Mechanics vs Foundation, which comes first? Understanding Function Dictates Form

I know this sounds like an odd topic for golfers, but I believe that it is a valid and fun topic.  Many parents, players and coaches think that if you are not working on developing great golfing techniques then you cannot be a great golfer.  Well I’m not sure that is true but I do firmly believe that a player with more experiences in other sports has a better chance of developing golf skills and mastering them sooner than a player who has only played golf and only had lessons to “learn” how to play the game. 

We talk to a lot of players and parents across the country and we often hear how they have started their son or daughter playing golf and taking lessons as early as 4 years old!  They proclaim this with a sense of honor that they are getting ahead of the curve on golf development.  As a parent, I get it!  We love to boast about our kids, thinking we are doing the right things to help them along or to get ahead of the “competition.” As you may know, junior golf is VERY competitive! Players and parents are relentless in the pursuit of perfection or college scholarship!  Just a hint to all those who believe this – LIFE is also competitive and unforgiving to those who are not prepared. 

Unfortunately, parents frequently express the desire to get more “lessons” on swing mechanics for their junior golfer because at a young age they are not as good as another junior golfer. Or another parent has concerns that their child’s swing may be different or wrong. However, the most concerning comment is when parents see things on social media and think that because something works for a tour player it must be good for their kid.  WARNING: Kids are NOT merely small adults. They do not have anything wrong with them if they are struggling to win junior tournaments or because someone else hits it a little further than they do now!  Working on swing mechanics too early in order to gain a short- term result can be the most destructive thing to a developing junior athlete.  Due to so many physiological, neurological and cognitive changes adolescents go through, trying to perfect a golf swing will only stunt their long-term development. This was realized in the work I’ve done with psychologist Dr. Anders Ericsson, who has endorsed our philosophy of long term development as the best way for athletes to develop. He has spent his whole career researching to understand development and how someone becomes an expert in an area of practice.  His research shows that great achievers in life share common denominators – passion, deliberate practice, struggle, grit and perseverance.  Athletes need to start with basic foundational movements then work to integrate soft skills or performance skills relative to the sport or activity. Later in the development process athletes work to harden the skills necessary for mastery (swing mechanics once all other pieces are in place).  This process can take up to 20 years in golf because golfers are never hitting the same shot twice. The environment is always changing. This is something that most juniors and parents do not understand.  Being good on the driving range does not equate to playing good golf. 

So, learning the skills necessary to be your best at golf is not just about swinging a golf club, chipping with a wedge or making putts with a putter.  These skills can be enhanced and probably better understood if they are taken into a context that most of us can understand based on past experiences.  Kicking a soccer ball is a great transferable skill to learn how to transfer energy in a golf swing or swinging a baseball bat or tennis racquet can help you learn the proper sequence of movement in a golf swing.  Rolling a bowling ball allows us to understand kinesthetic awareness or feel of distance. Another example we use is tossing a ball to someone or onto a green. This can help you understand how much energy is needed, again helping with kinesthetic awareness or feel.    

If you are a junior golfer thinking you are falling behind in development because someone is doing something different than you are, understand what the difference is. Ask your coach, “Is this something necessary for me to be successful 5 or 10 years from now?”  Remember, the better the foundation the higher you can go with your skills and the more success you will have! 

The next time you are practicing or playing a golf shot think about some of your experiences in other sports. “Feel” how it can relate to the task of hitting your shot.  What senses can you recall to help you with you golf skill building?  For the parents out there, if your son or daughter wants to continue playing other sports for a few more years (until about 15-16 they should be playing multiple sports) let them have fun. I promise it will only help with their golf skill building, interpersonal skills, self-confidence, understanding adversity and how to handle it, team work, problem solving and above all else exercise! As science has shown, the more and better your body moves the better our brains work!  All the skills needed to help prepare you for LIFE!    

Enjoy Your Journey!

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