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