Sunday, June 19, 2011

Its All in the E's and the Eyes

What are the E's you ask?  The E's are the important words to remember if you want to be a great coach.  Yesterday, I had the good fortune to watch a great coach in action and saw him using the E's.  He was enthusiastic, encouraging and enlightening.

I paid a drop in fee to do my rehab at the Alpine Tennis Center and I was on a bike above the courts.  The tennis pro was below me teaching a seven year old girl the game of tennis.  I could barely hear a word he said, but I could plainly see the E's in action through his body language.  It was clear that he loved what he was doing by his enthusiasm.  His enthusiasm was contagious for the 7 year old and she wanted some of what he had!  He was encouraging on many levels.  When things went well, we would give a YEA!  He would stop and clap and he grinned ear to ear.  It was obvious that he was very pleased with her and she understood it when she either did something well or gave great effort.  Finally, his enlightenment was fantastic.  He stopped action, drew her in by being quiet, showed what he didn't like by mimicking and being somewhat goofy and then showed the movement he wanted more than once.  This pro gave a great lesson and both teacher and student had a lot of fun.

One of the things he spent a lot of time on is another E, the eyes.  They started the session by tossing a ball into cone.  He was prompting the girl to watch the ball into the cone.  It was evident by her head movement that she adjusted and learned to do what he wanted.  Then when she got a racket in hand, he once again told her where her eyes should look.  He was training that all important skill called eye-hand coordination.  That coordination seems to encompass a lot of skills, such as target recognition, aiming, depth perception, focus, and taking in details or information for decision making.  In a 30 minute session, the pro seemed to touch on all of these without ever mentioning any of them.

After training the eyes to watch the ball into the cone and then onto the racket, he put targets out on the court.  The seven year old immediately went from hitting the ball to hitting the ball to a spot.  Her target awareness went from a vague, I want to hit it in the lines to, I want to hit it to that orange circle.  Target awareness brought about aiming and body control.  Then the pro started varying the shots he hit to the girl, so now she had to make decisions about where to contact the ball and how to hit it to her target.  She was taking in information, making decisions and executing a tennis shot.  Sometimes she was successful and sometimes she wasn't, but the process happened either way.  The pro would make sure to use the three E's to give feedback and on they would go.  Golf instructors could learn a lot from this tennis lesson.  Introduce a target to introduce alignment and see what happens.

Here is what I was reminded of by watching a great pro in action.  First, the three E's are important, whether you are 7 or 70.  We all want and need encouragement and enlightenment from enthusiastic people.  It also helps if they are themselves enlightened or knowledgeable.  Second, by training the eyes, you train the skills.  It would be great if the catch phrase for learning golf was "keep your eyes on the ball" instead of "keep your head down".  Keeping your eyes on the ball is the first step to making contact.  Seeing and playing to a target is the first step to body awareness and alignment during the swing.  Watching the results of the shot is the first step toward depth perception and adjustment for success.  However, if you go to the driving range, you see a lot of folks with their heads down, possibly watching the ball, but possibly not, with no target and barely glancing at the shot they just hit before dragging another ball over.  Your eyes are the leaders of your brain and your body.  If you train them properly, they will lead you to become a great golfer. 

Dr. Craig Farnsworth has written some great books to help golfers understand and succeed in this area.  You can go to Amazon and check them out.  Another great resource you can check out is PBS's Scientific America  In it, Alan Alda presents us with the importance of a quiet gaze for successful athletes and visits with Dr. Joan Vickers about her research on successful gaze control in sports.  You can also check out her website if you want more information.  Dr. Vickers website.  Finally, this tennis pro understood that this little girl was learning through her eyes, not just her ears.  He was demonstrative with his body movements, he mimicked, he demonstrated and he used visual aids.  He didn't rely only on the spoken word.

The one thing that golf pros have over tennis pros is our proximity.  We can stand very close to a student when we teach, so that student can also benefit from manipulation.  We can give them movement cues through touch.  However, this isn't a benefit if you are using touch to "stop action" and hold positions.  Golf, like tennis is a game of flow and sequences.  If you teach using frozen positions, it will take longer to achieve the goals you are trying to teach.

Tennis has a lot going for it, especially if you are a 7 year old girl.  There is easy access to tennis courts.  Instruction and equipment is affordable.  When you make it big, you make as much as the guys do!  We have a lot of work to do in golf to keep it moving forward and to address these simple things; access, affordability, and equality.  Here is a good column on that subject.  That, however, is a subject for another blog.

P.S. The third E, enlightenment, can entail a lot of discipline, just so you don't think coaching is all sweetness and light.

Perhaps the best of all time at the E's.  Coach John Wooden speaks to Lew Alcinder.

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