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Growing Up Golf Part 8: Deliberate Practice
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.
“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.
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.