Hidden Intentions, Ego, and Technique Change

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the salutation “stay safe” has become extremely popular. A quick google search of “stay safe email sign-off” shows article titles such as How to Write Emails in a Pandemic, which suggests traditional polite sign-offs “now come off as overly detached and tone-deaf” (really….?) Like Austin Powers, In my personal life and on the lesson tee, I gravitate to the people who might Instead sign-off their emails with “live dangerously”.

An instinct for caution and safety may be appropriate given the current circumstances, but it is no way to improve at golf. In most cases, improvement absolutely requires an acceptance of risk and a leap of faith into the unknown. Small changes demand a tiny Phil Mickelson sized jump, and bigger changes require bigger leaps. A lot of my job is motivating people to jump (or pushing them off the cliff) and then helping them land..……. The unknown can be scary, chaotic, uncomfortable, and potentially embarrassing, but it is necessary.

I don’t like roller coasters and I’m not particularly fond of heights. If for some reason I was invited bungee jumping, or skydiving I would be the person standing on the edge paralyzed and unable to jump. Statistically (According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics), bungee jumping has a fatality rate of 1 in 500’000, which is less dangerous than canoeing, cycling, playing football, mountain hiking, driving, and many more things. Still, one can see why the thought of jumping off a cliff would cause paralysis, but then why can’t Joe Golfer take his rehearsal onto a golf ball?

Our movement is controlled by a huge number of things. It is influenced by perception of the task, the environment, and the person. In each of those categories there are a number of things that could influence the movements we make, it is not within the scope of this blog post to go into all of those. In a coaching session to change technique it is typical to reduce those influences as much as possible. We hit from the same spot on the range, with a number of golf balls, there is no score, the wind is constant, we use the same club, and so on. It would not be prudent to stay in this state forever as it looks nothing like a normal round of golf but at the very beginning of a technical change it can be a very useful strategy to incentivize a player to explore a new movement possibility. However, even in a completely sterile and safe environment some students stand metaphorically on the edge of the cliff, too paralyzed to move. Why?

It usually boils down to hidden competing intentions. Even if a student is on board with a technical change and can reproduce it in a rehearsal, once they step to hit the ball the normal, comfortable movement comes back. They turn and ask, “Did I do it?”…….. No…….. Golfers are accustomed to hitting the ball with a certain set of underlying intentions; they want to hit it hard, they want to hit it in the middle of the face, they want to hit it straight, and they want it to feel comfortable. Most golfers take these intentions for granted, yet they compete directly with any technical intentions a coach introduces. If you want to make a technical change, you might start missing the middle of the face, or hitting it sideways, or god forbid it might feel uncomfortable! For bigger changes, you might even miss the ball! At first…….No chance your brain lets you miss the ball if you have a hidden intention to hit the middle of the face. The key to actually making the desired technical changes show up at all is to remove those hidden intentions. You have to not care about how far the ball goes, you have to not care how comfortable it feels, you have to not care if you hit the ball. All your attention needs to be on the technical change.

Think your ego can handle that?

You say you don’t care about those things, but do you ACTUALLY not care? I can count on one hand the amount of students who have ACTUALLY missed the ball trying so hard to make a change. At first, you just need to make the new move happen with a ball, hitting it well, straight, and far, and feeling comfortable with it will all come later.

To actually not care requires you take that leap of faith into the unknown.

Live Dangerously,

Jake McNulty

*Note that this post does not claim that all technique changes are good, necessary, or even wise. That’s for another week.