I bumped into a ex-colleague of mine recently. During the chat she told me that her son (a high-flyer in his 30s with lots of stress in his life) had taken up golf. “He’s going to learn golf, as a way to relax, ” she told me.
“God help him,” I thought to myself, “Learning golf to relax?”
“I hope he has patience, and a sense of humour“, I said.
I had a vision of this already-stressed guy going to golf lessons and getting even more confused about what he actually had to do to get the damn ball to go where he wanted it.
I truly feel sorry for anyone taking part in conventional golf-instruction. “Do this, don’t do that, remember this.” The list can seem endless, and it’s amazing how we can complicate the simplest of tasks.
What else do we reduce to such mechanics? There seems to be nothing more likely to reduce us to quivering, uncertain wrecks than this type of teaching.
Imagine knocking a nail into a wall with a hammer. Can you do this? Of course you can, and the more you did it the better you became – you learned through feedback. After all, it’s a pretty uncomplicated task. Take hammer, hit head of nail with the hammer, force moving in the direction you want, and repeat until complete. If you hit it a bit to the left or right you automatically and easily correct on the next blow.
Can you imagine the instructions given to a new recruit at nail-hammering lessons if it was taught in the same way as golf? (Even the idea of teaching nail hammering sounds crazy) Distribute your weight this way, take the hammer back on this plane, move it through at this angle, do this with your wrist, keep your eye on the nail!
I guarantee that if you learned this way you would be hitting your fingers with the hammer so much you would be anxious everytime you were about to use it.
Chances are the nail wouldn’t be going where you want it to go. Your mind (and possibly your instructor) would be telling you what you did wrong, and what technical instruction to make sure you carry into your next attempt. Your head would be filled with “hammer thoughts” (mental-keys to help you hit the nail better). Do you see where I’m going with this?
Playing golf isn’t too different from hitting a nail into a wall. We take a stick and hit a stationary object in the direction we want it to go. How complicated is that?
So, imagine if we let ourselves learn to golf the same way we learned to hit a nail into a wall, or how we learned to throw a piece of scrunched-up paper into a waste basket – through feedback, through “getting it wrong” and adjusting the next time. That’s how we learn most things we do, including really important stuff like speaking and walking.
Golf is easy – but there is a whole industry that feeds and needs insecurity and uncertainty. There is a flawed learning-model at the heart of most golf instruction, and it doesn’t work. It patently doesn’t work, as most golfers play with a fear that they will “lose it”, always a few bad shots away from the wheels falling off the wagon. Even the top touring professionals are constantly fiddling and tinkering, hitting slumps and losing confidence, before magically “finding something”.
Is there anything else we do in life that even though we’ve been doing it for years we live in constant fear of losing? Driving, speaking, writing, making a coffee?
Can you imagine it – “Well, I’ve been making coffee now for 20 years, working hard at getting it right, but just lately I can’t seem to get the coffee pot in the right position above the cup. I think it may be to do with my elbow position as I lift the coffee pot up. I’m going to be working with a new coach, so hopefully he can help me have a few pouring-keys to make sure I get back to where I was.” Ridiculous, right?
So why is golf any different? Seriously – why?
My daughter who is almost 3 years old as I write this loves hitting a golf ball with my putter – it’s fun, and now she can make the ball go more or less in the direction she wants it. The longer she does this, with encouragement and gentle feedback, she will get better – by that I mean she will become more intentionally efficient (she will become more skilled in getting the ball to go where she wants). It’s natural, it’s how we learn.
In my view learning is more powerful than being taught. A good coach provides a framework for their student to explore within, so that the learning is their own. A good golf coach enables, encourages, asks questions, and provides a safe, supportive environment within which their charge can learn their own game.
So, I sincerely hope my friend’s son (remember him?) takes a few clubs with a bag of balls and goes somewhere where there is no advice, no instruction, no technical, or mechanical keys. A place where he can play golf, where he can have fun hitting balls and learning how he can make the ball do what he wants it to. After all, that’s what golf is, isn’t it? It’s not complicated.
Many years ago a young Spanish boy called Seve did that, spending time on the local beach with an old 5 iron, and he turned out be a pretty good player.