What are you thinking about when swinging the club? This is called your locus (location) of attention. You may be thinking about your hands, your shoulder turn, the clubface or the target. Research suggests that what you are thinking about affects your performance.
Your focus can be in one place and only one place. Have you ever been talking with someone on the telephone then somebody walks in the room. You become visually distracted and for a moment, you don’t hear the person on the phone. This is an example of how your focus can only be in one place. Regarding golf, your focus can be internal, external or external result.
When you have an internal focus, you are focusing on a body part. You might be thinking about turning your hands through impact, making a bigger shoulder turn or starting the downswing with your hips. Having an internal focus, focusing on a body part, is pretty common with golfers. When I ask students what they are thinking about, most often, the focus is internal. An internal focus may be good, at times, when you are working on changing your swing but an internal focus is less helpful in a performance setting.
When you have an external focus, you are thinking about what you want the club to do rather than how to do it. You want to swing the club more from the inside of the downswing so your focus is on swinging the club more to the right as opposed to thinking about your right elbow swinging closer to the body. This type of focus allows your brain to organize the movement and can lead to a much more coordinated swing. External focus affects motor learning by directing the attention to the desired outcome rather than focusing on the movements themselves. When giving lessons and working on a swing change, I always try to work with an external focus if possible as I have found that I get better results.
Another type of focus is an external result focus. When using this type of focus, you are focused on the resulting ball flight. You focus on hitting the ball higher because you need to hit the ball over a tree then the brain self-organizes the movement for you resulting in the higher ball flight. You might also just simply be focusing on the target. An external focus is best for performance with better players. It has also shown to improve the performance with novice players as well. Dr. Gabrielle Wulf from the University of Nevada – Las Vegas conducted a study with novice golfers. While hitting the ball, one group focused on shifting weight to the forward foot (internal focus), while a second group focused on pushing against the ground with that foot (external focus). Those in the second group outperformed the first for a variety of outcomes, including greater carry distance of the ball.
A study was conducted at a University in Wales. In the study, there were three groups of golfers with an average handicap of 5.5. The first group was asked to hit chips with an internal focus, thinking about their wrist hinge. The second group, hitting the same chips, was asked to have an external focus and think about a square clubface. The third group’s focus was an external result thinking about a straight ball flight while hitting chips. The performance of the third group was significantly better.
The bottom line is that thinking about what you want to happen rather than how to make it happen will increase your performance on the golf course.