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  • Matthew Wilson

Evolution > Revolution

Updated: Aug 19

There is no way around it: there is a large technical component to competence in golf. Whomever puts the ball in the hole fastest, wins. Doing that requires highly functional, and highly repeatable, form.


Expanding further, high performance in any endeavor is a marriage of competence and confidence. Given the demonstration of competence as one of many antecedents of confidence, good (we will get to the my interpretation of that) technique is a non-negotiable.


When observing movement, it is really easy to look at things from an idealistic perspective - through a lens that is shaped around your beliefs of what good movement is.


Beneath the surface, however, is the notion that habits, and, by extension, patterns, serve a distinct purpose - they are goal directed behaviors; they help a person achieve their desired result and have been reinforced as such.


I have yet to meet a golfer who isn’t doing their best to hit the ball solid and straight. In that sense, their technique is simply an expression of the interaction between their joints, intention, movement predispositions, and beliefs, as well as the movement and orientation of the clubhead. They are doing the best they can based on what they know and are aware of in order to solve the problem of getting the ball to the target. Cause precedes effect. Intention shapes movement.


I think that this is one of the challenges when working with aspiring athletes to improve their technique and help them enhance their ball control. There is a certain level of competence that they have achieved, and usually the methods they employ are somewhat unconscious and are often stylistically idiosyncratic. They often present with confidence in what they are doing, too.


If improvement - change for the better - is what we are after, how can we facilitate improvement in the presence of idiosyncrasy and proficiency without a decrease in performance and confidence?

 

I prefer to approach technical development with a sense of curiosity - I like to consider how it works vs. identifying what is wrong with it. It is often the case that what we think might be in the way of their success is actually the reason behind it.


Consider the evolution of the wheel as a metaphor. At the time it was invented, it was revolutionary. 5000 years later, the original design principle of a circle rotating about an axis has remained intact; however, it has evolved into the iteration that we know today. From my perspective, it seems like they understood why the first one worked, and from there, took steps to make small improvements.


This notion of evolution over revolution is the principle from which I find it helpful to operate when working with athletes, as there is usually lots they do that is helpful; much of what they do is the reason why they are good.


Rather than reinvent what they do, how can we refine what they do, technically, to help them level up? How much can we shift without disrupting coordination? Can a different picture in one area open up a different opportunity to move later on? How can we navigate the improvement process without a significant hit to confidence?

 

Consider the evolution of the athlete below.



The look of things has remained largely intact, but the performance has advanced significantly; the athlete's competitive stroke average has dropped from the 75 range to close to 70.

By considering what they wanted the ball to do in the context of how they currently generated face and path, we were able to refine his set up and motion to allow him to create a repeatable fade shape with the driver while still enabling him to generate draws with his irons.


Much like the wheel, we went with evolution over revolution.

 

Performance improvement is a massive topic with lots to unpack. The technical component of it is only one dimension.


I would suggest that while this was an important domino for this player, and an important factor behind the improvement, there are far more nuanced elements to the overall progression that are much more relevant to his success.


Over the next while, I'll do my best to share those coaching principles, and subsequent reflections, with you.

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