Teaching Golf and Human Behavior
Here is a little story. Two men were talking, and one said to the other, “I taught my dog how to whistle.” The other guy said, “Okay, let me hear him whistle.” The first guy answers, “I said I taught him, I didn’t say he learned.”
There is a difference between taking a golf lesson and learning from the lesson. We know as teachers that we do not have complete control of the learning process. Could one of the problems with learning be that golf is not a subject, but a motor skill? Taking a lesson, and intellectually understanding its content, is far different from taking the information and transferring it to that part of the body that must repeat and feel the movement. Holding the information in the brain upstairs is not enough when dealing with a motor skill. Helping students understand where they should be focusing their attention helps them learn the lessons.
A potential problem occurs when we observe a little frustration in the student’s ability to make a swing adjustment. Understanding is progressive. We have to work at it. No one can undo ingrained habits without wrestling with those habits. We must get the students to fix their attention on the improvement they are making in their swing, and at the same time reframe their thinking about the correctness of it.
Everyone is endowed with certain degrees of attention. It appears that this amount varies from individual to individual, and also varies in the same individual according to time and circumstances. The word “attention” is derived from two Latin words, ad meaning toward, and tendere meaning to stretch. When you put your attention on something, you stretch toward it. Once your curiosity is satisfied, your attention diverts from whatever you were concentrating on and moves on to something else. Some things have a Velcro quality, while others have a Teflon effect. Attention sticks to the Velcro and slides off the Teflon.
Every person has a limited allotment at any given time. This can be demonstrated by giving a person more and more tasks until their allotment of attention runs out. There are different types of attention, and (as teachers) we should be aware of them:
Open Attention – Observe what is without judgment or bias and act on the information. This is always our best lesson because the student is open and eager to learn.
Biased Attention – Doesn’t bring back very much data. The student is already preoccupied with assumptions, opinions, and preferences. People end up perceiving what was already on their minds. The problem with this is that it gives them a false sense of being right about something. Maybe we should stop the swing instruction right here and go to teaching them course management, or specialty shots that they don’t know how to play. We need to move them from biased to open attention.
Fixed Attention – Preoccupied, compulsive stuck in a repeating loop. History has a tendency to repeat itself, and it is easy for people to go back to what they were doing before they took that first lesson from you. Maybe a different approach to the same message is needed in order to move them forward.
Disoriented Attention – Leads to confusion. You are in conflict by contradictory intentions. Maybe we gave them too much information to process.
Self Directed Attention – Can be consciously directed but has a mind of its own. For example, the students know what the correct stance is, but after a few swings they are back into an old, incorrect habit. Continual gentle reminders and encouragement are needed each time you catch them doing it right.
There are cycles to attention spans and learning. What about the student who comes to you and is hungry for knowledge? The first couple of lessons go great and progress is fabulous, but soon there is a drop-off in performance and in the students ability to stay in the open attention mode. Attention deficit is a form of distraction. The tough job now is to help the students back to their open attention span and take their desire to improve to the next level. They must realize that when you work toward excellence, the work is never done.
Most people think teaching golf is easy because they assume that it’s all about swing knowledge. While that’s a big part of it, understanding human behavior is equally as important.