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Holding on for dear life - the degrees of freedom problem part 1

On a recent family holiday we had a short hire car drive for an hour from Barcelona.

I have driven infrequently abroad on the other side of the road, however not with two tired and grumpy toddlers (and a grumpy big kid also ;-)).

After about 30mins driving on the other side of the road in traffic I began to realise my forearms were aching.

I was holding on for dear life of the steering wheel.

Holding on

A thought came to me, this is what it feels like to complete beginners standing in front of me or someone who is overthinking before hitting a shot when I am coaching.

 

They strangle the life out of the golf club.

tense golfer.jpg

They freeze their degrees of freedom.

What is a degree of freedom?

A degree of freedom is basically how many movements you have around each joint.

The elbow has two degrees of freedom Flexion and Extension.Degrees of freedom

Relative to the forearm, the hand is capable of 3 degrees of freedom: (1) flexing and extending, (2) pronating and supinating, and (3) deviating ulnarly or radially

Basically when added up a lot of choice on how to move.

We have too many degrees of freedom for any given task. What happens with all the extra movements that aren’t needed?

Well as a beginner we need to constrain the degrees of freedom otherwise there will be too many options for us to co-ordinate for the task in hand.

So beginners in their attempt to control the chaos in their uncoordinated movements freeze the degrees of freedom.

Therefore when you watch a beginner this is why they look stiff and lack rhythm and timing. There are just too many options (degrees of freedom) and not enough solutions (yet). So they constrain the options.

So the main solution when presented with this problem is to simplify the task so that the movements are not overly complex.

A recent story relayed to me from a good friend of Tiger Woods first coach is that Tiger started at a 1ft putt when learning golf, then moved back a 1ft every time and then started chipping when he got to the edge of the green.

This fits well with the degrees of freedom problem, the task was simplified therefore Tiger did not have to make an overly complex movement relative to his current ability. He did not need to freeze lots of degrees of freedom say compared to a full swing driver.

Once he could co-ordinate his degrees of freedom to perform the task in hand the task was made slightly harder therefore repeating the process at an appropriate level of difficulty.

The main problem I see with beginners is they often make the task way too difficult such as playing inappropriate length golf courses, therefore the process of freezing and unfreezing the degrees of freedom actually becomes longer, motivation can also drop due to lack of apparent success.

So if you are a beginner/new to the game. Start simple, putt and chip first it will actually speed up the process of learning golf, oh and it might become more enjoyable in the process!

Now what does this mean to a learnt skill, why did I freeze the degrees of freedom when I have been driving for over 20 years?

Well you’ll have to read part two :-). Click here

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