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GOLF TEACHING PRO®

It wasn’t too long ago that teaching golf consisted of having a teacher telling a student to “swing like this,” and then demonstrating a move for the student to copy. If the ball fl ight was satisfactory, then the mission was considered accomplished.

Today, the use of computers, videos, and training aids is common among those who are full-time practitioners of teaching golf, but what will the industry look like a decade and beyond into the future? What avenues of imparting instruction have yet to be explored?

The advent of the portable video camera in 1981 changed forever the face of golf instruction. Teachers were able to take a moving picture of their students’ swings and then show them immediately what their swings looked like. Not only was this valuable to the student to see visual feedback, but it was also helpful to the teacher, because now he or she could see things that weren’t apparent with the naked eye.

Most all teaching today among full-time instructors still revolves around the use of a video recorder, even if the images are then converted for use with a computer. As for training aids, it seems every month a new product infomercial premiers on Golf Channel. While today’s teacher has all of these high-tech tools at his or her disposal, certainly the future of golf teaching will continue to evolve.

One area that is just now getting attention is motor learning. There are three senses that people use to learn golf: sight, sound, and feel. You would think that the days of Tommy Armour sitting in a chair under an umbrella barking out verbal instructions to hapless students are long gone; yet, unfortunately too many teachers today neglect to impart enough sight and feel instruction into their lessons. USGTF members learn about these important aspects during their certification week, so our members get a good head start in this area as compared to non-USGTF instructors. Lessons of the future are likely to involve much more video, teacher demonstrations, drills, and the teacher putting students into certain swing positions or motions than do lessons of today.

Other aspects of motor learning involve distributed practice vs. massed practice, and random practice vs. blocked practice. Distributed practice involves doing an activity, taking a break, doing an activity, taking a break, etc., with the result being the activity time and resting time are roughly equal. Massed practice means doing an activity with little or no break.

Despite the growing body of research showing distributed practice to be superior to massed practice, most golfers and teachers insist on a program of massed practice. This is likely due to the fact that such research is not widely known among the golf population, among other reasons.

Why would taking frequent breaks be beneficial? The theory is that the brain needs time to process what it just learned. If we just keep going on and on with hitting or chipping balls, let’s say, after a few repetitions our brains somewhat tune out, and true learning ceases. The current thinking in golf training is “the more balls hit, the better,” but this simply isn’t true. As the benefits of distributed practice become more widely known and accepted, golf teachers of the future are likely to adopt this type of practice schedule in their lessons. Instead of having students beat ball after ball, future instructors will likely have them hit only a few at a time before taking a mandatory break.

Random practice means the activity changes either with each repetition or with great frequency, while blocked practice means doing the same thing over and over with little or no change. Present day teachers and players overwhelmingly promote blocked practice, where the golfer hits the same club several times until a groove is reached. However, research shows a random schedule is likely to be more effective than a blocked practice schedule. This theory is based upon the principle of “re-learning,” where the brain tends to retain information better in the long-term if material is “forgotten” and then “re-learned.” For example, in golf, if we are trying to hit our driver better, instead of hitting ball after ball with the driver, it might be better to hit one or two shots with it, go to another club for one or two shots, and then come back to the driver. Golf lessons of the future are likely to incorporate much more random practice than what we now currently see.

Training aids undoubtedly will rise to a higher level, although right now there are some very effective high-tech, but expensive, tools available today. For example, the K-Vest is a great training aid and involves a very high level of motor learning, but it costs several thousand dollars. If a teacher is in a high-volume area, he or she can make such an investment work, but others may not recoup their outlay. Future high-tech training aids are likely to be more cost-effective than what we now see.

Speaking of tomorrow’s training aids, what is likely to be developed? One educated guess is that someone will invent a “machine” that a student steps into, and this machine will consist of various levers and such which will be strapped onto the student. Only when the student makes the “correct” motion will the levers move in the correct order, allowing the student to continue to swing. If the student does not make the “correct” move, the levers will cease to move until the proper motion is performed.

Launch monitors that now cost thousands of dollars will likely be only a few hundred dollars in the coming years. Their use will become more widespread, as teachers can accurately see exactly what the clubhead path, clubface angle, clubhead speed, and angle of approach are without any guesswork. This will allow the teacher to hone right in on the area of need, and provide a more structured lesson.

Players will also be able to dial in their equipment with the coming proliferation of launch monitors. While they are of course available now, it is rare to find one at a golf course. This will not likely be the case as time marches on, so more players will be able to take easier advantage of them.

As for opportunity, it follows that as we continue to add population, more golfers and more facilities are likely to come into the fold. In other countries, the game is booming. China expects to build 3,000 courses in the next 10 years, and teachers from all over the world are expected to converge there.

Although technology is likely to play a greater role in future instruction, it will never replace the personal interaction between teacher and student. The future looks very bright for golf teachers everywhere.

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