Are You Really Practicing?
The importance of play in quality golf practice
by Carter Bennett*
As part of our growth initiatives at GPC, we feature a guest blogger every month who will present some research or observations about the game from a new perspective. This month we feature our own GPC coach, Carter Bennett
For many reasons, golf is unique as a sport/game. One of the biggest differences comes from the environment in which the game is played, and how that differes from where the game is practiced. In other sports, the game is practiced on the “field of play”, but this isn’t the case in the world of golf. For some reason, we have divorced the practicing of the game from the place where we play the game. And due to this important unique difference, a golfer’s practice can often hinder their progress and development in the game, for what is happening on the “practice” area may have no connection to what will happen on the “game” area.
Motor learning is a field of research in sport which has been gaining traction over the past few seasons. It is essentially the study of how we learn and develop skills, and this is relevant to the golfer’s experience because it studies how to be most effective and efficient when seeking to improve at this sport. The research surrounding motor learning and golf is quite extensive, and we’ve included some useful links at the bottom of this post. From our point of view as coaches, this field is about the study of golf practice.
Another good resource to get you started is a recent GPC learning module which studies the work of Rick jensen and the “steps to mastery”. In his work, Jensen describes a series of steps that one must follow to on the path to developing skills, and warns against the dangers of skipping steps. Essentially, a golfer seeking to improve must follow distinct steps in order to take a skill from beginning to “game shape”. For the purposes of this post, I would like to examine one of my favorite steps to practice at – the step of “Transfer Training”. This is a step where the goal is to work to transfer the skills that have been learned in the early stages – as mentioned earlier, possibly in an environment which is not the field of play – and so begin to adapt the skills learned in isolation on the range and prepare them for the performance on the course. From my point of view, this is the step where training becomes most engaging, and begins to fully take on the characteristics of “Deliberate Practice”.
And while the GPC team have their own formula for what deliberate golf practice might mean (Measurement + Awareness + Consequence) -I would like to elaborate on this concept and add a few items to the formula – namely the concept of PLAY, and the mindset of Process in place of outcome.
Coach Carter’s Additional Characteristics of Deliberate Practice
1) PLAY more: Michael Hebron, a well-known golf coach located on Long Island, suggest that the acronym for the word play could be Powerful Learning About Yourself. We are involved in much more that we may think when we “play”. Without diving into the research of this, let’s just agree that it is important in our training hours to include many games – definitely as we seek to transfer skills from the range to the course, but even when developing fundamental skills in the earlier steps of skill development. It is so important to work to create the experiences we will encounter when we play the game, and lets always remember that we PLAY a game when we tee up our ball on the course. Play when you practice to learn how to play when you play. And with a little creativity you can create really fun games that make you want to train more, and that help you prepare your skills for the playing of the game you love.
2) Make it Count: Adding a consequence to the games you play when you train instantly adds in emotions, thoughts and pressures that you simply do not encounter when you train in isolation on the range in blocked fashion. Lee Trevino famously suggested that one should train in a way which has you “playing for 10 bucks when you only have 5”, a reference to the need to train in ways which simulate pressures and which challenge you to take your skills to new levels (levels which are closer to the experience of playing the game). Work to add Play and Consequences to your training drills and you will be well on your way to bringing your skills closer to the “playing field” of the golf course.
3) Focus on the Process: The last addition I would make to your training is one which takes advantage of the fact that you are not on the playing field when you train your golf skills, and this is the focus on process rather than outcome. There is no safer/better spot to make mistakes than we are simulating shots in practice. My advice to those of you who are looking to train differently? – don’t think of your shots as good or bad – just recognize that each of them is different. Don’t waste energy tying negative emotions to the outcome of your practice shots, instead spend your emotional energy on the quality of your engagement in the process of learning.
The next time you set up for a training session, try to remember that while you may not be practicing on the same field that you will be playing on (especially in the winter here in Canada!), you can still make your practice more effective if you can remember to make it deliberate. Be sure to add games and competitions to your work, as this addition of PLAY will bring with it many positive additions to your training. Put some consequence into your work as well – work to create a psychology of pressure that mirrors how you feel when you play. Lastly, be sure to celebrate your engagement with the process rather than simply focusing on the results you obtain while you train.
*Carter Bennett is an emerging coach in the world of golf. He has been cutting his teeth at the venerable Toronto Golf Club over the past few years and has also been working as a part-time coach at Golf Performance Coaches for the past year. He has participated in our GPC March Break Camp and supported the Junior Leagues, and he has also been a staple at our competitive golfer practices throughout the year. Before embarking on his coaching career, Carter was a student in the early days of GPC and worked with Jon and Jeff as a junior player. Coach Carter “played-in” in the summer of 2015 and is now a full-time member of the PGA of Canada and working towards his Class A status.
Some resources for Motor Skill research