WHAT IS EFFECTIVE PRACTICE?
Today we are going to break down the general perception of practice in the golf world. By busting myths and exploring the intentions of cliches we can create an effective pathway for improvement in your performance. Frequently asked training questions, from golfers desperate to improve include: What do the pro’s do? I don’t have much time to practice? What’s the point, my swing is so bad!? How can I be more consistent? How do I prevent boredom when practicing?
Lets start by defining what we mean practice or training in all disciplines. Any time that is spent doing something that can lead to a performance increase can be classed as training. The majority of people wouldn’t initially reply with this and most likely have a preformed concept of key skill repetition. A cricketer repeating his bowling action, a basketballer taking free-throws again and again or a lawyer rehearsing a speech for the courtroom. This definitely practice of key skills but the question we must ask is whether this is the most effective way for them to practice. Let’s look at common aspects of discussion centred around training.
THE HARD WORK ETHIC
Our current values in society make us very predisposed to admire, adhere to and aspire to an intense work ethic. Especially in the inner city, there is a badge of honour associated with spending fourteen hours at a desk. The majority of advice on improvement or success, feature tales of extraordinary hard work and dedication. Even individuals at the top of society can only explain their self made success with hard work. Ben Hogan is famously quoted as stating “You have to dig it (the secret to success) out of the dirt”. Tommy Hilfiger repeats that “with hard work, drive and passion its possible to achieve the American Dream”. A brief Google search will provide a million quotes like these. Hard work is very tangible, everyone can do it, and its very honorable. Its almost a defence against failure – ‘I may have failed but I couldn’t have worked any harder.’ The resulting self-blame for ‘lack of natural talent’ or bad luck isn’t correct either.
WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN
Time is a valuable resource – the most valuable thing in the world, you need to make the most of it. When facing a monumental task such as starting a University degree, starting your own business or becoming a professional sportsperson it is clear you will need to work smart, not just hard. Golf is a great example here with the multiple aspects to the game that comprise a result.
Becoming efficient in how you use your time is a skill that requires creativity, foresight, practicality, goal setting and an ability to remain focussed. It is these skills that allow you to achieve ahead of your competitors. Amongst the thousands of sportspeople attempting to ‘make it’ or amongst the hundreds of people going for a popular job it is a given that they are passionate and dedicated.
Even Obama finds the time.
People commonly assume that efficiency goes hand in hand with compromising on a task “to get it done quickly”. The dictionary defines efficient as “achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort” or “working in an organised and competent way.”
To work in an organised and competent way is to have a plan, to set some goals. Hank Haney states in his book that the most important feature of trying to improve is to have a plan. He brought a step by step process to his work with Tiger Woods helping him achieve phenomenal success. Having a very clear method and goal orientated process has the vitally important effect of increased focus and motivation. Without a clear task even the hardest working, most passionate person can be distracted with the enormity of the task ahead.
Let’s discuss an approach or ideal of maximum productivity. This is the opposite to a trial and error method employed by so many weekend warriors on driving ranges worldwide. ‘Let’s see what today brings” is hopeful but this cavalier attitude is likely to break down at the first sign of trouble and become a desperate need for performance improvement. Maximum productivity can be achieved by choosing the avenue that will lead to the greatest effect on the overall result. Do not rush the task of setting your goals. The overall goal for you is probably obvious. Quality goal setting involves creating a high number of stepping stones on the way to your ultimate aim. This provides focus and sustains motivation. Do not be afraid to ask for external help, feedback from those you trust is highly valuable.
Before we delve into precise examples of training styles lets discuss creativity and its value. It’s a complex area so we will discuss it in a golfing context. Creativity is essential in setting goals, training methods and in your on course performance. To be creative is to find a new or unique solution to a problem you face. It involves thinking outside the box, thinking ahead and seeing a variety of possibilities.
When setting goals, creativity gives you a way to overcome difficult obstacles. If your goal is to become a long hitter yet you are shorter than average it will take creativity to make an effective training plan. Following traditional advice is something you may have already done – why not try karate? it seems absurd at first but the speed it trains will transfer to speed in your swing if strength isn’t an issue.
Some very skilled golfers struggle with links golf. The variety of shot choices, the uniqueness of certain shots and the variety of ball flights required is something they are clearly not experienced in.
What of time obstacles? If one hour a week is all you can spare, standing on a flat driving range with two clubs, bad balls and no target, probably isn’t the best use of your time. Let’s see what we can do when training that creates the most efficient method for change and improvement.
BLOCK – very specific, single skill and repetition orientated
RANDOM – multiple targets and techniques employed – no repetition
COMPETITIVE- designed to simulate overall performance
Block training is the style that most golfers employ on the range. For example, 100 swings with a seven iron to one sign on the range. It lacks imagination and scientific research has shown that this method can help you achieve a degree of success in that environment in which you train but has very little transfer to performance on the course.
Random practice or varied practice, constantly challenges the player and leads to creative solutions and creates a high level of engagement in the task. Applicable from beginners to professionals, research shows that the rate of improvement increases quicker via this method. A change or creation of habit is more powerful in this context as the player must adapt their athletic performance constantly, it forces them to really focus on their kinesthetic awareness or in other words their feel. An example on the range would be hitting to one target with five different clubs. On the course it might involve curving the ball excessively or attempting to hit over a tree. In both cases the player must apply a different technique or swing speed each time to achieve success.
Competitive practice is most valuable once a sustainable skill level has been attained. It may be as simple as a £1 putting match against a friend or like Phil Mickelson substantially more in a match against a fellow competitor the day before an event! It is a highly valuable way of measuring your progress in practice as it attempts to create the external pressures faced in competition. John Wooden, one of the most famous basketball coaches, was a major proponent of this style creating an environment that was said to be more competitive than an actual game (G, COOK).
TRAIN LIKE A PRO
Let’s look at how some of the world’s best train. What principles did they apply? What is their attitude to practice and improvement?
How did Bubba Watson become a multiple major winner when by his own admission he never practices on the range? The following excerpts from his caddy, highlight the importance of his creativity and feel that have brought him such success.
“Lots of little trick shots over trees. Something new every time. If you told him he couldn’t do it he’d figure out a way to do it. I think he would be bored with hitting straight shots.”
In his own words: “My practice is a lot different than most people’s because I like to try shots that you shouldn’t try.“My shots are all feel. Grew up on a real tight golf course. Out of bounds on both sides. Doglegs because of houses. So that’s where I got comfortable hitting driver. I might hit it bad. I think that helped me. And with curving the ball it helped me a ton because I hit so many curves under, over and around trees. Seve loved the game, was passionate about the game, and I hope that comes off – that I am, too. This is how I want to play. Bad shots are an opportunity to show off.”
The Spaniard famously learned the game with a 3-iron on the beaches of Pedrena, Spain. Attempting to play a multitude of shots with little loft can only lead to creative solutions. Playing with one club is a great way to learn different skills.
Former world number one, Luke likes to play a game called worst or best ball. Each game involves hitting two shots and always choosing the worst or best. Play best ball to discover your potential and gain confidence. Play worst ball to make your practice extremely challenging and develop consistency and a reliable recovery game. These are powerful tools to learn by as a score is kept and the environment is real – this is not a driving range simulation.
“While I am practicing I am also trying to develop my powers of concentration. I play each shot as if it were part of an actual round.” This level of engagement is hard to achieve but ensures a high degree of awareness and ability to focus in an event. Doing this will enable you to put distractions behind you easier.
“I learned long ago that there is a limit to the number of shots you can hit effectively before losing your concentration . I have to believe they (other pro’s) often weaken their games by letting their practice become pointless through sheer monotony or fatigue.” Echoing the above point by Hogan, Nicklaus was very efficient and productive with his time.
“Once I’m at a tournament site, I’m there just to find my rhythm, tune up a little bit, and get myself ready.” An awareness of overall goals and sticking to a plan is his motivation here. With the intention of winning on Sunday afternoon, he wishes to be sharp and full of energy then. Trusting his ability rather than searching for a better swing aimlessly on pre-tournament days also comes from the quality of his practice away from the tour.
“Some of my best practice sessions have lasted just twenty minutes”. How can this be? The adoption of a new movement cannot be achieved in this time frame so what did he achieve? He would be able to affect his rhythm and timing through a high degree of focus and awareness of his movements. A successful day on the course is much more likely to ensue if you have a vivid feel of your swing to attempt. A lack of awareness of the overall movement as you play, for example concentrating on your left wrist, will likely result in less consistent play.
Known for his aggressive strategies and exciting recovering shots, Phil shares many similarities with Bubba Watson. His practice, especially at tournament venues, is competitive practice. The majority of players like to hit a few extra balls to try all the potential shots they may face. Phil insists on getting his friends on tour together and playing matches similar in format to the Ryder Cup for a hefty wager. At The Players Championship he was seen celebrating on the last hole with a massive fist pump – on a Tuesday (non-tournament round) after winning his match! No doubt this method of preparation provided him with confidence!
This is a detailed article but the message should be loud and clear. Grade your practice by its variability, not its duration. How much fun did you have? Creativity and enjoyment go hand in hand – punishing yourself will not lead to improvement. Tiger Woods admits to “having a blast” when in contention for a tournament despite his obvious level of concentration. Learn to be effIcient with your time. Remember any self-taught skill will become a stronger habit. Stuck in the office? Then sneak some time to set your practice and improvement goals. Finally, always search out honest feedback from friends or professionals.
Enjoy the challenge!
Tiger Woods; How I Play Golf
GOLF.COM: Mickelson http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/mickelson-practice-rounds-anything-routine