Practice Like a Kid – A Short, Important Lesson

If you’ve ever watched a toddler learning to walk you’ll know exactly where this article is going. After 5 minutes of falls, tumbles and scrapes she / he will stand up and give it another – no fear of getting it wrong or who is watching.

In stark contrast we have golfers on the range trying to get better. Fixated on how parts of their body are moving, concerned with who is watching them, worried about hitting another bad shot.

In golf, mistakes are seen as incorrect moves, they need to be eradicated and golfers fear making mistakes. When learning to walk mistakes are part of the learning process – falling forwards – towards your goal.

Coaching versus learning

What we’re talking about here is where coaching meets how we naturally learn.

How we learn to walk exemplifies our most natural way of learning – goal driven, problem solving and with little care or understanding for how we are solving the task (implicit learning). We just explore what we can do and stick with the most successful solution. None of us visit a walking coach once a month to tell us how to walk more effectively.

Then we have coaching, theory driving, often with instruction, hopefully leading to a deeper understanding and better performance. It is fair to say this is a less natural way for the human body to learn, however, it can provide a much shorter path to a useful solution.

For example, without a sound golf grip and setup few golfers find a quick way to hit the golf ball accurately and consistently.

Which is best for learning golf?

As a golf coach, I’m sure I carry some bias, but I feel golfers need both approaches to optimise their skill development and performance.

Coaching can be extremely useful, and golf coaching doesn’t have to be technical. Coaches can set tasks, use analogies and ask questions – these are all ways to adapt a player’s technique without coaching swing positions or using technical jargon.

What I feel many adult golfers lack is a slice of time each week where they learn like a kid. Messing around, seeing what they are capable of, making mistakes and not caring. I feel this approach leads to a much deeper learning experience and a better ability to play golf on any given day.

This is something coaching and technical practice rarely achieves. It may even be one of the reasons many adults feel they don’t learn as effectively as children.

What does learning like a kid look like?

There’s a certain irony in writing out how to learn in a natural way, but here we go:

  • Set a goal: holing a chip, crunching your iron shots, hitting the highest bunker shot you can…
  • Throw down some golf balls and play, see what you can create, don’t worry about how you achieve it, explore, learn, create.
  • Don’t care what people watching think of you.
  • View bad shots as learning experiences, helping you become better.
  • Enjoy and have fun.

Applying this to your golf game

As you plan your next week or month of practice consider an area of your game you want to develop. Please do consider coaching and trying to improve your technique, but also set aside 20-30 minutes a week to practice like a kid.

Set your goal, have fun, explore and care very little about bad shots, smile and enjoy the good ones.

There is a growing body of evidence behind learning in this way. In science, we call this concept expanding the perceptual-motor landscape of a performer, click on this link if you want a deep dive into the theory.

Summary

There are no big secrets in golf – rather a thousand tiny lessons a golfer needs to learn on their journey to becoming the best version of them. I feel this type of practice and mindset is one of those small lessons that many great players have learned. I hope it gives you a new tool for developing your own game.

For more articles like this one, come join the Golf Insider weekly post. And if you would like help creating an optimised performance plan you can now book a performance coaching session.

Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

3 thoughts on “Practice Like a Kid – A Short, Important Lesson”

  1. There is nothing more satisfying than playing a round without a care, enjoying the occasional PGA tour-level shots and laughing at the ridiculously bad ones. I walk my rounds at every opportunity, enjoying the exercise and the scenery rather than some always fleeting brush with birdies or even par. Golf is a game for me, a way to relax, not a pressure-filled profession full of anxiety. I would rather play as a child for fun, not championships.

    Reply
  2. Hi Will, Interesting article!
    would there be a danger of grooving bad habits from this kind of training?
    I suppose 20-30 minutes wouldn’t do much damage, just curious!

    Reply
    • Thanks Spencer – great question.

      I would say firstly that the positives will generally outweigh the negatives, and as you allude to it is a balance with how much time you spend on technical work. Secondly, if you have a good grip and setup you can’t go too far wrong, it will feel like you’re making some drastic changes, but your technique will barely look any different.

      As always these are my thoughts, use the ones that are useful and steal them, discard the ones that aren’t of use to you.

      I hope that helps.

      Will

      Reply

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