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Practice less, play like a pro

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A novel study shows the best way to hone your sporting technique is not just to watch films of pro players, but watch films that spotlight key actions.

Viewing videos that point to crucial details such as how golfers line up the ball, position their feet and twist their hips, significantly cuts the time it takes to master the skill, it said. 

“If you want to watch videos to get better at your sport,” said sport psychologist Dan Bishop, “it might pay to watch ones that have been edited to highlight key features.”

Scientists at Brunel University London got pro golf coaches to rate complete novices’ swings before and after the learners had watched three different golf videos. One was on the history of golf, the second showed a skilled golfer hitting a ball and the third highlighted important features of the golfer’s setup prior to the swing.

“We found observational learning alone was better than watching another video without showing someone executing a swing,” Dr Bishop explained. “That was still useful for longer-term learning, but in terms of immediate skill pick up, our novices improved faster when we introduced visual guidance.”

This builds on previous research which shows that watching videos can help people learn a set of moves.

Dan reckons the findings could crank up the learning curve in other sports and even speed up stroke rehab: “The principle that we can accelerate learning by observing in such a short space of time is exciting because there’s a lot of applied potential that could transform the way we coach in future,” Dan added.

“Coaches and athletes could save a lot of time, effort and money by using such techniques, so they can focus on higher-level aspects of their sport, such as decision-making. There may be similar implications in non-sport settings too, such as tertiary healthcare.”

The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, used motion capture cameras to track the novices’ movements during 10 swings before and after watching one of the 2.5-minute videos. PGA qualified coaches rated their performance. A week later they returned to do another 10 swings. The group that improved immediately was those who saw the highlighted videos – an improvement that remained one week later.