Driven to Distraction, the Concentration Paradox in Golf

Part One: Trust Your Golfing Instincts…

What distracts you on a golf course? The tweet of noisy birds, the chatter of a playing partner or perhaps a mobile phone blaring in the distance? Golfers always struggle to maintain their concentration on the course and the typical golfer views their ability to concentrate on golf as having time to listen to the commentary that runs through their head as they take a golf swing.

Oddly enough, this form of concentration may well be the most distracting thing a golfer faces on the golf course.

The problem is, there is an assumption that what we have heard the golf pro or fellow golfers say and the tips we read in the Internet or in magazines are all accurate and applicable to your swing and your skill set. Is our swing is too wide, or too shallow, de I accelerate through the ball enough, am I rotating my hips to clear space for the club to come cleanly through the ball. We hear these voices as we swing the golf club and for many, this is the essence of concentration.

This form of concentration is entirely counterproductive.

 

Angry-golfer

The driving range is the perfect place to see this in action. Driving the ball is a key skill in golf and one that many golfers will take time and patience to try and improve, but ask yourself just one question. When have you ever seen a good driver of a golf ball have a swing that seems racked with doubt and looks unnatural?

The truth is, the very best golf swings, look like a perfect extension of our range of body movements, as simple and easy to understand to us as walking. The natural fluidity of the body makes it seem like the best golfers are not even concentrating on their swing, but on something else entirely.

That’s because, most often, they are.

Tiger Woods current problems are a case in point. If we discount his private life and focus solely on his game, Woods has spent a lot of time in the past few years “rebuilding” his swing. Despite his assertions that he is becoming a better player because of it, his world ranking and results seem to prove that he still has some way to go to make these changes to his swing and have them working for him in a natural manner.

Compare that with how Woods was when he exploded onto the golfing scene. His swing then was more natural to what he had learned as a child and it had grown organically with him. Using it, he enjoyed success on an unparalleled level in modern times.

So if trying to improve your swing by tweaking things here and there can clearly have negative effects, what is the solution?

Golf-practice-range

Trust yourself and shift the focus – distract yourself to success

Key to winning this inner battle between Self 1 and Self 2 is turning down the volume of that critical inner voice and the best way to do that is to shift your focus to something else entirely. Instead of swinging the club thinking that you need to keep your elbow in a certain position, hips need to rotate more, shift the bodyweight on the downswing you can actually ensure that you do this organically by shifting the focus.

A great way to do this is to play the “Da-Da-Da-Da” game, proposed by W.Timothy Gallwey in his book on The Inner Game of Golf. In this drill, you are still practising the key elements of your swing, but you have changed the focus from what you are doing wrong and instead you are allowing your own natural instinct to take over to place the club and your body in the perfect position to make a successful swing.
Simply tee the ball up and get into your swing position and make your usual swing, but instead of trying to make the ‘perfect’ swing by listening to the commentary in your head, switch your focus instead to saying a simple phrase “Da” at critical moments of your swing. You say “Da” when you begin the swing, “Da” when your club reaches the top of the backswing and starts the downswing and lastly “Da” when the clubface hits the ball. You can even opt to add a fourth “Da” when you reach your final finishing position if you choose to.

Golf-green

So how do you judge the success of this? Well initially, you are not interested in where the ball goes. What you are looking to achieve is to get the rhythm “Da-Da-Da-Da” correct at each critical moment of your swing. Hitting the ball straight is NOT the outcome of this drill. It is establishing the ability of the golfer to switch focus to establishing this rhythm. As Mr Gallwey explains himself:

“When I kept to the discipline of this exercise, paying full attention, I had much less tendency to overcontrol my swing , and, as a result, it seemed over time to gain control naturally”.

So, the question is, why?

The answer is simple, your body has an instinctive ability to perform even the most complex of movements both effectively and efficiently. Of course, the ability to do this to varying degrees of skill and complexity differ from individual to individual, but in essence we as human beings are blessed with this form of proprioceptive ability from a very young age.

Problems tend to come when our minds begin to try and wrestle control of this away from the body’s natural learning mechanisms. We are told that “what you are doing is not the right way” and we try to adapt our movements away from the most effective and efficient model. As a result, our swing becomes less fluid, more riddled with inconsistency and doubt. The result is that our golf swing becomes a bastardised, hybrid form of what it should be. It may be right according to the books, but for the individual, it is not a natural motion, inefficient and does not have the desired results.
The Da-Da-Da drill is just one of many that attempts to quieten the noisy self one and allow self two to take over the basic mechanics of the swing once again. It does away with the negative influence of a bad drive. The outcome of the shot doesn’t matter, as it is the establishing of the rhythm that is the desired goal.

Mental-golf-game

Not only that, but by practicing Da-Da-Da when you go the range, you will quickly find that your swing quickly becomes more rhythmic, you can judge the position of your body a lot more as you are listening for that feedback, rather than the critical voices in the head of self one. A natural, rhythmic swing will lead to better golf shots.

 

So is all my golf tuition worthless?

Of course not, there are many skills and tips that you pick up that are vital to help you improve as a golfer. It is important to note that we are not saying these are worthless, but merely that they should not override, but instead accompany and assist, your natural instincts to  swing a club. The good thing is, a good golf pro already understands this and should not want to make wholesale changes to your golf swing, but should be able to teach you simple methods, similar to the Da-Da-Da drill, to help you develop your swing further.
The Da-Da-Da driving drill is just the first step towards winning the inner battle. In the final article, we’ll look at some real life examples of golfers who have discovered that techniques similar to this, have helped them improve in all aspects of their golfing game.

(Sources: The Inner Game of Golf, by W.Timothy Gallwey originally published in 1981, revised 1998, Random House publishing)



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Comments

If you enjoyed this post please leave us your comment below

Heather October 25, 2011

Very insightful – I often find when I think too hard about what I am doing – it all falls to pieces. It is when I am relaxed and not really thinking about anything that I tend to hit my best shots. I guess it’s all to do with muscle memory which practice obviously helps! Thanks – great post.

1

Peter October 26, 2011

I will try this at my next practice session
I am tortured by the mental part of the game
Hopefully this is the answer

2

Tommy Priest October 26, 2011

In our opinion, instinct is all-important. Technique less so.

3

Tommy Priest October 26, 2011

Not so sure about muscle memory – that can be a controversial term somewhat. But your idea is absolutely right – relax and hit the ball with abandon.

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