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3 Stages of Learning

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

I recently flew back to England for a quick visit to see family and friends. Before the trip I booked a hire car, and organised to pick it up at Heathrow airport when we arrived. I wasn’t actually aware at the time of booking but I’d booked a manual car rather than an automatic. Which is fine, because I learnt to drive manual cars growing up in England. It was just a surprise as I’d got so used to driving an automatic car for the last 5 years. We had a 2 hour drive to my parents house ahead of us and after a slightly jerky start, I found myself fully in tune with the clutch control and gear changes, as if I hadn’t been away.


Whilst I know this isn’t that amazingly impressive, it did get me thinking about the phases of learning and why I hadn’t forgotten the skill of driving a manual car. The answer is about to be explained in this week’s blog. It is the same theory we have used to design the G60 program, and the same way we create long lasting changes to our students’ golf games.


G60 3-Phase System


As my G60 members are well aware, (because I won't stop going on about it), we have a 3 phase system in our G60 Program. The 3 phases are the Building Phase, Maintenance Phase and Performance Phase. We place our players into 1 of these phases to begin with, based on their current standards and what they need to work on to improve. For example, if we think you need to change your swing technique, we will put you in the building phase. If we think you already have a great swing but need help with course management, dealing with pressure and scoring, then we put you in the maintenance or performance phase.


Below is an explanation of each phase in our program:


Building Phase


The first phase of the G60 programme is the ‘Building Phase’ and is heavily focused on technique.


If there is a need to improve your technique, we will place you in the building phase. In order to get you through this phase as smoothly as possible, we recommend block practice (Lots of reps) and regular contact with your coach.


G60 members will work with their coach to hone their technique with a plan customised for their bodies and skill level. We know everybody moves differently and recognise that there is no one-size fits all formula that works universally. It is here that you will address your swing from setup to follow-through. You’ll be provided with the appropriate drills to improve your technique.


G60 members can expect to spend up to 4-months in the ‘Building Phase’ drilling good technique and building confidence in their new movement. Traditional 1-on-1 sessions rarely see a player leave this building phase.


Maintenance Phase


The second phase of the G60 3-phase program is the ‘Maintenance Phase’ where we cement all those good habits and improve the techniques learnt in the building phase. This is where you will start to see those skills translate to on-course scenarios. It is also where you will progress to performance drills to test your new skills.


During this stage we will start to introduce game-like training, challenges which culminate in testing weeks, which assess your skills across putting, short game and long game. Periodic testing in the ‘Maintenance Phase’ enables you to track your progress and see your gains.


Performance Phase


The third phase of the G60 3-phase program is the ‘Performance Phase’. This is where we all want to be, including professional players. This is where you will be able to perform autonomously with little thought to technique. Swinging the club becomes automatic allowing you to focus more on performance. Course strategy, performing under pressure and controlling the mind are all heavily focused on in the performance phase. During the performance phase, you should see a faster drop in scores/handicap compared to earlier phases.


During these 3 phases, the type of practice, mindset and focus will differ. Below is a table showing the different approaches in each phase:


Building Phase

Technique Focus

No pressure on scores

Conscious swing thoughts

Block practice - lots of reps

Regular Coach Guidance


Maintenance Phase

Technique Maintenance

Pressurised practice (intro)

Less conscious swing thoughts

Block and Varied Practice

Regular Coach Guidance


Performance Phase

Less Technique Focus

Pressurised Practice

Swing is automatic

Varied Practice

Lots of competition



Where do our 3-Phases come from?


Our 3 Phase System hasn’t just been plucked from thin air. Through years of research on how people acquire skills in sport and develop long term, we based our system on the Fitts and Posner (1967) 3 stage model.


Fitts and Posner’s stages of learning theory considers the attentional demands when learning a new skill and the amount of practice time required to reach each stage. Although we often break the model down into three distinct phases, in practice, performers fluidly shift up the continuum. It is also possible for an athlete to regress down the stages too.


The 3 stages of learning


The three distinct phases of learning include 1) the cognitive stage, 2) the associate (also called intermediate) stage and the 3) autonomous stage. Below we will provide more detail on each stage.


Cognitive stage of learning


"The first phase is called the cognitive stage. During this stage of learning the performer is trying to work out what to do. The theory suggests learners attempt to cognitively understand the requirements and parameters of movements."


Eg. A golfer is learning to:

  • Grip the club differently

  • Change the way the club moves in the takeaway

  • Change the way their body moves during the swing

"At this stage we expect performers to be inconsistent and make many mistakes. They will also be actively taking part in problem-solving and trying to make sense of the task."


This aligns with the “Building Phase” of our program. We help students understand a new skill or movement by encouraging regular guided practice, giving lots of feedback and not putting any pressure on scores yet.


Associative/intermediate stage stage of learning


"During the associative stage the performer is learning how to perform the skill well and how to adapt the skill. At this stage the performer is attempting to translate declarative knowledge into procedural knowledge. In other words, the performer is transforming what to do into how to do it."


E.g. A Golfer starts to implement the skill or movement into more of a game situation (the golf course)


This aligns with our maintenance phase. We help students maintain their changes whilst adding stimulus and testing their ability to adapt in a game situation.


“This associate stage of learning can continue for varying periods of time, depending on the complexity of the task and volume of practice. Some performers may never progress past this stage if they do not invest heavily in skill development. Other elite performers (autonomous stage) may revisit the cognitive and associative stages to re-learn or refine their skill to reach higher levels of performance in the future.”


Autonomous stage of learning


"At the autonomous stage the skill is almost automatic to produce and requires minimal thought. At this stage athletes require less conscious control of movements and the actions produced often feel effortless."


"The reduced attentional demands at this stage allow the performer to focus more on perceptual cues, such as where their Tennis opponent is within the court."


In a golfing context, autonomous performers can shift their focus to things like:

  • Wind direction

  • Pin position

  • Course strategy

  • Type of shot required

"At this stage performers can also produce the movement alongside other demanding tasks, as their attentional capacity is no longer needed to control the action."


This autonomous stage aligns with our performance phase. During this phase we encourage a lot of on course practice, simulating in-game, pressurised situations.


Why is this all relevant?


Back to me driving a manual car on holiday in England. Why was I able to (almost) immediately adapt to the clutch control and gear changes, whilst still concentrating on the road and where to go?


Because I had driven a manual car for so long that I had developed the skill all the way along the continuum from the cognitive to the autonomous stage of learning. The skill was so well developed, that it required no attentional capacity to control the action. This allowed me to focus on external things like road signs and other cars on the road.


Now, imagine achieving this with your golf game. Imagine developing along the continuum so well that you can finally be free of swing thoughts and ready to shoot your best score every time you play.


We have seen so many people NEVER leave the cognitive stage or building phase of learning because they spend far too long trying to work out what to do rather than how to do it. Unfortunately we’ve seen this happen to very talented players too. They focus on “playing golf swing” rather than “playing golf” for too long and it doesn’t allow them to reach their potential.


We believe the only way of achieving this freedom on the golf course is to work your way through the 3 phases of learning with a clear understanding of what’s required at each phase. Of course, we are here to guide you along that journey too!


If you’ve made it through the blog this far, and you’re truly interested in making long lasting changes to your golf game, apply for membership by clicking the link below.







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