Sunday, January 23, 2011

Next Step

So, we have talked about the importance of building many skills, not just a few, to becoming a successful tournament player.  Next we talked about the importance of recognizing individual strengths and weaknesses and allowing young players their uniqueness.  Now we will talk about the structure needed within the uniqueness.

As I was writing about allowing young people to develop as individuals, you might have thought it was too loosey goosey to produce success.  Without structure, it wouldn't be a formula for success.  Structure is needed in skill building in that each skill has a focus to accomplish a task.  A swing can be uniquely yours and not produce power or consistency.  That isn't our goal.  Our goal is to produce each skill uniquely suited to the individual that makes it easier to produce the outcome, such as power.

How do young girls create power?  Check out this video:
Creamer and Gulbis  You would never teach a player to make a move such as this, but if you are a student of what players do to get the job done, you would understand that when these two players were little girls, they learned that they could throw themselves behind the ball to produce the most power possible for their frame.  This move is pretty common in young girls who are allowed to develop a swing and want to hit it as far as possible.

As a teacher, the goal wouldn't be to completely change the move and keep their heads level throughout the swing, although that might seem to be an obvious first step.  If you took this approach, the golfer would lose their sequence of motion and a lot of power.  Also, it is important when teaching or coaching to understand compensatory moves.  Both ladies have a downward head move, but both offset it by going up on their toes at impact.  The toe move gives them room to swing through despite the fact that they dropped down into the shot.

The next move the commentators talk about is where Natalie's club is at the top.  The across the line move is another very popular move for young girls.  It helps them to hold an angle on the way down to the ball despite having small or weak hands.  As I said in an earlier column, great athletes will figure out how to offset a weakness on their own and the result isn't always a pretty one.  Once again, if you decide to fix the club's position at the top of the swing, you must understand that you are going to be adjusting the angle of attack and swing plane.  The goal is to allow the player to swing the club in the most efficient way possible given her strengths.  As a teacher, you want to get the club more down the line, but you will have to spend time working on the downswing and clearing through at the same time.  If not, you will have a golfer hitting chunks, shanks and slices.

Perfection of the swing isn't the goal, but perfection of a player's own swing is the goal.

So what would I do with these two swings?  First, it would depend on where they were in their career and what they wanted to achieve.  Natalie works with Butch Harmon, who is a great teacher and has as much common sense as golf sense.  I was lucky to be at Butch's studio once and see the film of Natalie when he started with her at age 17.  Since then, he has stabilized Natalie's flexibility, given her better lines in her back swing and at the top and worked to get her turn through more together.  I am not an expert on her swing or Butch's work with her, so I am speaking in very general terms.  I would say Natalie is lucky to be with Butch who is using her strengths and gradually making changes that allow her her own style yet get it closer to being as good as it can be.  Natalie doesn't have perfect technique, but is she a success?  I would say yes.  Natalie is living the life she wants to live, making a very good living and progressing yearly toward her goals.  She isn't Lorena right now, but there aren't many out there who are Lorena.  Can Natalie get better?  Yes, she can as she continues to understand herself and her move and works toward better technique.  I would guess that Natalie's other skills are quite good.  Where would she rank herself on fitness, confidence, a mental game, and routine?  As a touring pro, I am certain she understands how all these things work together.

The foundation for a young players skills are bullet pointed below:
  • stability
  • balance
  • swing plane
  • angles
  • impact position
  • sequence of motion
  • power/speed
  • freedom/flow
  • short game techniques (a category of its own)
  • distance and trajectory control
  • solid putting from routine to execution (another category of its own)
  • understanding of game 
  • positive decision making
  • clear vision of plan
  • execution without distraction
  • ability to stay in moment
  • doesn't compare herself to others
  • can clearly verbalize wants and needs
  • has a team to rely on and keeps a small council
  • believes in herself in any situation
Mental Game
  • can formulate and execute a game plan
  • can separate process from results
  • ability to stay in the moment
  • understands strengths and weaknesses and plays to strengths
  • has a developed and comfortable routine
  • routine is consistent and prepares player to execute
  • learns from mistakes
  • has a sense of momentum
  • can focus on the right thing at will
  • understands the importance of nutrition, rest and hydration
  • stays strong to prevent injuries, increase longevity and increase power
  • takes care of injuries or illnesses so they don't nag
  • has good cardiovascular and stability to be strong on 72nd hole
  • stays playful and youthful in approach for good body balance
Daily Routine
  • focuses on all parts of game, including putting, chipping, bunker play, pitching, shot making, and driving the ball
  • has a plan and purpose for practice and doesn't stray from the plan
  • understands that practice cannot be all repetitive, but must include some fun, creative, competitive and realistic focus also
  • understands that health and fitness are cumulative and eats well, stays hydrated, sleeps enough and exercises
  • lives in an environment that is supportive, positive, honest and healthy
The Most Important Skill
  • Get the ball in the hole!
    Tomorrow we will start talking about the development of these skills.

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