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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.

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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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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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