/result (a part of a concept called perception-action coupling), we often struggle to make a movement change in their presence.
This is similar to a computer program being unable to change when another program is open. The answer? Shut the other program down.
While I like movements to be learned in conjunction with the
- Desired environment
- Desired locus of attention
- Desired context
Sometimes this is not feasible, and they (movement and other stuff) have to be separated from each other in order for a change to be made, before the other stuff is gradually re-introduced and it is all linked back together. This is called the uncoupling – re-coupling process.
This could be achieved using a driving net, taking away the ball (or using a whiffle ball), or simply mentally disconnecting from the target during initial movement changes.
Lesson – sometimes we have to train out of context in order to make a desired change. However, be careful to do this in the right amounts and at the right times.
#8 – Visualize It
One of the greatest helps to a pupil making a swing change is having a clear mental image of what they are trying to achieve.
As a junior, I spent hours with my eyes closed, visualizing the movements I wanted to achieve. Even as a coach now, I often close my eyes when analyzing a swing and try to put myself in the body of my pupil to feel what they are feeling.
Lesson – close your eyes for a few minutes or seconds. Get a clear image of what you are trying to do. When (and only when) you can see it, stand up and rehearse the motion.
#9 – Limited Processing Power
When we change/place so much focus on one area of the swing-code, the rest of the pieces can often lose the glue which makes them coordinate together. This is because (just like a computer), our brains have a limited processing capacity.
Just like a computer – when CPU usage goes up, we may start to see some small temporary glitches
This is why, often, when we change a “swing-piece”, we start to see a small decline in performance initially. You might have changed one part for the better, but the other bits of code are not yet working synergistically. Also, the body might be doing the new moves correctly, but is still trying to figure out the right amount to do it in.
This is nothing to worry about during the initial phases of change.
Lesson – our swing may become temporarily dysfunctional when we initially make a change. This is ok, we just have to finish the rest of the code. Be patient.
#10 – Start Small
A computer programmer writes one line of code at a time, until a whole program is written.
Golfers, on the other hand, will often try to create a brand new swing instantly. I prefer if the golfer eases themselves into it.
Put simply, I like to allow the golfer to do the new moves with as simple a task as possible. Once enough success has been achieved with this, we move onto a more difficult task. For example, a player may go through the following levels
1 – make the new moves with practice swings only
2 – make the new moves with a foam soccer ball
3 – make the new moves with a tennis ball
4 – make the new moves with a teed up ball
5 – same as above but tee gets smaller
We may also (depending on what they are working on) make smaller swings initially, working their way up to bigger swings. If a player can show a 7 out of 10 success rate, we move on to the next level.
Lesson – start small, work your way up. Don’t be too egotistical to make things easier initially – Faldo used a tee during swing changes
#11 – Prepare
A computer programmer might decide to make a prototype of the end program. Likewise, you should make some preparatory swings before each real swing when making a change.
Here’s what a typical scenario looks like with someone who struggles to change.
- They see what change they should make
- They get so eager to try the new movement to see if it was the secret key they had been missing all along
- They immediately bash 10 balls in 10 swings in 3 seconds
Be purposeful – don’t just whack this in 10 seconds
Now, let’s have a look at what a Pro would look like
- They see what change they need to make
- They ask more questions to make sure they fully understand it
- They close their eyes and take time to visualize the new moves
- They rehearse it in slow motion
- They gradually add speed to it
- They might do 10-20 rehearsal swings before they even hit the ball
- They ask for feedback pertaining to the movement after each ball, before repeating steps 3-7
I don’t know if this is learned behavior or genetic, but almost all quality players I work with do the same things as above. Start copying them. NOW!!!
I also prefer it when players use several practice swings to create a ‘feel’, before hitting the shot using this feeling (as opposed to thinking about the mechanics).
Lesson – rehearse the hell out of what you want to do, mentally and physically
#12 – Periodize
You may wish to improve the code of your computer program, but if you are always spending time on Facebook, this isn’t going to get the job done.
Similarly, golfers are often seeking the Facebook-style instant gratification of performing with what they have. For example, they might be trying to create better shot performance with their current 60-yard slice. And while you might get to the point of hitting more fairways with this less than desirable technique, you may be limiting your long-term potential.
I see great value in both (technical change AND performing better with what you have). As such, my plans include phases for both. These phases are periods of time where we dedicate ourselves to a singular goal of
- Maximizing change for long term benefits
- Maximizing performance with current variable
To learn more about those phases, below
So, quit being a golfer trapped in their old swing-program. Change is tough, but very possible. Through utilizing some of the above (or all of it) you can become the world’s best swing-hacker.
While I certainly put a lot more emphasis on correct concepts/awareness and skill building, technical change is a powerful supplement to that.
Just make sure you are working with a great teacher so you can be hacking into the right kind of swing-code (as opposed to listening to the advice of your golfing buddies).