Skill V Technique

Fri, Mar 6th, 2020
Skill vs Technique - Blog post from Jon Wallett Skill vs Technique - Blog post from Jon Wallett

Many players have pursued honing a perfect technique in order to improve their consistency and reduce their scores – I know I certainly did when I was a young player. Swing technique evokes many emotions – how can it be that you hit a perfect drive down one hole, and then on the next skewer it sideward into the bushes?

Last month, I was with my two young daughters at a public range, and whilst I was on the range my 6 year old daughter Natsuki went over to a nearby putting green to putt. My 4 year old, Miko, sat on a bank on the side of the green. To my horror, there was a 60 year old gentlemen flipping up 30 yard lob shots, and she was directly behind his line of fire….one skulled or thinned shot and she’d be in grave danger. I started to hurry over and I could see that this gentleman had noticed that my daughter had sat down 5 yards directly behind the hole he was chipping to, but then continued to hit these soft lob shots. His technique was awful - incredibly handsy, with no body turn through the ball and just a little flick of the wrists.  However all his shots – about 12 balls – were within a club length of the hole - I’m very confident in saying that no Tour Player would have achieved a better proximity to the hole.

So how can someone with such poor technique, produce such good results?

Player PlayingI think first we have to understand the difference between SKILL and TECHNIQUE. My definition of technique is ‘an efficient way of performing a task’. The definition of skill is ‘the ability to get a task completed, irrespective of style or technique’. Similar but a subtle difference. Skill is feel and more freedom focused, technique is much more rigid and compartmentalised. Just imagine if someone asked you to catch a ball, but every time they throw it to you in a different way – height, speed etc The way you move to catch it is different each time but the end results (the skill) is that you catch it.

Most elite players are skilful, but I see in their quest to improve their ‘consistency’, they over focus on technique and as a result their skill diminishes. There is an old story where towards the end the great Seve Ballesteros’ career, whereby he could not hit a fairway, as he was always focusing on fixing his swing and his technique. The great coach John Jacobs then said to him, imagine that there is a tree in the middle of the fairway and try to shape it around the tree. Seve went on to win the tournament, I believe his last – the 1995 Majorca Open.

The desire to play mistake free, like a machine and highly consistent is an emotional one…the mistakes can be painful. But if we look at the best players in the world – take for example Adam Scott – in 2019 his best score was 63 and worst score was 78 – that’s 15 shots difference. Most people would say Adam’s swing technique is perfect – and he still suffers with a 15 shot swing in his scores.

Hierarchy of TRUST and CONFIDENCE

Target DiagramIsee players wholly attach their self-confidence, to how well they are ‘swinging’..i.e.. their technique. However, to really succeed – and what took them to their elite level of play in the first instance – is to first put trust in themselves, then trust in their skills, and thirdly trust their technique.

Take for instance Greg Norman, Seve Ballestetors, Gary Player or Jack Nicklaus. They had self-belief in themselves that they would succeed before they ever saw their swing on camera, or entrusted their game to a swing coach. They all built their skills to hit different shots so that they could score lower than their competitors in tournaments. These two elements then shaped their technique

So do we abandon technique and focus on skill? Absolutely not – just as we want to improve and polish skill, so do we want to progress technique. The focus should be on understanding your swing pattern – both positive and negative patterns, and then looking to progress the positive pattern, step by step. Focus on improving your technical COMPETENCE but avoid searching for PERFECTION. The difference is subtle but so is the difference for a chef between cooking a good meal and a great one. Overfocusing or obsessing on technique, as Sports Psychologist Karl Morris so aptly quotes, ‘leads to disappearing down a rabbit hole never to appear again’.

So what strategies can we engage to develop SKILL?

The second third of your practice is the time to really develop this, where every shot is different. Here are 2 games you can try:

1. Par 21 with a 9 iron - Choose 9 different locations around the green (including some bunker shots), and then you have to get up and down in a total of 21 shots or better, only using a 9 iron and putter. This is a game Brett Rumford used to play when he was at the Australian Institute of Sport as a youngster, and he is now regarded as one of the best short game exponents on Tour.

2. 5 trajectories - Go 100m from the flag, and the game is that you must hit 5 different trajectories (e.g low spinner, high dropper, ¾ swing shot, full shot and stock shot). You carry on with each shot and you get the ball within a certain distance (e.g. 5m from the flag). Record how many balls it takes to complete the game (e.g. 15 balls).

Please remember that to improve your golf it is about lowering score. To do that, understand that it’s a balanced fusion of focus of empowering your SELFS (Self-belief, self-trust, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-discipline) improving your SKILLS and building your TECHNICAL COMPETENCE. Have a plan for all 3, work on them in equal amounts and your scores will start to tumble – guaranteed.

Are you interested to take your game to the next level? Jon has developed the ‘APD model – the Accelerated Player Development Model’. This allows players to lower their score and achieve their golf ambitions in the shortest possible time. This model was developed through first research – interviewing 50 European Tour Players (including 7 former world No.1s) and collating their information of the ‘Critical Success Factors’ to success on Tour. Jon condensed this information in to create his Elite Performance Workbook Series, and since then has coached on the European Tour for a decade, been a National Coach achieving ‘most improved team on the Continent’ status and established Camp programs both in summer and winter. Click on the links below to learn more:


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