Motor Learning

Successful Motor Learning Means You Have To Pee

I know, I know.  The title is a bit graphic. You won’t forget it though.

(I didn’t realize that the three steps created this acronym until Dr. Bhrett McCabe had me on his Podcast, the MindSide, and I discussed the three steps to successful motor learning.  He said to me, “Oh, so you are telling people they should PEE.”  There is no going back now I am running with it.  If you’re offended, you can blame Dr. McCabe.  I myself might never have noticed.)



This critical concept in how people learn can be summarized in three simple steps.  Without these steps, learning will not be as directed and possibly unsuccessful. 

1.  Plan.   Whatever you are trying to do, there must be a very specific intention or plan.  It should be simple and manageable.  If you are working on your putting and you have a habit of cutting the ball with an overly across the line swing (like yours truly), then the plan could be “draw path”.  The plan is specific, clear and singular. 
2.  Execution.   Now is the time to make the movement.  This means that you already have a clear intention in your mind about what should happen, and now you actually do it.
3.  Evaluate.  This should occur directly after you completed the movement.  The evaluation primarily is to compare the plan to the execution.  Ask yourself, “Did I make the movement according to my plan?”  If the answer is no, then you will start again and try to figure out why the execution was unsuccessful. 



People often get these steps wrong not because they have bad intentions or are lazy, but because their plan was not clear to begin with.  If there isn’t a plan, or the plan is too complicated, then the signals to the brain aren’t going to create a clean output (action).  This is when you see people hitting ball after ball trying to get one that feels right.  But because they weren't very clear with the intentions,  they may not really know what they did to hit it well.  So from a learning standpoint, that person probably was not as productive with the time spent hitting balls. 

The plan doesn’t have to be complex, it could be as simple as “I will swing in a relaxed way”, or “My plan is to feel softness in my right hand”. 

When you have two or more thoughts, your brain and body is overloaded and none of them really get done.  As the Chinese proverb goes, “If you try to chase two rabbits, you’ll catch none.”

So the next time you’re on the practice tee, dig up those notes that your instructor gave you and choose just one of them to focus on.  Before you let your mind wander off while firing off shots, tune in to the outcome of the shot and then think about it.  Match up the feel with the intention.   Did it go as according to plan? 



Find ways to give yourself feedback that will assist you in the evaluation step. In the putting example, you might put a tee in such a place that if that cut stroke were applied your putter would collide into it.  This way you have help in evaluating whether you’ve executed the movement according to the plan.  Sometimes what you FEEL is not REAL, and obstacles are a big help in telling us the truth. 

The bottom line is that you need to have a clear intention otherwise there is no way of knowing whether you executed the right way. 

Motor Learning Presentation

My presentation to the Proponent Group at the PGA Merchandise show is titled, A Framework for Motor Learning and Teaching Golf, and consists of a 30 minute lecture on motor learning.  I chose to cover four factors, variables and conditions that are mainstays of motor learning research and use examples of golf within each one.  

To download a six page summary of my presentation, click here

Learning versus Performance

Motor learning has been described as a set of processes associated with practice or experience that leads to relatively permanent changes.  It has four distinct characteristics:

1)  It is a process of acquiring the capability for skilled action;

2)  It is a result of experience or practice;

3)  It cannot be measured directly but only inferred through behavior; and

4)  It produces relatively permanent changes in behavior (Shumway-Cook & Woollacott, 2012). 

In this definition, it is required that a relatively permanent change in performance must occur as a result of practice to be able to infer that motor learning has occurred.  To golfers, how well they can do it “permanently”, or at a minimum, consistently is whether or not they have learned it.  This also would imply that they could perform on the course with their “learned” skill.   But when a player is in the early phase of learning, there are those skills that are merely short-term alterations.  Those initial movements when a golfer is making a change are not actually considered learning if they are only temporary (Schmidt & Lee, 2005).  Students need to understand the distinction between learning and performance so they do not expect to be ready for the course when they have not fully learned the movement. 

Training with biofeedback with Dr. Rob Neal and his BioDynamics system. 

Training with biofeedback with Dr. Rob Neal and his BioDynamics system. 


Shumway-Cook, A., & Woollacot, M.H. (2012). Motor control: Theory and practical applications. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 

Schmidt, R. A., & Lee, T. D. (2005) Motor control and  learning: a behavioral  emphasis. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Neuromotor Processes - Part 1


Just as the environment and the movement skill have constraints that contribute to the action system, factors within the individual also have constraints that affect the movement outcome.  The individual factors are vast and cover a wide range, but one with the most recent areas of advancement in understanding motor control is the neuromuscular process of movement as it relates to perception, cognition and action (Rose & Christina, 2011). The neuromotor processes are essentially the activity that occurs in the brain in order to create movement. Movement must begin by forming a plan.  Therefore, these processes begin before the movement occurs in the planning phase in the central nervous system (CNS).    This process is sub-conscious, we can't describe or feel what is happening while it occurs.  

Perception is the result of sensory impressions into psychologically meaningful information (Shumway-Cook, 2012).  Fundamentally it is what we see, feel and hear and how we translate it from the environment to our bodies.  These systems give information about the state of the body (e.g., is it on a side hill, is there a branch, is the wind strong, is there distracting noise?).   The golfer’s ability to interpret and adjust movement according to the environment is critical and perception includes the processes that do the collecting and interpreting. 

Cognition and cognitive processes include the planning part of movement.  This is includes attention, planning, problem solving, motivation and emotional aspects of motor control.  These processes are particularly important for golf instructors to understand not only in isolation but also how they interact with the task constraints and the environment.  

Over 50 years ago, the Russian neurophysiologist Nikolai Bernstein initiated a new idea about how movement functions and how our minds work to create movement (Bernstein, 1967).  Beforehand, physiologists believed the motor act was organized in a reflex-arc fashion: when learning a movement, its program is mapped and recorded in motor centers; then some kind of stimulus activates that program, the motor command impulses are sent to the muscles and the movement occurs.   Bernstein argued that the process was more complex and should include more than just reactionary responses but actual adjustments based on the sensory information.  He reasoned that there were a whole series of factors that introduce variability and deviation from the motor plan.  Ultimately, he argued, the movement includes what he called sensory adjustments, signals to create slight modifications to the movement, which are made when peripheral sense organs give new commands for adjustment.  Movement scientists around the world have adopted his perspective and it still stands today.

This process of receiving and interpreting differences from one trial to the next is important in the learning process and the coach can facilitate it by incorporating “feel” into the students’ awareness.  The more the student is aware of how it feels, the more accessible that movement will be for later recall.  Since then advancements in neuroscience have enabled us to look more closely at the intricate process underlying reception, transmission and processing of this sensory information.  The involvement of the individual in this process of planning and executing is relevant to golf instructors who may have misguided beliefs about how the movement process occurs


Rose, D. J., & Christina, R. (2011). A multi-level approach to the study of motor control and learning. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Shumway-Cook, A., & Woollacot, M.H. (2012). Motor control: Theory and practical applications. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 

Bernstein, A. (1967). The Coordination and Regulation of Movement. New York: Pergamon Press.