06.25.2015
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IN DEFENSE OF TRACKMAN: Motor Learning Advantages of Coaching with Technology

post by Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson

IN DEFENSE OF TRACKMAN: MOTOR LEARNING ADVANTAGES OF COACHING WITH TECHNOLOGY

Like most innovations that disrupt traditional conventions, TrackMan seems to take more than its fair share of heat.  The most vocal of the skeptics seem to wear their unwillingness to embrace change like a badge of honor– chosen defenders of the status quo.

A recent tweet by a former Tour player insinuated that somehow this inanimate device was responsible for the decline of a certain iconic golfer.  This added fuel to the fire, stoking what’s become a rather redundant debate on the benefits of technology in golf instruction.  The apparently arithmaphobic detractors seem to point to ‘The Numbers’ as the most prominent wrong-doer in their indictment of Trackman.  Their central point being that measuring and then quantifying the intricate details of the swing will leave a golfer a confused, overly-technical mess.  All those numbers– robbing the game of ‘feel’ or artistry and replacing it with sterile, cold, hard measurements.

Yes– in the wrong hands or delivered carelessly, all those numbers can be bad.  But the same can be said for anything being administered by the inexperienced or misinformed!  This frequently cited reasoning is reductive and hardly a compelling reason to condemn the measurement device or its users.  It can actually be a massive aid in shifting the learning environment from command-based, prescriptive instruction to one that is performance-focused and more conducive to effective skill acquisition.

And that’s not to say that we’ve never been guilty of over reliance on ‘The Numbers’.  But we’ve also utilized them in a way that enriches the feel and artistry of players.  In fact, because our prime concern is usually to just enhance impact alignments instead of obsessing over positional ideals, we make less wholesale ‘swing changes’ than ever.

Ultimately, our job as coaches is to create confident and competent performers who thrive under difficult conditions.  All TrackMan does is provide information – our job is to take that information and use it to help people move from A to B.  More often than not, that information is incredibly useful in facilitating that process…if used appropriately.

We hope to help everyone see beyond the recent discussion and gain a better understanding of how it can be used to facilitate learning and improved performance.  Below are a few elements of the learning environment that coaches can enhance through thoughtful application of Trackman.


AUGMENTED FEEDBACK

The most important ingredient to the learning process is feedback– it’s largely responsible for bridging the gap between experience and understanding.

There are two primary types of feedback; intrinsic and augmented.  Intrinsic feedback are the sounds, feelings, etc. that the performer experiences as a result of hitting a golf ball.  Augmented feedback is anything related to their performance that they can’t directly experience.   Technology helps provide augmented feedback that helps players process the intrinsic feedback they receive during practice.  The golf swing is a unique motor program in that it’s often very difficult to detect movement errors from intrinsic feedback alone.  Trackman allows learners to more accurately evaluate results thus informing future trials.  It acts as an accelerant in bridging the gap between feel and real.  Yes, FEEL!  Trackman users can, in fact, become better FEEL players based on the feedback provided.

There is also an element of confidence and motivation to consider.  Research has shown that having accurate Knowledge of Results can motivate performers to persist longer at practice tasks.  They are able to see the tangible results of their efforts through the quantitative changes that can infuse learners with self-efficacy and the confidence to persevere.

The challenge for coaches and players is the amount and schedule of the feedback, not the feedback itself.  Numbers don’t hurt people – they’re inanimate concepts.  Rather, as our friend from Happy Gilmore in the accompanying image suggests, people hurt people.  Ensuring that athletes receive the right feedback at the right time keeps the learning process moving forward.  Too much feedback, too often– creates dependency, which often yields to the adage of ‘paralysis by analysis’.

When in a ‘Transfer Training’ mode with a student, we recommend that you no longer provide the quantitative feedback of Trackman, opting instead to withdraw Knowledge of Results and allowing the golfer to prepare within a more authentic performance context.

Providing different types of feedback, such as summary feedback, positive or negative bandwidth feedback, or athlete-led feedback can accelerate the learning process and reduce the likelihood that an athlete becomes dependent on ‘The Numbers’.

ACTIONABLE: 

Rather than give feedback on every shot, try two different methods when giving feedback.  First, only give feedback when performance falls within a certain range.  The range could be negative (when performance falls outside of the range) or positive (when feedback falls within the range).  This helps decrease dependency and creates more of an independent learning process aided by feedback only when needed.  Secondly, when getting ready to give the feedback– engage the performer.  Ask them where they think their movement was in relation to the standards of performance that you both set.   This helps them calibrate internally and fosters a better sense of what they need to create the desired outcome.


IMPLICIT LEARNING

Implicit learning occurs when an athlete learns something in the absence of instruction.  Coaches should strive to help athletes learn as implicitly as possible, as skills learned in this fashion are proven to hold up better under pressure.  Often times, focusing on the effect of the desired movement or having an external focus of attention can help in this process.

Believe it or not, coaching with TrackMan can facilitate implicit learning.  One of the benefits of TrackMan is the ability to control what numbers are visible to the coach and player.  For example, one of the keys to playing great golf is managing curve, which, for argument’s sake, means controlling the face to path relationship and the impact point on the clubface.  To help people learn the old-fashioned way and ‘dig it out of the dirt’, simply spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s and put up only the launch direction and spin axis numbers.  Then ask them to accomplish the task of generating a positive launch direction and negative spin axis (draw), or negative launch direction and positive spin axis (fade).   This exercise creates many learning opportunities and provides a means by which a player can achieve repetition without repetition.  Providing a learning environment in this fashion helps the individual self-organize and begin to develop novel solutions to accomplish the task of curving the ball to the target and hitting it solid.

ACTIONABLE: 

Get creative with what numbers you enable the student to see.  Spin axis and a bit of Dr. Scholl’s goes a very long way in helping an athlete understand their ball flight and how it is influenced by where they make contact on the face relative to the sweetspot.  Additionally, try attack angle and launch angle for someone who struggles with contact precision and trajectory control.  Ask them to keep the attack angle shallow while getting the ball to launch lower.  Attacking the problem externally paves the way towards the possibility of learning a movement implicitly or in the absence of directive instruction.


TRANSFER TRAINING

Golf is hard.  The sport demands that a player be able to excel under extremely stressful conditions, often. Players are continually challenged to vary the distance, shape, and trajectory of their shots on every hole they play.

One of the core challenges inherent in the player development process is creating an environment that engages the psychological processes and physiological stressors that the athlete experiences during the course of play. Being able to create conditions that require the performer to plan, execute, and review the shot, while making each shot significant and carry a consequence, is really helpful in facilitating transfer and closing the gap between practice and performance.

TrackMan makes bridging the gap between training and play easier.  Combine and Test Center enable coaches to develop games that test the athlete’s ability to use all their skills (technical, tactical, mental), to accomplish the task of moving the ball from A to as close to B as possible.  In the end, much like golf, they receive a score that let’s them know where they are and provides perceived significance to each ball.  As scores improve, players are also able to see how and when they are making progress.  This type of satisfying feedback motivates players by allowing them to see the direct impact of their efforts.

In essence, through games and transfer training applications, technology enables coaches to design tasks that are more representative – the added pressure, difficulty, and variability ensures that the task, environment, and first-person experience closer resembles that of the course.

ACTIONABLE:

Make your own skills tests and training protocols in test center.  These are great ways to start a session or to challenge a player that is demonstrating good performance from a more stable environment.  Test center allows you to leverage the task-design matrix by virtue of assigning meaning to each shot, as well as giving you the opportunity to randomize the order of the task (distance).  Ultimately, it helps you, the coach, strike a great balance between task difficulty and environmental stability – a must for helping people progress their skills and perform on the course!


There are many professional fields that have advanced as a result of technological development.  Golf is no different.  As long as people try to reach higher levels of performance, tools will be developed to support those goals.  The important thing for coaches will be to look at the technologies objectively and devote the time and energy necessary to master them.  Hopefully, our discussions and ideas on the use of TrackMan to support the skill acquisition process sheds some light on how to do that and can help you be more effective.

–Corey Lundberg & Matt Wilson


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22 comments.

22 thoughts on “IN DEFENSE OF TRACKMAN: Motor Learning Advantages of Coaching with Technology

  1. One of the best of many great articles written. Thanks so much as this should help deter the detractors some.

    1. Justin, the author lists his arguments against Trackman as: don’t trust it, don’t need it, can’t afford it. None are particular relevant to the motor learning advantages but I’ll respond to each:
      1- Don’t trust it- I’m no engineer or physicist, but if the top equipment manufacturers, coaches, and players in the world (including the current Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA champs) trust it, it’s good for me.
      2- Don’t need it- Unfortunately, what I can see doesn’t match the apparent precision of the author’s– so I need it more than him/her.
      3- Can’t afford it- It’s proven to be a worthwhile investment in my coaching business.

  2. Why did you feel you had to defend TM . You should do what you belive , and let others do what they believe in . Some of the information in this article when it comes to learning in not compleatly accurate .

    1. Mr. Hebron, thanks for the comment. We just wanted to contribute our perspective to an ongoing and relevant conversation in the coaching world in hopes that a reader may discover a different perspective. We are thankful you felt similarly when revealing a few ‘secrets and lies’ in golf.

      Our thoughts on learning have been influenced quite a bit by Play Golf to Learn Golf, so we view your feedback on the topic in high regard. We welcome any specific feedback you have on the learning concepts discussed with an open mind to learn!

  3. The key is you can *systematically* work on the right things and not get into a vicious cycle. As a student, I’ve always been self taught and once got into the groove and was about a 5. But I lost it and became very erratic and ballooned way up in index to 11-13. -Whenever I got a lesson, a pro would see my swing had “good bones” and wouldn’t want to make any real changes. The cycle continued. So recently I tried two pros. One former PGA tour player who focused mostly on digging it out of the dirt, which helped me understand what impact should feel like. Then I had a couple sessions with a different pro in front of a trackman, and can attest to working on a couple areas with Augmented feedback has made a huge difference. In my case, steep and left. Since we can measure progress and assign drills to work on the problems, you can just focus on getting better. When I don’t go too steep or left, my trackman numbers are PGA tour average. Enough motivation to spend the right amount of time on the range and in front of a mirror. Plus, highly impactful for confidence. For me, I was able to work on one area for about a month and gained a consistent ball flight. It isn’t perfect, but it’s in the range (now a right). It’s now much easier to make the refinements to My index has dropped over 5 strokes so far from 13 to 8. I plan on continuing to reduce my shot variance with the trackman while working on the short game. Many thanks to Kevin Lozares and Kris Moe.

  4. This is my first experience with “Curious Coaches,” and I’m very impressed in the way you’ve woven motor learning theory and technology into a performance based coaching methodology….as you state, in the defense of trackman, the “numbers” in the hands of a skilled coach leave command – percsription teaching behind and speed up transfer of training – getting to the promised land of playing automatically with total trust.

    I’m excited about exploring the games, which demand changes in flight and trajectory…learning to execute during on course novel situations.

    Extemely well written…should be in every coaches library.

    Glen Albaugh
    WBWGolf.com

    1. Dr. Albaugh,
      Thanks very much for the kind words! Great to hear it aligns with the study and work you’ve done on the topic!

  5. I use flight scope,found that players responded to changes quicker,with back up of numbers and graphics and the right feeling to the right change with backup gave confidence.Also used skills challenge to identify the right area for a player to work on.Rather than wasting time on things that didn’t bring on improvement on course.Better time management leads to better results quicker,which leads to confidence in them and you.
    The right technology improves business,because quicker results mean better business.

    1. In 1995 at the pga teaching summit held in New Orleans Hank Haney told the “good ole boys” their ball flight laws were wrong. This was not the first time they heard this. Homer Kelly Cochran and Stubbs Jorgenson etc. Trackman has embarrassed them into reality. The pga insisted that thousands of apprentices learn bogus ball flite laws. Still no apology. Keep up the good work.

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