Two Standard Deviations

Okay, do all you statistic’s slackers remember what that is?

Say you had this little manufacturing company that made small metal parts to specifications. And that you had to get out little precision micrometers just to make sure that they conformed to the specs. Just say.

So one of the surprises of my business education—particularly since I was headed to the world of finance and not manufacturing—was that if you measured 1,000 of them, they’d all be different. How could that be, I wondered? I mean it’s metal on metal, with machines that are designed for the process using well-known manufacturing machines and methods. How could they not all be perfect?

And not only would they be different—we’re talking very precise micrometers here—in the context of the specs, they would be widely different. If you added up all the measurements and divided by 1,000, you would expect to get an average that should fall smack dab on whatever the size specification was and many of the parts would be right around that average.

But, like a Bell curve, there would be others whose size would be splayed out from that average size. And a very interesting thing would be true about that splaying: by definition, 68% of them would be within one standard deviation of the average and 95% of them would be within two standard deviations. Coming back to you slackers?

So in manufacturing, they keep sampling the size of the parts during the production run and as long as the machine keeps pumping out parts on the average spec and within two standard deviations, they know that 95% of the parts are close enough and the process is going okay. If they begin to drift off of that, they have to stop the process and adjust the machine. Coulda knocked me over with a feather. How could they not all be the same? It’s metal on metal, for crying out loud!

The point of all this esoteric manufacturing information? If a precision manufacturing machine can’t stamp out a stream of perfect metal parts, what chance do we variable humans have of stamping out perfect golf swings?

We don’t. While it may seem logical to do a lot of swing analysis and look at video until you get those hands at just the right place over your shoulder at the top of the swing, the fact remains that there will always be variability in a human golf swing. So obsessing over positions and angles probably doesn’t provide the payoff that logic would dictate would be possible. I never heard a good player say that the secret to his success was having moved some part of his body an inch from where it started out.

So that’s why I have been emphasizing focusing on the target and allowing the instinctive magic of the body find a way to deliver the clubhead square to the ball at impact. And the best way to find that swing is to hit balls at a target and watch. Hit balls at the target, watch where the ball goes and let the body make adjustments. Hit and watch, hit and watch. In my post, “‘Know How’ versus ‘Mind How,’” that was the implied prescription in the post’s vignette about Tim Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Golf, and that was my own experience too. I can vividly remember a day on the range in Atlanta, watching myself hit 3-irons. The problem is that it’s really hard to do when you feel like you ought to be “doing something.” Aren’t we supposed to be in charge? How can we delegate something so important to the intangible of the human body’s majesty?

All of this was reinforced for me yesterday when I saw a tweet from Neuro Learning Golf, a site managed by PGA Master Teacher, Mike Hebron, of Smithtown, New York. His interest is not so much in the “what-to” either, it’s in the “how-to.” Not what to do but how to get yourself to do it.

In his post titled, “Frustration in Practice Sessions,” he began with a quote in Golfweek from Graeme McDowell, this year’s U.S. Open winner and Tiger slayer, that reinforced this approach:

I was struggling a little bit because I was starting to fall in love with trying to make my swing more technically correct on camera, with swinging the club nice instead of effectively. We’ve gotten very much back to playing golf.  My full swing went from technical to playable.  On the range, I try to play shots instead of trying to make a perfect swing.

There’s also a nice 2:30 minute video by Mike that talks about creating an environment that emphasizes learning over teaching and what that would feel like.

Figure out how your body can hit a ball at a target because that’s the only thing the game requires. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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2 Responses to Two Standard Deviations

  1. I heard once it takes 20 minutes A day, 7 days a week for 3 weeks just to change 1 thing in a golf swing. Now who can manage that?
    Robbie