The Stages of Motor Learning

Comprehension of the 3 stages of motor learning and identifying what stage you are in, or should be in, is an important part of the learning process. Playing your best golf requires you to be able to focus on the shot is in front of you without much, if any, mechanical thought or conscious effort when swinging. The reality of development, nonetheless, is that there can be many mechanical thoughts, awkward movements, and lack of athleticism depending on the stage you are in. This short overview into the science of motor learning will help you better manage your expectations and mindset throughout the learning process.

Cognitive stage: The first stage of learning is where athletes are trying to gather information. A coach will provide feedback on what you are doing, what you need to do, and how to go about developing it. During this phase, make sure you are asking questions to ensure the information makes sense. If a concept is hard to grasp, you need to communicate that with your coach until it is no longer does. Throughout the Cognitive stage you will learn specific drills and the appropriate feedback to use so that you can begin making repetitions in the second stage of learning.

Associative Stage: Once you conceptually and clearly understand the movement pattern or sequence of multiple movement patterns your coach wants you to develop, you are ready for the Associative Stage. During this phase it is important to have a growth mindset since this is the longest stage of learning. Keep the mindset of wanting to get 1% each practice session or lesson. Deliberate practice, knowing what to focus on, and understanding what feedback to use is crucial. Those three aspects will make this learning stage more efficient. Athletes will begin to learn what movement pattern errors (swing faults) they tend to make as well.

Autonomous Stage: The final stage is when the swing seems unconscious, automatic, and smooth. This is the swing you should use on the golf course. We want to keep our thoughts to a minimum during this stage and on the golf course. Your focus should be on what you want the ball to do and not what your body is doing. If their is a swing thought that helps you execute shots with better results, use it. Remember on the golf course the goal is to shoot the lowest score possible.


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