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Opinion & Analysis

Growing Up Golf Part 8: Deliberate Practice

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Up to this point, I have been writing on topics that are geared towards the early stages of golf introduction and development for children. I would like to switch gears on this installment and discuss some interesting information that is more focused on juniors. For those of you parents with pre-junior golfers stick around, what I am about to share with you is some very interesting information.

As an instructor, I  spent a lot of time trying to come up with practice routines or training aids that isolate swing mechanics or body movements. I found in my own experience that dissecting the swing into separate parts made it easier for the student to learn and duplicate what I was trying to teach them. One of my favorite aids was a bat handle with a piece of rope secured to it with a ball at the other end of it. The length of the rope was long enough to place the ball (which was at the end of the rope) right at the sweet spot of a bat. The player was then required to swing the handle and keep the rope taut all the way through the swing. The only way you can achieve this is to turn your body through the swing without breaking the wrists. This drill would help those players who had too much wrist in their swing. This swing fault causes a major loss of power and promotes weak ground balls to the infield. Taking swings with that training aid is known as “deliberate practice.” I had never heard of that term until just recently.

Like I stated in my first article, I watch a lot of golf on TV. If it’s not a tournament then I watch instruction. I enjoy watching and learning as much as I can. I am a true believer that knowledge is power (Yes, it’s the phrase from School House Rock commercials). If I am not watching golf, I am reading about golf. One of the shows I enjoy watching is “School Of Golf” with Martin Hall on the Golf Channel. Hall has a segment on his show where he suggests reading material that will help your golf game. During his episode on “deliberate practice,” he recommends a book called “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

Colvin believes you don’t need a one-in-a-million natural gift. Better performance, and maybe even world-class performance, is attainable through deliberate practice. Colvin believes there is no such thing as “he was born to play _____.” In other words, he doesn’t believe people are born with natural talent and are destined to achieve greatness. That greatness or mastery is achieved through years of deliberate practice.

Deliberate Golf Practice

“Talent Is Overrated” is not a golf specific book, it’s not an instructional book by any means. What the book discusses are numerous examples and studies of  how deliberate practice has played a roll in all of the masters of their trade or the greatest players who have ever played or are playing the game.

Colvin speaks about the anti-talent theory counterarguments, the most common names that are brought up when Colvin states that there is no such thing as divine spark and greatness can only be achieved by hard work. These two examples are brought up the most: Mozart and Tiger Woods. The similarities between these two masters of their trades are extraordinary. Both of their fathers were accomplished at their given trades. They had experience working with children and they started working with their sons at a very early age. When asked, Earl Woods stated that Tiger’s accomplishments were a result of very hard work (deliberate practice).

How long does one have to practice in order to become a master? Studies have shown that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a master. So if we practiced three hours a day, it would take 10 years to become a master. It has also been noted that at the age of 6 is when the brain will be able to understand and absorb the information and feedback from deliberate practice. Colvin believes this is why mastery is revealed around the age of 16.

So now we know that it takes 10,000 hours, we need to take a closer look at what deliberate practice is. Notice that the statement is “10,000 hours of deliberate practice” and not “10,000 hours of practice.” If it was solely 10,000 hours of practice and that’s only three hours a day, we would see more and more athletes mastering or reaching greatness in their chosen sport. Knowing that it takes deliberate practice, why don’t more athletes pursue this? The answer is in the definition of the term itself. Lets take a look at what deliberate practice really is.

Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with an instructors help; it can be repeated often; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s a high-demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or heavily physical like sports and it isn’t much fun.

Deliberate Practice

By definition alone, deliberate practice is very stressful, tiring and monotonous. At the same time you are receiving feedback and ingraining positives in your chosen activity. Going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls at specified target is not deliberate practice. Going to the same range with the same bucket of balls and taking a very short back swing and working on contact and contact only is a better example of deliberate practice. Another way to look at deliberate practice is working on one specified element of the swing that you the desired skill. You need to work outside of your comfort zone to make progress. Most younger athletes I know of do not want to put time into something that isn’t fun. Remember, the key element of keeping kids interested in golf is by making it fun. Deliberate practice is just the opposite. It takes extreme dedication to put time into something that is stressful and exhausting.

For you juniors seeking greatness, deliberate practice is the first step toward the 10,000 hour mark. What should you be practicing? Well, that’s up to you and your coach/instructor to decide. I simply can’t say you need to work on this or that, nor can I map out a routine for you. The routine of deliberate practice is going to be different for each player. Does this mean that you won’t be good or great at golf if you don‘t incorporate deliberate practice into a 10,000 hour routine?  No, not at all. I wanted to share what it takes to become a world class athlete. If you have dreams of becoming one of the best in the world, it starts with deliberate practice.

“Talent Is Overrated” is a must read for every parent or athlete who have the desire to become great at something. It will give you a real good look at what it takes to reach the highest level of achievement.

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Kadin Mahmet has a passion for golf. He has coached at the collegiate level and has worked as an instructor specializing in youth athletics. You can follow Kadin on Twitter @BigKadin. "Like" Growing Up Golf on Facebook @ facebook.com/Growing.Up.Golf for more content.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Mike Drysdale

    Feb 15, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I’ve been looking into the realm of gamification a bit lately and it seems that some of the concepts & principles could maybe be incorporated to lighten up the “not fun” aspect of deliberate practice a bit. I mean, fun usually keeps people more engaged, couldn’t it be incorporated a little into deliberate practice?
    What do you all think?

  2. Pingback: Perfect Golf Practice - Not a Good Idea Play Golf Home

  3. Chris

    Jan 31, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    And here I thought my practice habits were pretty good. Thanks for the new perspective. Would love to hear some “common” deliberate practice ideas, especially in the short game.

    • Kadin Mahmet

      Apr 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Chris if you visit The Golf Channels web page and click on “School of Golf” Martin Hall has several “deliberate practice” drills to follow.

  4. Ben Alberstadt

    Jan 31, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Glad to see this invaluable topic and seminal book featured in your article. Fine work (& excellent series, too)!

    Sometimes, I feel like any new student approaching a teaching for a lesson should be sent home with this book to ingrain the appropriate mental framework, and as a gauge of the sincerity of the student…of course, this would be a governor on a pros’ earnings, as the average student is probably just looking to get off the first tee without embarrassment, or advice on how not to skull chips across the green…

    • Kadin Mahmet

      Apr 7, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Thanks Ben I appreciate the kind words. I agree this book is at the top of my “Must Read” list, no matter what the activity may be.

  5. Kadin Mahmet

    Jan 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks G…It’s a love, hate relationship for sure.

    See ya on thte green…Kadin

  6. G

    Jan 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Yeah. Deliberate practice is THE only way. You have to love the process, as it is said. And learning to love the process is a part of deliberate practice too.

    Great article.. Love this stuff.

  7. Kadin Mahmet

    Jan 29, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for the kind words Lawrence! Good luck to you as well!

    See ya on the green…..Kadin

  8. Lawrence Montague

    Jan 29, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Thanks so much for writing your article on deliberate practice methodology. I am a great fan of Professor Karl Anders Ericsson and his theory of deliberate practice. I read his first paper he published on it in 1993 and to this day it has had a huge impact on my coaching. At our golf college deliberate practice underpins ever aspect of our elite player development program and we constantly remind our students of the 10,000 hour rule. Thanks for posting and the best of luck with your coaching.

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Opinion & Analysis

When Golf Isn’t Fun Anymore

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I was just finishing a lesson with one of my most talented junior players, a 12-year-old girl who has won most every tournament she’s entered. She posed a question that I could not answer on the spot.

This game is supposed to be fun, right?” she asked. “I don’t feel like I’m having fun anymore.”

“Let me give that some thought,” I said. “When you come back for your next lesson, I’ll have an answer for you.”

When she returned the following week, I had written down my thoughts on a piece of paper. We sat down on a nearby bench.

“I’d like to read to you,” I said. “Are you ready?” She nodded enthusiastically.

“First, I think that as you started to win, what you would previously defined as FUN was replaced by SATISFACTION,” I told her. “This is what great players feel when they have reached an achievement. What happens is that as players move from beginner to expert, they define their experience differently.” I leaned over and showed her the graphic that I had drawn.

SCORES

100    90     80    75    70    65

FUN——TO——S-A-T-I-S-F-A-C-T-I-O-N

“Do you see that at a certain point fun is replaced by satisfaction?” I said.

“Yes,” she replied.

“What happens is there is a cross-over point in the mind of players,” I said. “As they become more serious about the game, their expectations increase. Second, beginners have no expectations when it comes to score. They are simply playing the game for entertainment. Beginning players may have fun because they have no expectation for performance. Third… and here is the last point. Perfection is not achievable. The vast majority of the shots you will hit in a round are serviceable misses. There are only one or two perfect shots per round. A player who insists on perfection can’t enjoy the game.” I paused for a moment to let the final point sink in.

“What do you enjoy about the game, “ she asked.

“That’s a fair question,” I said. “I enjoy the feeling of a solid shot as it strikes the club face; I enjoy the company of the other players in the group; I enjoy the sights and sounds of nature; I enjoy the fresh air and exercise. I could name more, but that’s a good start.”

I continued on: “I’m thinking that you have been so focused on improving your score and winning that you have lost sight of the more enjoyable parts of the game. You might find you are having more fun when you change your approach.

She corrected me: “You mean enjoyment?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said. “I meant to say enjoyment.”

“Did I succeed in answering your question?” I asked.

“You did,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Great,” I said. “Now let’s get back to work.”

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Courses

Barnbougle Lost Farm: 20 Holes of Pure Joy

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Another early day in Tasmania, and we were exploring the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw-design, Barnbougle Lost Farm. The course was completed in 2010, four years after the neighbor Barnbougle Dunes, resulting in much excitement in the world of golf upon opening.

Johan and I teed off at 10 a.m. to enjoy the course at our own pace in its full glory under clear blue skies. Barnbougle Lost Farm starts out quite easy, but it quickly turns into a true test of links golf. You will certainly need to bring some tactical and smart planning in order to get close to many of the pin positions.

The third hole is a prime example. With its sloping two-tiered green, it provides a fun challenge and makes you earn birdie — even if your tee and approach shots put you in a good position. This is one of the things I love about this course; it adds a welcome dimension to the game and something you probably don’t experience on most golf courses.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

The 4th is an iconic signature hole called “Sals Point,” named after course owner Richard Sattler’s wife (she was hoping to build a summer home on the property before it was turned into a golf course). A strikingly beautiful par-3, this hole is short in distance but guarded with luring bunkers. When the prevailing northwesterly wind comes howling in from the ocean, the hole will leave you exposed and pulling out one of your long irons for the tee shot. We left No. 4 with two bogeys with a strong desire for revenge.

Later in the round, we notice our scorecard had a hole numbered “13A” just after the 13th. We then noticed there was also an “18A.” That’s because Barnbougle Lost Farm offers golfers 20 holes. The designers believed that 13A was “too good to leave out” of the main routing, and 18A acts as a final betting hole to help decide a winner if you’re left all square. And yes, we played both 13A and 18A.

I need to say I liked Lost Farm for many reasons; it feels fresh and has some quirky holes including the 5th and the breathtaking 4th. The fact that it balks tradition with 20 holes is something I love. It also feels like an (almost) flawless course, and you will find new things to enjoy every time you play it.

The big question after trying both courses at Barnbougle is which course I liked best. I would go for Barnbougle Dunes in front of Barnbougle Lost Farm, mostly because I felt it was more fun and offered a bigger variation on how to play the holes. Both courses are great, however, offering really fun golf. And as I wrote in the first part of this Barnbougle-story, this is a top destination to visit and something you definitely need to experience with your golf friends if you can. It’s a golfing heaven.

Next course up: Kingston Heath in Melbourne.

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News

PGA Tour Pro and Parkland Alum Nick Thompson is Part of the Solution

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The tragic shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida moved the entire nation in a deep and profound way. The tragic events touched many lives, including PGA Tour Professional Nick Thompson, who attended Stoneman Douglas for four years and was born and raised just minutes from there.

On our 19th Hole podcast, Thompson described in detail just how connected he is to the area and to Douglas High School.

“That’s my alma mater. I graduated in ’01. My wife Christen and I graduated in ’01. I was born and raised in Parkland…actually Coral Springs, which is a neighboring city. Stoneman Douglas actually is just barely in Parkland but it’s pretty much right on the border. I would probably guess there are more kids from Coral Springs that go to Stoneman Douglas than in Parkland. So I spent 29 years in Coral Springs before moving to Palm Beach Gardens where I live now, but I was born and raised there. I spent four years of high school there and it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Thompson’s siblings, LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson and Web.com pro Curtis, did not attend Douglas High School.

His reaction to the news was immediate and visceral.

“I was in shock,” said Thompson. “I just really couldn’t believe it because Coral Springs and Parkland are both wonderful communities that are middle to upper class and literally, like boring suburbia. There’s not much going on in either city and it’s kind of hard to believe that it could happen there. It makes you think almost if it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. I think that’s one of the reasons why it has really gotten to a lot of people.”

Thompson knew personally some of the names that have become familiar to the nation as a result of the shooting, including Coach Aaron Feis, who died trying to save the lives of students.

“I went to high school with Aaron Feis,” said Thompson. “He was two years older than me, and I knew of him…we had a fair amount of mutual friends.”

And while the events have provoked much conversation on many sides, Thompson was moved to action.

“We started by my wife and I, the night that it happened, after we put our kids to bed, we decided that we needed to do something,” Thompson said. “The first thing we decided was we were going to do ribbons for the players, caddies, and wives. We did a double ribbon of maroon and silver, the school colors, pin them together and wrote MSD on the maroon section. We had the media official put them out on the first tee, so all the players were wearing them. It’s been great.”

“I got together with the media guys and Ken Kennerly, the tournament director of The Honda Classic and they have been amazing. The amount of players that had the ribbons on, I was just watching the coverage to see, is incredible. I actually spoke to Tiger today and thanked him for wearing the ribbon. We really appreciate it, told him I went to high school there. I mean the only thing he could say was that he was sorry, it’s an unfortunate scenario and he was happy to wear the ribbon, do whatever he could.”

Thompson is quick to note the help that he has received in his efforts.

“It’s not just me. My wife has been just as instrumental in getting this done as me. I just, fortunately, have the connection with the PGA Tour to move it in the right direction even faster. I have the luxury of having a larger platform that can get my words out and everything we’re trying to do faster than most people. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart so it was just literally perfect with The Honda Classic coming in town.”

Thompson has also been involved in fundraising that goes to help the survivors and victims’ families. GoFundMe accounts supported by Thompson and the PGA Tour have raised in excess of 2.1 million dollars in just a week.

“One of the most important uses for this money is counseling for victims, for these kids who witnessed this horrific event, or have one degree of separation,” Thompson said. “Counseling for kids who lost a friend or a classmate, who need counseling and to help them with their PTSD essentially. I think that’s one of the most important things is helping all these kids deal with what has happened.”

Thompson acknowledged the fact that the entire Parkland family is activated to help in the healing. As for his efforts, it’s the product of his recognition of just how fortunate his life has been and a heart for service.

“Golf has given so much to me that it was the perfect time to give back even more than I already have. It’s the best we can do. We’re just trying to make a difference. ”

Listen to the entire interview on a special edition of The 19th Hole with Michael Williams on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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