Indoors on mat’s vs. outdoors on grass

Updated: Jun 22

Humans through design are both opportunistic and environmentalists, many of the movements we make alongside the emergence of new movements that appear and arrive over time are often in response to the constraints placed upon us and the environments we are asked to operate in. Combining our innate survival instincts with our inherent search for pleasure and avoidance of pain (hedonism) are invariably some of the main drivers behind why we move the way we do. Using the Brazilian martial art of capoeira (BJJ) as an example, myth suggests many of the movement philosophies behind BJJ comes from slavery and how movements emerged from slaves being bound at the hands and having to work in low ceiling caves which made them predominately crawl with their hands tied, therefore they learned to move and use their feet and spines differently in response to the low ceiling height and with their hands being in chains. From this the movements that we now see in BJJ can apparently be tracked back to the dreadful days of slavery and how the constraints placed upon them and the environment they had to live in actually allowed such wonderful movement adaptations evolve.

The current situation we face due to Covid - 19 (May 2020) has had a significant effect on almost all of us, one such area when relating this to golf is for some, the environment many have had to practice and hit balls in has gone from being outside on grass to now indoors on mats. Players typically respond to one of two feedback systems - feel and flight. In short how the movement/contact at impact felt and where the ball went. Therefore when hitting balls on mat’s and into a net the two main sensory stimulus we have, touch and vision instantaneously change. When we go from grass to a mat this completely changes the feel/touch our sensory systems relates to and when hitting into a net, we completely remove flight which is the other influence that controls our reference and feedback system. Touch is so important in movement as the truest form of perception is touch, this is one reason why babies are always picking things up as it provides such expansive exploration for them. A significant influence on our perception relates to expectation, after we hit the ball what are/were we expecting the ball to then do? Mats and nets in essence close down and make redundant both of these exceptionally influential feedback system’s as the club is now interacting with a completely different surface and the net removes essentially all of the flight. Therefore from this one hypothesis may be that as and when golfers are allowed to play again, for those that have been fortunate to have hit balls during the lockdown in nets and mat, how may their movements have adapted as well as their feedback systems changed in response to the constraints placed upon us and the shift in environment we were asked to perform in?

Just before the Covid -19 lockdown was enforced, I was very fortunate to spend time with a very competent and multiple European Tour winner. One question he asked me at the start of the session was can we capture how he moves on grass outdoors compared to hitting on mats in my studio. My curious brain was immediately excited by this as too often most sessions are conducted in very sterile, clinical environments therefore the opportunity (opportunistic once more) to capture this player perform in these two very different environments was one of great excitement. This is one issue with much research in golf, invariably data is collected on mats either in laboratories of covered driving ranges therefore the ecological validity of the research and data can be significantly questioned. Even ambient light and temperature can influence how we move therefore all this much be acknowledged and allowed for when reviewing research literature and data. Some of the main questions we should always ask of research - Who’s it for? Who’s paying for it? What are the researches objectives and reflexivity and in what environment and surface was the data collected in...?

Anyhow, what was evident when reviewing how the player moved when on grass/outdoors compared to mat/indoors was how clearly and notably different both their movement and club delivery was especially around impact. One area of movement which has been supported by much research in recent years (Tucker et al, 2013 and Evans and Tuttle, 2015) is that movement can be variable however the outcome can be the same and vice versa, movement can remain the same however the outcome can be variable. This particular player’s data supported the concept of variable movement without non variable outcomes due to the change in environment and surface.

Let’s look at some of the main segmental and club delivery difference between mat/indoors to grass/outdoors:

Therefore what can we extract from this?

Initially let’s looks at the movement adaptations between the two movements. On the mat/indoors the player has significantly less shaft lean at impact, more thrust towards the ball with their pelvis alongside more elevation in the hands when compared to outdoors/grass. One could be allowed to then make the judgment that the player is adapting how they move in response to how they are expecting the club and ball to interact on impact due to changes in the conditions.

Of great relevance is we must acknowledge this is one player and it would be intellectual failure to make any judgments from a sample of one, however what we can understand from this we do move different when asked to complete a task from a different environment and under different constraints.

Removal of flight completely changes how we perceive movement as advanced and established players invariably adapt and refine how they move based on ball flight. Removing flight reduces the human’s opportunity (opportunistic once more...) and ability to adjust and adapt. The surface we hit from can change how we feel connection at impact therefore we inherently shift our movement to adapt to and allow club delivery to best match the surface we hit from. On a neurological level even our brain synapses can change over time as well as our brains plasticity if exposed to prolonged exposure of mat/indoors.

The human brain is possibly mankind’s greatest achievement however when exposed to this unnatural and un representative environment that we are currently having to embrace and perform within, is it now becoming our greatest problem through no fault of its own?

For those that know the philosophical story of the “The ship of Theseus” may relate this to mat/indoors vs. grass/outdoors. The Ship of Theseus tells the story of a ship that leaves the harbour one day complete with its crew with the boat representing the anatomical frame of the human and the crew representing the human mind/spirit. However each day the ship was at sea one piece of wood from this ship was replaced by the crew by a new piece of wood. Eventually, the crew arrived at the day where every single piece of wood on the boat had been replaced by new pieces. Throughout this process the crew had thrown overboard each piece of old wood from the ship into the sea, however behind them was a man in a small boat that collected and retrieved all the old pieces of wood thrown overboard and built a new boat from the wood collected. Therefore the question is, was the boat that retuned to the harbour with its crew a new boat or the original boat and was the boat rebuilt from the reclaimed wood a new boat or and old boat? Applying this to mat/indoors to grass/outdoors, are we the same mover or a completely different one? Do we have a golf swing or golf swings..?

The first opportunity you have to hit balls post lockdown outdoors on grass, reference what you feel and what emotions you have compared to hitting balls indoors on mat’s as for many, they may be very different.

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