Practice Ain’t Pretty
At some point everyone has heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect”. To master a skill you must practice and practice often. Some have even said it takes 10,000 hours to fully master a skill. The term practice holds a simple definition yet we often hear, “How do you practice?” Merriam Webster’s dictionary definition of practice is, “to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.” Again, a simple idea but vague application. Having a sound understanding of how to apply effective practice can accelerate rates of improvement.
There are many types of practice and when applied together in an organized fashion there is potential for great improvement. In golf, it is too often that I see purposeless practice – going through the motions and expecting change or improvement. Without a plan or purpose to your practice, you are essentially just swinging a club around for exercise. It takes deliberate practice that is purposeful and systematic to experience improvement. It requires focused attention towards a specific goal of improving performance. Mindless activity is the enemy.
It is easy for golfers to practice what is comfortable. Hitting that favorite club on the driving range over and over again because it feels good and looks good. I’m guilty of it. The truth of the matter is, practice is not supposed to be pretty. Learning is not pretty. It is ugly. Think of the first time you rode a bike. Not pretty, right? But you figured it out after a few tries because your attention was focused towards a specific goal of improving performance.
The next time you go hit balls on the range alone or with your junior, your homework is to practice something specific with a goal in mind. When working to improve that skill, structure your practice. Get a few reps in to develop a level of comfort with a new mechanic or feel (blocked practice). Then mix it up (random practice) by never hitting the same shot/club twice. Finally, perform your practice by completing a task, leaving mechanical thoughts behind (performance practice). It’s OK if it doesn’t look pretty!