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Chris Bertram: You know, I guess, the point there is, we live in an era where technology is so available and so cheap, and you go into most golf courses now and you have learning academies with Flight Scopes and all sort of forced platforms, and everyone’s phone has a slow-motion, high-definition camera on it, and every time I go to the range, I see people utilizing these tools. It’s not that there are necessarily bad, but we don’t have a really good understanding from a research perspective on how to use them properly. One of the things we did a few years ago was a study looking at the value of simple video feedback on helping players improve. So we set up a very simple manipulation whereby you know, one of the groups of players that we have, just hit balls on the range for a period of time, and then we tested them before and after to see if there was any improvements. So the first group just had time to stand and hit shots and do what you might call self-guided practice. The second group we had spend some time with a coach so they were getting a lesson. So they would spend some time, they would get some feedback from the coach after every one of their swings about what they could do a little bit better. And then the third group of people had time with that same coach, but the same coach was giving the same kind of verbal lesson, but also used video about every fifth trial or every fifth practice swing as a supplement to their coaching. And so when we looked after the fact, because I will admit going into this, this was back around the time when video was becoming very popular and readily available and analysis software tools were coming on the market, and the first time I ever tried it, I thought wow, this is an amazing tool to see what you are doing. It’s so obvious to the naked eye what you are doing wrong with your golf swing as opposed to trying to figure it out through feel and I thought you know, let’s study this and let’s see how much of a benefit it is. To our surprise, what we found out was that the group that spent time with the coach improved, but then the group that spent time with the coach and had the video actually got worse. And not only did they get worse in their pre-test condition, they actually got worse than the group that had no coaching at all. This was fascinating because it quickly opened my eyes to the fact that just because you have access to information, doesn’t necessarily mean that that information is always useful. Now is it possible – now, we were using golfers that were very low skill level, high handicappers in other words, and it’s possible and lot of people made this comment after we published the paper, “Well, that’s because there are at a really low skill level and you are just overwhelming them with information and they just were – paralysis by analysis.” And so you know, obviously then the next question is, could a skilled player go through this same paradigm and show improvements? And so we did that study also, and we found that you know, pretty much the same thing, maybe not to the same extent, but even more skilled players were struggling with getting better using the video feedback. Now that’s not to say still that over time and utilized properly, video can’t be a useful tool. It’s just that we don’t know. We don’t have the science to back it up and what we do have is everybody with this technology in their back pocket using it with the assumption that it is going to help them.
Cordie Walker: Wow, that’s amazing. One kind of simple question, but how did you measure improvement?
Chris Bertram: Yeah, so we had people, they’d come in before they would get any kind of practice whether that be with the coach, or the video, or the self-guided practice and we just had them hit a series of about 25 shots, and we measured them using a launch monitor and so you know, we looked at things like consistency of the face angle at impact. So are they able to – this was a study that was done indoors using a launch monitor and hitting into a net, so it’s a contrived environment, but that’s research in many cases, but we looked for improvement in terms of you know, how often they were able to square up their club fact at impact and then how consistently were they able to do that over the course of a series of shots and then after their practice session, we would do that same procedure again. We’d have them hit a series of shots, and look at certain things that we looked at that would be indicators of improved performance. Are they getting the club face squared up more often, and are they doing it more consistently.
Cordie Walker: Yeah, that makes sense and you mentioned something that you are using the video like every five shots?
Chris Bertram: Yeah.
Interviewer: So you know, after talking with Dr. Tim Lee about guidance and feedback devices, he was saying that a very basic premise is you shouldn’t use it on every shot. So you guys were already implementing that.
Chris Bertram: Right.
Cordie Walker: What are other ways that people should be using video then, like you said, using it properly, do you have any ideas on how to use it properly?
Chris Bertram: You know what, to say yes to that, I feel like would be overstepping. Like I’ve had experiences with certain people where I feel like video was helpful to them, but I’ve also seen the opposite where somebody saw something in their swing on a replay, and it wasn’t something we were trying to work on, but it got in their head and then they started trying to make a change that we weren’t really trying to work on, and that set them back. So, to me, it’s very much you know, proceed with caution. I think you know, frankly, you could say, the only recommendation that I could say that as a teacher or an instructor of golf, use the video for your own purposes first, as a coach, then use it with the players sparingly. So you might be able to take somebody’s swing and really break it down and study it on a slow-motion replay, but maybe use it sparingly when it comes to the player themselves and how much of that information they get to see because you can’t control what it is they are going to see, what it is that they are going to decide they need to fix because they don’t like the look of something, and then you could end up setting yourself back. And we have seen some evidence of that in research where there might be an initial drop in performance after using video feedback, but over the long term, it maybe starts to come around and show some improvement. But the fact of the matter is here, we just don’t have enough research on how to use even video feedback which has been around for quite a long time, much less a flight scope where you can get numbers for days about every small aspect of your swing and your impact and your ball flight. You know, it’s very easy to see, given what we have just discussed, how that much information can easily start to overwhelm somebody and maybe detrimental to their learning and improvement over the long or short term even.
Cordie Walker: So, is the conversation maybe about more of the breadth of information ‘cause the video obviously is a lot of information. So is it maybe more about the breadth of feedback whether – let’s say the launch monitor, you narrowed it down so a person was just getting like one number that was all they could see, like is that something to get out of this?
Chris Bertram: Well, it is I think, I mean, what you are saying, I think you are catching on to something here that we look at in motor learning is that what is the important information and how often should you give it to people, that is what people that study feedback in motor learning are ultimately trying to figure out. But the problem we have is that the kinds of scenarios that get set up in the research lab often use tasks that are nowhere near as complicated as golf, and so the application of even our basic science to something as big and complicated and psychologically perplexing as the game of golf. We’ve got a huge gap here in the research but yes, you are right in the sense that we do have to control it, maybe there is a certain amount of information that we should be looking to offer the player throughout practice that might be useful to them, but we don’t have a set of guidelines that can really help us here and that is what we are trying to do in the research labs and some of the applied research we are doing on the golf course, but right now, we just don’t know.
Cordie Walker: Cool and did you guys do a retention test? Was that the study on video?
Chris Bertram: Yeah, our retention test on that particular case was our post test, and so we had the pretest done everybody had practiced and the they took some time off. We had them go and ready some golf magazines for about ten or fifteen minutes, and then we brought them back for the post test. So in that case our retention test was done ten minutes after the completion of practice. Now, we could very well have brought them back the very next day and done a delayed retention test, but we did in this particular case.
About Dr Chris Bertram
Dr. Chris Bertram is the head coach of the men’s and women’s golf teams at the University of the Fraser Valley.
In Bertram’s 10 years with the program, the Cascades have never missed the podium in the PacWest conference. The men’s team won back-to-back PacWest championships in 2008 and 2009, and topped that by winning three in a row from 2012 to 2014. The women’s team has also excelled in conference play, winning championships in 2013 and 2014.
At the national level, the Cascades’ crowing achievement came in 2013, when the men’s and women’s teams swept the gold medals at the CCAA national championship. Both teams climbed the CCAA podium again in 2014, with the women winning silver and the men taking bronze. UFV has now recorded podium finishes at the six of the past eight CCAA national championships.
Bertram’s passion for golf goes beyond the course, as he also served for 11 years as Director of the Human Performance Centre and as an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at UFV. His research and teaching focus is in the area of motor skill acquisition with an emphasis on the nature of expertise and elite performance in athletes. Bertram has published numerous scientific articles on the game of golf, and recently published a chapter in Science and Golf V. Bertram also meets regularly with golf teaching professionals to discuss how the science of golf applies directly to the teaching and learning of the game. He currently sits on the editorial board for the Annual Review of Golf Coaching and has been featured on the Golf Channel and in the New York Times.
Bertram has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University. He was named PacWest golf coach of the year 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014, and was honoured as the CCAA golf coach of the year in 2013 and 2014.