What Actually Changes as a result of golf practice? Dr. Tim Lee's Introduction to Motor Learning in Golf, Part 3
In Part 1 of this series we introduced motor learning of golf skills as a type of “perceptual-sensory-motor-cognitive learning.” In Part 2, we defined learning as an internalized, relatively permanent improvement that results from practice. Here, in Part 3, we discuss motor learning at a deeper, conceptual level. We explore what actually changes as the result of practice.
As stated earlier, motor learning is not a process of ingraining something in “muscle memory.” Motor learning requires an improvement in the system responsible for movement control – the brain and central nervous system. Although researchers do not always agree on how that occurs, a highly-regarded theory for the control of discrete movements (brief, ballistic actions, such as the golf swing) is what Richard Schmidt described in his schema theory.
The basic idea of the theory is as follows. Two flexible memory systems, 1) the generalized motor program, and 2) the movement schema, operate together to control a “class” of actions. Your handwriting, for example, would represent a class of actions – regardless of the medium on which you write (on paper, on whiteboard, in the sand on a beach, etc.) there are some fundamental similarities in the way you handwrite. The timing and shape of your hand movements are very individualized, yet stable and repeatable, and represent the features of the generalized motor program. How you actually produce the letters – be it with a pen, marker, or toe in the sand, and using your dominant or non-dominant arm or leg – represents the application of parameters supplied by the schema. The schema does not change the fundamental characteristics of the program, but instead allows the program to be performed in a variety of ways.
NOTE: Skip to 9 minutes & 30 seconds on the podcast above and Dr. Tim Lee goes into a lot of detail with the handwritting example.
Applying this theory to golf, the full swing would represent a single “class” of actions (the putting stroke might represent a different class.) The generalized motor program controls the basic features of the swing, such as the well-known rotational kinematic sequence (in which the occurrence of peak rotational speeds of the pelvis, thorax, arm and club occur in same sequence and time pattern during the swing.) The basic components of the program (in this case, the order and timing of the kinematic sequence) do not change from shot to shot. What changes from shot to shot is how the schema applies the parameters to the program in order to create shots of varying trajectory, force, and by using clubs of different characteristics, etc.