How to Practice and Make Swing Improvements “Stick”
By Anne Cain, Master Instructor, PGA TOUR Golf Academy at World Golf Village
As a young player in high school, I remember asking one of my golf instructors, “How much do I need to practice to get better?” More specifically, I wanted to know how many repetitions or drills to do to improve my technique and make it “stick.”
I never received an answer that satisfied me. However, we now know exactly what it takes, thanks to learning experts and researchers. Many books discuss the idea, and I would recommend Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
Both authors provide evidence that success and achievement are not due primarily to intelligence, ambition or “natural talent.” Instead, the true story of success is much more interesting and is dependent on variables such as timing of birth, culture, family, coaching and how we practice.
Like the old joke goes: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice. (However, the secret is not only how much to practice but how to practice.)
Gladwell recounts a psychological study of musicians at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. After evaluating all of the students, the scientists placed each in one of three categories: “Stars” who were likely to be virtuosos and world class soloists; “Good” musicians who might make a living or play in symphonies; and “Others” who were unlikely to play professionally, and would likely become music teachers.
All of these students began playing roughly at age five, and were tracked through age 20. The main difference: 10,000 hours of practice (taking approximately 10 years). That is what it takes to become an expert. The stars had logged 10,000 hours of practice; the good musicians had logged 8,000 hours; and the last group only 4,000 hours.
Gladwell writes: “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
Moreover, these same scientists determined that the people that are best in their field practice more effectively. In a recent Fortune magazine article, these same researchers expanded the discussion:
“The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call “deliberate practice” – activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance; that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence; provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.
“For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers do not get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time; continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day – that’s deliberate practice.”
So, if you want to get better at golf, you need to practice more often and practice deliberately with some form of evaluation and feedback. Using high-speed video (with accurate camera angles) is one of the best forms of feedback, so that you can see exactly what is occurring in your motion. If you’re on the driving range, work on a specific move and repeat it until you get a pattern. Then, challenge yourself to change targets and hit three shots in a row, as if you were on the first tee.
For short-game practice, find a buddy and play a game of “horse,” where you chip a ball and have to make the putt for the “up and down.” If you miss, you get a letter “H,” and so on. Once you acquire a certain degree of skill, you have to make practice more like playing golf: alternate clubs and targets by hitting one drive, one 6-iron, and then one wedge.
Anne Cain is an LPGA Member and Golf Magazine “TOP 100 Teacher” who is a Master Instructor at the PGA TOUR Golf Academy at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, FL.
To book your instruction experience with Anne Cain, click one the below link or call 904-940-3600