Skate like a Carpenter

January 3, 2014 Jon Roy

Hopefully these essays will also be of benefit to you – in the form of thought provoking content, reinforcement for the work you’ve put into your game, or simply to remind you of some upcoming events and opportunities that will be offered by the Golf Performance Coaches team.

Learning Items:

To begin, I’d like to recap the central theme of our week – which was the juxtaposition of two forms of training. Borrowing from the work of Dan Coyle (The Talent Code) we explored the idea that when you work on developing skills you can do so either as a “carpenter” or as a “skateboarder”.

The Carpenter is a learner who sets up a deliberate work station, has many ways to attract feedback, and is very precise and measured in his approach to training. At it’s extreme, the carpenter is one who counts out a set number of balls, has a notebook to reflect on his work, and dutifully works on one aspect of his skills in a repetitive way. In sport science terms the Carpenter is a “blocked” practicer who repeats one motion over and over – getting it right as often as he can.

The Skateboarder is a learner who takes many risks and eschews order and planning in favour of randomness and experimentation. At it’s extreme, a skateboarding golfer is hitting shots on one leg or on his knees, flipping the club over, closing her eyes, or trying to hit the highest iron shot ever. In sport science terms the Skateboarder is a “random” practicer who changes clubs, lies and thoughts with every repetition – making many errors along the way.

In our opinion, it is important to embrace a balance between the two characters when we train. For those of you who are natural carpenters, we encourage you to embrace some bodacious boldness from the skaters. And for the devoted skateboarders, we encourage you to borrow a notepad and tape measure from the carpenters.

Carpentry in golf is critical for conditioning expertise and making the shift to the subconscious that will be so critical when we play the game. Without a great deal of blocked training we have no hope of establishing the neural patterns necessary to repeat the skill under pressure in a changing environment. Carpentry work is similar to playing scales as a musician – they are what enable fantastic performances eventually, but they do not resemble the performance (and all it’s variabiity) at all. Carpentry is an excellent tool for gaining confidence in a skill as well – for instance if you struggle in bunkers there is no better antidote than a pail of one hundred balls and a determination to “not leave until I get one (or all) out”… Blocked training usually builds immediate confidence.

But the shortcomings of blocked training are quickly exposed when we play the game. Now, unlike the carefully manicured practice areas where we’ve completed our carpenter work, the golf course offers up countless curveballs and variations. Now there’s a tall birch tree to curve around, a footprint under our ball in the bunker, and a 40 mile wind. Only the skateboarder can be prepared for this aspect of the game, and in fact rejoices in the challenges that the game presents to us on every hole. While this form of random training doesn’t build the same confidence, it has it’s merits because it helps us to develop creativity and adaptability in a sport wherein the ball stands still while everything else is always moving…

As in everything we preach, the key is the balancing of extremes in search of your ideal formula. Nobody can get away with being 100% one way, but it’s also not the case that everyone should be 50% of each. Each of you has a unique formula that can be uncovered through practice and supervised training. So our recommendation is that you spend time in your next training sessions working as both a carpenter and skateboarder. Feel free to bring costumes for each if you have the overalls and old converse shoes in some closet in the basement. But barring the clothing, you will certainly derive great benefit and pleasure if you can spend your training time fluctuating between the two characters.   This is what we would call Deliberate Practice.

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