To what is the 'Motor' in Golf Motor Learning referring?- Dr. Tim Lee's Introduction to Motor Learning in Golf, Part 1

Dr. Timothy D. Lee
  • Author: Dr. Timothy D. Lee
  • Motor Learning Expert
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golf practice

Ask any golfer why they practice and a typical answer is “to play better golf”. To those who study movement skills and performance, this goal is usually referred to as motor learning. But that term packs a lot of meaning, so over the next three short articles we will try to unpack the term and explain what it is and isn’t referencing. In this first article, we describe to what the “motor” part of motor learning refers. The second article makes an important distinction regarding performance and learning. And, the last article goes into more depth about what actually changes during the motor learning process by describing the schema theory concept.

Our goal in this series of introductory articles is to provide a basis for understanding how real change is made in golf skills as a function of practice. The three-part introduction sets the stage for later articles about the many different aspects of golf practice.

Golf skills involve the motor system – a component of the central nervous system that drives the actions of muscles on bones and joints, resulting in movement. But, golf skills involve much more than that. We use sensory information to decide what to do before a shot is made (such as visual information in reading the break of a putt.) We also use sensory information during the swing to control movement (such as vestibular information in balance control during a soft-sand bunker shot.) And, we rely on our cognitive system to make good decisions (e.g., where to aim, what club to choose, and what to avoid when laying up.) So, when we perform and learn golf skills, we are using much more than the “motor” component. In essence, when it comes to golf, “motor learning” is actually “perceptual-sensory-motor-cognitive learning.” But, we’ll stick here to calling it motor learning.



golf practice

That also brings us to another important point. What actually improves as we learn golf skills? We mentioned that it is the central nervous system that coordinates our movements. Specifically, certain regions of the brain are responsible for initiating movement and comparing motor signals with sensory feedback information in order to regulate the ongoing, moment-to-moment evolution of the swing. Motor learning, therefore, involves a process in which improvements are made in how those brain regions do their job. And, of course, we learn from making decisions, too, so there is a large cognitive component in the improvement. 

Before moving on to the next article in this introductory series, we would like to dispel a myth. There is a misconception amongst some people that learning golf skills is a process of developing “muscle memory.” Motor learning is not “muscle memory.” As we have discussed above, motor learning is a process of improving the regions of the brain that coordinate movement. In Part 3 of this series, we will discuss how generalized motor programs and movement schema are involved in this learning process. In the next article, we focus on how motor learning is identified and measured.

The Myth of Muscle Memory with Dr Tim Lee | GLT Golf Podcast Season #2

A note from Team GLT: It's our priviledge to be able to bring you this biweekly series from Dr. Timothy D. Lee, a leader in the field of motor learning. If you're interested in learning more about motor learning while waiting for the next installment, visit the motor learning certification section of our website. 

Tim Lee GLT Motor Learning