One of the most frustrating moments in dance is when an instructor has to repeatedly tell you about a problem you know about.
Everyone who has taken west coast swing seriously has had that experience. Whether it’s your coach telling you to turn out your feet for what feels like the thousandth time, or a practice partner reminding you that you came forward on the anchor again, being reminded about the same mistake, over and over, is frustrating. It can make you feel angry with yourself, helpless, like you are wasting your time, or that you simply will never get past this bad habit.
What Tiger Woods can teach us about west coast swing
Enter Butch Harmon.
If you’re a golf fan, you might recognize Harmon’s name. If not, you probably know his student. Butch Harmon is the coach who has worked with Tiger Woods from 1993-2004, a stretch of time during which Woods won his first major, achieved the top ranking in the world, and then, after a lackluster year, won a jaw-dropping eight events in 1999, and six events in a row in 2000 (a feat that was last accomplished in 1948).
From good to great
What’s most interesting about this time period is the lackluster section between earning a #1 ranking in 1997 and catapulting into historical excellence in 1999. Woods felt that there was something off about his swing; even though he had earned the world’s top ranking, he felt like he needed to fix his swing mechanics in order to remain at the top. Harmon agreed, although he warned Woods that he would get worse before they were able to improve his swing because they needed to change some fundamental elements of his technique. Woods decided to go ahead despite the risks.
Old habits die hard
In 1998, Woods hit hundreds of practice shots every single day. Harmon was right there, giving the same corrections over and over. During some sessions, Harmon told Woods the same correction as many as a hundred times. The same correction, over and over and over.
Woods succeeded in rebuilding his stroke, but it took a year to get there. It wasn’t that Woods was lazy or stupid—far from it. And it wasn’t that he hadn’t listened the first hundred times that Harmon told him to fix his grip. The reason it took so long is because old habits are hard to break. One swing at a time, one correction applied over and over for thousands of repetitions manage to kill the old habits, but there was no shortcut to do it faster.
When you next get frustrated because your teacher tells you once again to not pull on 1, remember Woods hacking away at the practice shots, with Harmon repeating the same corrections over and over. Fixing your mechanics is hard. It requires a lot of repetition. Just like Tiger Woods, you will need to hear the same correction hundreds or thousands of times before you master it. That’s okay.