Motor Learning

Does Score Illustrate Learning in Junior Golf?

Do we often forget to disassociate learning with performance in junior golf?

Do we often view junior golfers abilities through the wrong lens?

I am writing to not only confess my sins as a golf coach but to share what I have learned moving forwards. If I can help prevent others from making the same mistakes as I did, we have a better chance of growing this incredible game.

pitfallsI for one have been subject to the pitfalls of disassociating golfers performance and their learning – back in the day I viewed them as the same thing and assumed that what a golfer learned came to fruition via performance. I was wrong, very wrong.

Golfers have come to me with vast amounts of knowledge, ideas, questions and discussions showing what they have ‘learned’. The same golfer has attempted to play in a tournament only to score what would be perceived as a ‘bad’ score. The score leaves the golfer often stumbled, the ignorant coach (me at the time) almost lost for words, and typically the parents (mostly uneducated in sports and performance) rather upset.

Dr. Robert Bjork explains incredibly well the differences in learning and performance in this YouTube clip, you MUST watch it.

This leads us onto the question of what are we actually looking for?

Are we looking for a good performance ‘numerically’? Or are we looking to maximize the learning of a golfer for future results and long-term goals?

The former is what I was doing for a number of years – I even got that wrong too. Due to my beliefs, at the time, I looked for low scores and good performances as a measure of my coaching and what the player learned from me. I had the golfer playing events that were a little out of their comfort zone, they were appropriate sized courses or longer and the fields ability was the same if not better.

I was setting myself up for disappointment never mind the golfers, if they were thinking anything remotely like I was at the time. Looking back I realize that it’s pretty easy to get better performances, numerically, and can serve you well in an environment that cultivates, and praises results.

Place a golfer in a younger age category, a field of golfers with a poorer skill level and in a tournament that is on a much smaller and easier golf course – job done. That is quite possibly an easy route to seeing great performances ‘numerically’. But if we want to maximize learning and reach the highest levels of performance i.e. Olympic and Professional, what I have done in the past is quite possibly the worst thing you can do to any golfer.

Understandably, seeing a score that is lower can give us an altered and misleading perception. This is not the lens we want to keep looking through, as there are too many other variables that must be considered.

Performance can be measured much more accurately than learning – as learning is something that is inferred – but much of what can’t be controlled effects performance outcomes, so there relationship to learning is far from accurate.

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Matthew Cooke
Originally from the United Kingdom, Matthew developed his knowledge through extensive study in sports and exercise performance, sports and exercise science, and the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) of Great Britain. Whilst in the U.K. Matthew Co-founded ‘Leap Golf UK’, with Iain Highfield, where he worked with Ladies European Tour, Euro-pro and mini tour professionals. Since joining the United States, Matthew founded ‘Game Like Training Golf Academy’. The Academy runs full scale coaching programs for all level golfers, and educational programs for coaches looking to expand their knowledge on scientific learning principles. Clients spread from all over the Unites States, Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Matthew also serves on advisory boards for multiple Junior organizations, and golf coaching institutes, providing advice on training, development, learning, and performance. Some of Matthew’s positions have seen him work with all types of golfers, utilizing his knowledge, and expertise in the LTAD framework (Long Term Athletic Development). Partly because of this Matthew has worked with golfers and seen them achieve success at the city, county, national and international level. Matthew is currently involved with research studies in expertise and expert performance with Dr K Anders Ericsson, and Len Hill PhD, and is collaborating with professors in motor learning, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and professionals at the United States Olympic Association. Matthew has written 4 workbooks that have helped hundreds of golf coaches, and players, in over 13 countries, practice, and train more efficiently. The workbooks give an insight, and practical examples, to the key characteristics of creating an environment that fosters learning. Matthew currently writes for many online golf platforms, and magazines, providing educational content on how to practice. His expertise within the learning sciences, and his experience as a golf coach allow for a very simple, and practical perspective to incorporating what the science shows. In 2016, Matthew was elected to be part of a book project, called "The Taxonomy Of Educational Objectives For High Performance Golf" with Dr. Fran Pirozzolo, Dr. Robert Bjork, and more. Collaborating with the worlds best golf coaches, and academic professors, Matthew aims to educate, grow, and give back to the golf community.