The mental game: Goal setting for practice
By Adam Young, GolfWRX Contributor
Goal setting for practice
When you go to the driving range to practice, how many people do you see just hitting balls with the same club over and over to the same target (or even worse, to no target at all) with what looks like no structure at all? The answer is probably too often; maybe you are guilty of this yourself. Well, there is something very simple you can do to supercharge your practice sessions, increase motivation, improve learning and amplify feedback. It’s called “Goal setting.”
You have probably heard this term thrown around in many self help books, business/personal development seminars and sporting areas. For such a small investment in time, it really works! It amplifies the part of the brain that deals with awareness (reticular activating system), leading to an increase in performance and learning over time when done correctly.
How do we create appropriate goals for our golf? The first task is to identify your weaknesses in your game. Is your driving disastrous? Are your iron shots inexcusable? Putting pitiful? Stop practicing your strengths and boosting your ego – one of the best ways to get better is to look at what you need improving the most. Try to figure out what costs you the most shots on the golf course.
The next stage is to take that weakness and work on improving it. This can be done in many ways; technical, skill, mental etc. Spend time developing goals for each, both performance goals and process goals – a good golf professional can certainly help you with this. A performance goal is a measure of how good your play is, such as how many fairways you hit. A process goal is something that will help you improve the performance, such as a specific swing change. An example plan for a slicer may look like this;
- Technical – see three knuckles on my left hand instead of two. Spend 30 balls getting comfortable with this new grip without any care for the shot result.
- Skill – practice hitting the ball with a closed clubface in varying degrees. Hit a snap hook, followed by a big draw, followed by a small draw (10 of each). Work on my ability to control the amount of curvature.
- Mental – practice my routine as if I am on the golf course for 20 balls. Go through my aiming, visualisation and practice swings, trying to feel, see and hit the draw shape.
- Hit 10 balls – count how many balls draw. Get 1 point for curving the ball left, and a bonus point for hitting the target (an imaginary 20 yard fairway).
- As I get to a 14/20 performance level, try the same test with a smaller fairway (15 yards) and so on. If I can only get 6/20, move back a level.
- I want to get 12 points or better with a 10 yard fairway by August 1st.
Get quantitative feedback during your performance tests. Not only should you be aware of how many points you have, you should also take a notebook with you to every range session and write down your scores and the date. This way you can see if you are improving or not, so you can tweak the process goals further. These notes are great to look back on in the future and see how far you have come. I have my performance statistics written down from when I was a 15 handicapper. It’s very rewarding to see your improvement – it is all too easy to forget where we came from.
Make sure that you are flexible with your performance goals. Trying to stay on a level that is too difficult can slow down learning and decrease confidence. Don’t be afraid to go back to something you were trying a few weeks earlier, this is why the 6/20 rule (or 3/10) is in place. By simply keeping score, your brain is much more engaged in the task, and so learning will continue even if it is an easier task than you have been used to. Likewise, if the test is too easy you will lose interest and learning will slow down. Increase the difficulty in some way (changing clubs every shot, implementing the routine etc).
So, identify your weaknesses and come up with process goals to improve them, and performance tests to evaluate your success. Even without changing your swing, the simple task of testing yourself and engaging your brain will create a much more efficient and effective practice session.
Adam is a PGA professional and works for the Leadbetter Academies. He spends his summers teaching new golfers and mid-handicap players to play better. You can read more about Adam’s teaching philosophies at http://www.adamyounggolf.blogspot.co.at/ and follow Adam on Twitter @adamyounggolf