Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Have you ever been deeply sleeping and found yourself in a peaceful dream that suddenly turns nightmarishly dark?  Curl up in your chair, place your hands over your eyes and peek through your fingers as I describe a frightening scenario.

Thousands of years ago a young warrior is learning to hunt with his father, the Chief of the tribe.  As they gather their spears and arrows, the father knows what the boy doesn’t, that the future of his tribe is at stake. He knows that the objective is survival – not of the fittest but of the skilled. It is not a game.  His son’s failure to acquire the necessary skills would jeopardize the future of his people.  

The Chief begins the training by hunting small animals with arrows teaching the boy the techniques of tracking prey and the art of patience.  He understands that errors are inevitable but certain techniques, erudite from centuries of mistakes, speed up the learning.  He shows him how using two fingers around the string to pinch the arrow slowly while drawing it back to avoids the cracking noise the bow makes when pulled.  He demonstrates how closing one eye helps peer down the arrow creating a visual tunnel to the target.  Every lesson is precious; absorbed from centuries of pervious warriors, feeding and protecting their families. 

At first, there are too many things to think about, being quiet, finger position on the arrow, pulling the bow, balancing and aligning the body.  At first the boy is clumsy.  Arrows drop from his fingertips and as the bow trembles with insecurity.  It seems hopeless to the spectating tribal members. It appears that the women and children of the tribe will starve but the Chief is wise.  He trusts in the nature of survival and that inside his son is a fighter waiting to emerge.  He also something sagacious – that the errors are just as important as the successes, a lesson taught to him by his own father.  He understands that as some immeasurable and unpredictable instant a miracle will occur, and a boy will transform into a warrior but the only way to reach that precipice is to let him stumble and be patient. 

The Chief also knows that each failure is one tiny adjustment closer to his skill.   Each time his son misses he corrects him, repositioning his body and sharpening his aim.  Each miss of the target requires and adjustment  and each strike reinforces his feel.  As he improves, his confidence grows.  Soon he is able to hit small targets from hundreds of feet away and eventually in a blink of an eye, he can perform the multitude of quiet succinct movements in perfect harmony – moving and releasing arrows effortlessly from the bow. 

In the end, the fear of starvation and death created an opportunity for survival and safety. A skill had been captured and a warrior emerges – guaranteeing the survival of a tribe.  A future teacher is created who will eventually teach the same skills to his son. 

Fast forward a few thousand years.  A golfer slowly opens the back door of his SUV.  As door partially opens, he sits on the bumper.  He slides his feet into his golf shoes, laces them tightly and pulls out his golf bag setting it on the pavement.  He closes the hatch, straps the bag over his shoulder and heads to the practice tee unaware of the threat that lies ahead. 

As he walks to the practice tee, he slides a harmless 7 iron from his bag and taps a golf ball from the pile into position. As he wraps his fingers around the grip of the club and addresses the ball he is hopeful yet cautious.  His mind fills anxiously with thoughts of anticipation.  Will today be a good day or a bad day?  Could I finally find the secret or will I be disappointed? He is unaware that inside his brain, is a powerful chemical – an atomic weapon – waiting to release its power –  the same weapon that helped a Chief mold his son and insure the survival of his tribe.

Each bad shot is painful and disappointing.  Each good one encourages.  The problem is that there is no Chief to guide him and keep him on track.   He never knows what’s coming.  It’s a guessing game.  What happened on the bad ones?  What did I do right on the good ones?  Confusion, fear and hopelessness ensue.  

There is something even more frightening going on inside the golfer’s brain – an intelligent design that the Chief innately knew.  Inevitably, each swing causes an emotional jolt firing a neuron in the brain releasing powerful chemicals.  The chemicals reinforce each experience.  The experiences, good and bad, creates neurological patterns that grow and solidify.  The golfer continues to guess and proceed unchecked until the pattern develops landing him in the giant pile of golfers that can’t break 100.  Unlike the Chief who monitored his son, adjusted his techniques and guided his behaviors, an insurance policy ensuring that the skill would evolve. Without a coach and a guide there is no insurance of success. 

The atomic chemical, innately known by the Chief, is myelin – a fatty substance that reinforces the electric circuits inside the brain.  All of us have this nature swimming around in our heads waiting to build a pattern.  Relentless and unbiased, it doesn’t care if the swing is a good one or bad one.  It has a job to do – the same job that helped a kid become a warrior – to learn a pattern, build a skill and survive.

  If you’re lucky and you guess correctly as you practice, the myelin releases and a miracle takes place – you build an incredibly efficient circuitry that can repeatedly strike a ball dead straight long distances.   Or something devastatingly nightmarish occurs illuminating the wisdom of the Chief – that the tribe will starve or in your case, you build and incredibly efficient circuitry that can’t strike a golf ball.  Whether you are a boy becoming a warrior or a modern human learning to play golf, your success at learning skill depends on how you wrap myelin around the circuits of your brain.

In the past, practicing incorrectly could mean extinction.  Today it means frustration and losing dozens of golf balls.  It might not be life or death but, I have a very important question. Are you willing to guess at your golf swing survival?   (STAY TUNED…for the perfect golf lesson)