Don’t Fire Your Golf Swing Coach Because You’re Not Improving. Growth in Your Skills is Still Possible After You Hit the Performance Plateau.
Is it possible to keep improving at golf, even after you’ve been stuck on a performance plateau for what seems like an eternity?"
Are we in-fact all subject to the Power Law of Practice, which basically say’s that rapid improvement in golf skills is followed by gradually less and less improvement over time when you perform similar practice routines to those you started with.
In other words, after a slow start, you experience a surge of improvement in your game, but after a while it appears to taper or level off to where you feel like you are no longer improving, despite working as hard on your game as before.
This affect is similar to the law of diminishing returns in economics, which helps us understand that you initially experience greater improvement in your game when compared to your initial practice investment, but eventually the improvement equals the investment, and finally, the investment of effort appears higher than the improvement that you're aiming for.
Have you ever experienced this? I bet you have.
We have known many amateur and professional golfers who have gone through this normal process of learning, and after what seems to be a prolonged period of what they see as poor performances (not getting better), and often coupled with frustration and other negative emotions, they eventually fire their swing coach in favour of another coach with different ideas and methods on how to improve their situation.
In our experience, this is often a fatal mistake because it means that you don’t get back what you have already invested, and the development and learning of the skill/s that you have worked so hard to improve, are scrapped in favour of starting over again, in a different way.
Which doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it.
One thing is for certain. If you start again learning a different method, you will go back to the beginning of the learning curve.
One Step Forward and Three Steps Backwards.
So, all the good work that you did to improve and stabilise your golf skills along the learning curve is going to be abandoned in favour of learning another way.
Tiger Woods is an excellent example of someone who on more than one occasion has fired coaches and started over again, taking himself through a new learning curve in an effort to modify his golf swing style.
This usually takes someone at his advanced level many thousands of deliberate repetitions over a prolonged period to eventually create another stable swing motion that can be exposed to high level competition.
He’s been successful at doing it, but he is definitely more of the exception than the rule.
Why You Shouldn't Fire Your Swing Coach.
Of course it is completely understandable that a perceived decrease (or plateauing) in your performances can cause you to panic as a competitive golfer.
However, quite often this panic is irrational and influences you to make drastic decisions (like changing your swing coach), because you don’t understand the motor learning process well enough to make informed decisions.
In our experience, the decision to change coaches has very little to do with your current or past performances, and more to do with not being able to remain patient with the learning process, so you can persist along the flat part of the curve (the plateau) for long enough.
You see, as you move closer to the autonomous stage (unconscious competence) of learning your skill (the flat part of the learning curve), it can seem like a long period of no improvement.
However, the thing to keep in mind is that you are more-than-likely still improving, it is just that the improvement level is so small as to not be noticed.
The closer you get to a mastery level of a skill, the smaller the improvement leaps.
Stretch Your Skills to Uncomfortable
So, you should interpret the slow down of your skill development as positive growth, it’s just that it has slowed down greatly compared to before.
Now, this is the time where you need to start designing a more challenging or tougher practice environment, to put your developing skills under increasing pressure.
You can do this by making the shot to challenge level of your practice more difficult because the goal is to stress your current skill level into adapting to tougher conditions similar to what you would experience when competing in tournaments.
In other words, you play more random shots by practicing from all types of lies and ground conditions to tougher pin placements.
This is precisely what elite performance coach Dave Alred helped Francesco Molinari to do with his practice. Alred took Francesco into what he calls ‘The Ugly Zone’ which is the place where more mistakes are made, the pressure hurts, but where learning happens.
His goal was to bring the discomfort experienced in playing tournaments into Francesco’s practice environment.
“I think what Dave has helped me do is prepare to compete differently. Before meeting Dave my golf practice was basically just repetition, I’d just hit balls and hit balls and maybe try and hit it better and work on the technical side of the game, but there wasn’t really any pressure.
The skill/s you are adapting and developing under this type of practice approach will function better because the repetitions or work you have performed up to this point in time is enough to hit the shots with less conscious interference, while at the same time stretching your skill/s to uncomfortable.
And this is the key to you performing under pressure. Golf practice environments must change by becoming more challenging as you move along the flat part of the curve. This will increase your potential to hit shots under pressure, with reduced conscious interference.
The more deliberate repetitions you perform under pressure, the more stable your swing motion becomes under pressure.
So you will perform better mentally and technically under pressure, and even though you might notice that you're producing less ‘A’ game scoring rounds than before, actually your scoring is likely to be more stable with less variability between your high and low scores.
The following formula expresses it clearly.
Repetitions Under Pressure = Technical / Mental Stability = Stable Score Variability
Sticking to Your Knitting
We have observed this first hand with some of the players in our Break 70 System in Jakarta, Indonesia who have followed our development plan without deviating from the path over the past three years.
We call this, ‘Sticking to Your Knitting.’
What this means is the players who have faithfully followed our training system score lower on average, and their high to low scoring range is more stable and down to the range of 10 to 12 shots, which is consistent with world class golfers.
Now we have also noticed that those players who come in and out of the program on an inconsistent basis, and who do not stick to our development process, do not experience nearly the same level of improvement with their game.
Sticking to the development process (especially when you are on the plateau) will translate into newly improved skills such as improved concentration for longer—what we call mental endurance, and you will also make less technical and mental mistakes on the course in tournaments.
Further to this, you will also perform better under increased pressure in important tournaments, as the players in our program have experienced over the past 12 to 15 months.
This improvement in tournament performances coincides with our goal for our players to peak their games for important tournaments in our annual calendar.
Previously, they experienced what we call low scoring stability which is a higher and more unstable scoring pattern—particularly in the early stages of their learning and development along the curve.
So in our experience The Power Law of Practice does indeed influence growth through more stable performances, which occur further along the curve.
The picture above is of one of the top golfers in the world Justin Rose, who began his professional career missing 17 cuts in a row.
What we find is that golfers like Justin Rose, and other successful professional golfers all have one thing in common, they will travel further along the plateau because they possess more grit, determination, patience and resilience.
Evolution Becomes Revolution
The learning curve is an evolutionary process that every human being experiences when you learn to perform tasks. It doesn’t matter what it is, there’s always a learning process involved.
Sometimes the learning process is shorter, and other times it’s longer, depending on the complexity of the task you are undertaking.
Yes, at some point you may not actually perform a skill you’ve be practicing any better, however, often times this just means that you and your coach need to make a minor adjustment - what we call evolution into revolution.
What this means is that often times instead of completely rebuilding your technique, you simply need to make a revolutionary adjustment, which is an adjustment that serves the same purpose as a rebuild, but is far less complex to learn.
By adjusting your skill rather than rebuilding it, and making your practice environment more challenging (but never so dramatic as to send you back to the beginning of the learning curve), you learn the difference between an evolutionary change process and a revolutionary change process.
More commitment to stick to your learning by deliberately practicing your golf skills through the autonomous or unconscious competence stage, with simple, minor upgrades (minor = low complexity) to your skills, and practice routines along the way.
This will mean you develop a more stable shot-making ability, increase your confidence when performing under pressure, and it will also influence a higher probability of lower scoring, with the difference between your high score average and low score average being reduced.
Now, that doesn’t sound like a bad reason to stick to your knitting does it?
By Lawrie Montague - Co-Director of Pro Tour Golf College
Do you think the way you currently practice is the best way to become a successful golfer?
What's a successful golfer? We believe its a golfer who can BREAK 70 on a consistent basis.