How Long Do You Have to Wait for Your Swing to Work?

By Dr. T. J. Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research

Science tells us some important things about repetition. “It is a well-known psychological principle that learning is better when training trials are spaced out than when given all together,” says Dr. Wayne Sossin of McGill University in Montreal. Sossin proved that spreading the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin over five weeks of repetition leads to better learning than a tsunami of serotonin over a short time. Another researcher, T.J. Shors, and her team at Rutgers have shown that the adult brain makes new neurons in substantial numbers — 5,000 to 10,000 a day.

These cells are thought to be available to capture new learning, but only if such is presented to them. If not, they die within two weeks. As a learner trying to grow your golf brain, this tells you that:

(1) There should be an incubation period between each learning session, i.e., I would rather have you hit 30 balls once a week for five weeks than 150 balls in one day.

(2) Since you are producing new learning cells every day, you can rewire your golf brain if (and only if) you make the effort to run your reps through these cells. So much for “can’t teach an old golfer a new swing.”

(3) While you are practicing, you need to apply full intention, and full attention to every repetition — mindless repeating is defeating.

 (4) You must alternate between mixed and block repetitions. Mixed reps involve hitting a 6-iron, then a driver, then a wedge, etc., with the focus on ball flight just like you do on the golf course. When you block-rep, you are not interested in ball flight, but in the repetition of the swing mechanic, you are learning. 

(5) There must be enough reps of the non-negotiable swing mechanics you lack (e.g., coil, radius, sequence, etc.) to ensure retention.

The scientific literature is vague, but my experience suggests the following as a guideline: 300 reps for each non-negotiable learned as a new learner; 3,000 reps to relearn each non-negotiable as a “relearner.” As you can see, it is harder to relearn than to learn for the first time, which is a testament to the retention power of the human brain. What’s more important than an exact number of reps is the concept that you need to put your 5,000-plus new learning cells to work every day — Use them or lose them!

Change your traffic pattern

A good learner is a patient learner; so to engender patience in my learners, I use an analogy:

Think of your old swing as IBM, aka Big Blue. Every time a client (a stimulus) comes in the door, it runs through the biggest company in your brain, making Big Blue even bigger with each rep.

Since it is traffic (usage) that makes Big Blue so powerful, you’ve got to change the traffic pattern if you want to change your swing. It’s part of my job to convince you to grow a rival company that we’ll call New Swing, Inc., or Little Red.

At first, your new company has a very low traffic pattern because the electrical stimuli that control how you make your golf swing are all sent through Big Blue. But being a patient/persistent entrepreneur, and by using conscious intervention, in effect, you engineer a hijacking as you force every repetition through Little Red regardless of the result. As more and more stimuli flow through Little Red, your new swing gains a foothold, and your golf brain physically changes. If you could look inside your brain, you’d see Little Red’s interconnections growing to handle the overflow of new clients (i.e., new information). Soon you can say Hello to ‘Big Red’.

As your golf brain grows, you can expect a progression like this: First, your new swing will not work at all. Then it will work on the practice tee, but because you revert to your biggest motor program under stress (in this case your old swing, Big Blue), you will fail to transfer Little Red to the course — it’s not yet big enough to call the shots!

 Now failure on the course brings you to a critical juncture. It is at this point that most golfers abandon their new swing. The big takeaway here is that you must be patient and continue your reps until your new company grows bigger than Big Blue. This means that each rep must be done with full intension and full attention.

Once you reach this point, your new swing will automatically become the swing of choice under pressure. It’s now ‘Big Red,’ and you are ready to go target hunting with it.

If you’d like to study with Dr. Tomasi and other PGA Master Professionals, contact The College of Golf today.

1 comment

  1. I have been playing golf for about 20 years. My pattern is to hit “over the top” and now I am trying to learn lag. Is there any hope? If so, how many repetitions will it take to lay down these new tracks? Thank you.

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