Accelerating Golf Instruction with Precision Coaching

by Deanna Zenger

Many Paths, One Destination

As coaches, we often ask students for results. “Take the club back to parallel” or “Get the butt of the club pointing at the target line.” In doing so, we forget that there are many ways for our students to achieve what we, the coaches, request, and that this seemingly miniscule omission has consequences that reach far and wide.

The challenge is that the human body is amazingly complex; it can use different muscles in different ways to achieve the same result. Just as there are many different routes to travel from one place to another, there are many different ways to execute the same movement pattern.

To illustrate this point, when I teach I often use the example of lifting a glass. I ask students to close their fingers around a glass… then ask them to cock their wrist to lift the glass. Next I say, “Use your forearm to lift the glass,” pointing out how the forearm bends the elbow. I then ask them to employ the muscles in the back of their arm, so the upper arm raises the glass. Finally, I say, “Just use your shoulder,” with the effect of raising the entire arm and wrist just to lift the glass. The point here? Depending on students’ ingrained movement patterns and past experience, including injury, I can ask for a movement and get it done in a huge variety of ways. There are just so many ways to lift that glass!

Coaching to an End Result

Now let’s return to the golf swing and our simple command to take the club back to parallel.  In its simplest form, we are asking for one action. At a minimum that action requires two body parts to move: the arm and the hand. Right? That is what we asked for. However, to get the club to our desired end result in the desired way, other body parts must be moved, even if they are not moving themselves. For example, the shoulders will rotate as a result of moving the hand and arm. Which moved first? The torso will also rotate because the movement travels down the spine.

Still with me? What else then? Well, the hips have to move if we want swinging the club back to feel comfortable. And the hips can move in two ways: from the ground up or from the top down. Depending on the next action, the legs—all the way down to the feet—will move, and they should because we are using gravity here to assist with the movement and ground forces (or GRF). All this just to bring the club back to halfway!! And people wonder why we just stop at “take the club back to parallel.”

The point is that we, as coaches, naturally coach to “an end result.” And unless we understand what needs to move and in what order, the student will move anything and everything in any order to execute our commands. Have you ever had a sore back and tried to get up off a couch? You did it, but it wasn’t pretty! You recruited whatever muscles you had to so you could get off that couch.

Accuracy and Acceleration

Back to the student taking the club back to parallel. Assume that visually the student does what we asked. Will he or she be able to do it consistently? Was it done in a way that loaded power or got the club there so it could efficiently move to where it needed to go next? If so, is the student likely to perform the movement without a coach present and directing it?

In most instances, the answer is a simple “no.” Students have neither the knowledge nor the muscle patterns to take what they accomplish during the lesson off the lesson tee. They’re not feeling it. There simply haven’t been enough proper reps to ingrain a new pattern of movement.

This is where I use K-VEST to accelerate my teaching and my player’s practice. K-VEST helps me communicate more accurately and more quickly. I can have a student literally step into “take the club back to parallel,” so that my words are enhancements to the visual and auditory signals produced by K-VEST. This takes a real burden off me as a teacher.

Yet the system actually goes a step beyond this by re-aligning the student/teacher relationship, further accelerating learning. In this context, I am now coaching the student to create the movement pattern being asked for by the K-VEST biofeedback avatar. So when the movement is done correctly and we hear the biofeedback tone, my student and I celebrate together :  I am no longer the judge. And then, when I have finished teaching, my student can continue to practice until the proper movement is stored away. That way the lesson is truly learned. When you have repetitive, consistent reproduction of movement, your client will be able to successfully anchor a new movement pattern.

I can spend 30 minutes training players exactly where I want them to be using K-VEST biofeedback, and have them successfully learn new movement’s specific to their personal swings. And without my being there, players can then train and accurately reproduce the movement, and I know they’re doing it as I have taught.

Lesson here… let’s be careful of what we ask for. Specific and precise coaching makes for real and lasting improvement. Vague coaching makes for the opposite. Know—don’t guess—what our students are feeling or how they produce the end results we request. Then make consistent, accurate, repetition of movement the key to a successful change in a movement or swing.