Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Do You Practice?

What is the best practice for you?  That depends on where you are in the process of learning the game and what your goal is for the practice session.  Here are some different scenarios and some practice possibilities for each.



1.   Learning a new skill or changing a habit -
  •    For this type of practice, you should be clear on exactly what you want to do.  An example of this is, when I swing the club, I will make sure the shaft is on plane by feeling the balance of the club in my hands and not allowing it to drop at the top.  Instead, my right arm will support it at the top.  
  • This type of practice needs to be very critical.  Each swing should be evaluated.  Be picky with yourself and self-correct whenever it is done incorrectly by rehearsing what you want and putting it into practice.
  • Get help from a knowledgeable source, training aids or video.  When you are learning or relearning a movement that is crucial for your golf, your comfort level needs to be shaken.  It is human nature to seek comfort, so it is good to have some eyes on you to tell you when you are doing the right thing or even what the right thing is in your swing.
Here is a great link to a blog that I find fascinating:  Talent Code Blog  In it, Daniel Coyle talks about how not to learn quickly.




2.  Preparing for competition or learning to put your skills to use -
  • Use one ball whenever possible.  Game like practice is slow and might seem like it isn't very productive, but it puts you in the mode of success vs. failure.  If you are working on your short game using one ball, you either get it up and down or you don't and if not, you need to make adjustments and figure out how to be successful.  
  • Figure out how to introduce competition into your practice, whether with your best or with others. By placing a win/loss atmosphere on your practice, you will up the pressure and move it a bit more toward realism.  
  • Play!  Go to the course and try to set your own personal course record every time out.  Make do/don't bets with yourself, such as, if I break 80 today, I get to stop at DQ and get a cone on the way home.  Keep stats and figure out where you can shave a stroke or two to lower your handicap.
  • Practice how you will play.  Use your routine, focus, have a game plan, and measure your risk and reward.  Many of my students take a different attitude to practice rounds than they do to competitive rounds.  They like to drop a second ball or try the miracle shot.  These things might seem harmless in the moment, but the harm is in having an attitude different than you will take into competition.  Allowing yourself a mulligan in practice lessens the pressure and focus.  Going for the miracle shot, whether you pull it off or not, doesn't teach you how to use strategy successfully.  
This might seem like a random picture, but the most competitive and game like practices I have witnessed in my life happen in wrestling.  They will do the same take down move 40 times and each time it is intense.  I have a great deal of respect for the focus and work ethic of wrestlers.  They were the best athletes I knew growing up in Iowa. 

3.  Feel practice -
  • How will you learn what you can do with the club and the ball if you don't experiment?  This is a type of practice that you loved as a kid, but now seems frivolous.  How much can you open the face of your wedge and still hit the ball?  Can you hit a shot that never gets more than waist high and how far will it go?  Can you hit a shot standing on one leg or left handed?  This type of practice gives you an idea of what is possible and what moves you need to make to create shots.  
  • Everything in golf is unique.  You might hit the same club off the first tee each day, but will the wind, the grass length or your body ever be exactly the same?  From there, the uniqueness of each shot you face will increase.  The beauty of golf is that you can play the same course day in and day out but no round or even hole will play exactly the same.  That means you will need creativity and imagination to produce great shots.  If you cannot imagine or visualize a shot prior to hitting it, it will be tough to pull off.  Having a fun, creative and imaginative practice session will prepare you for the uniqueness of the game.
  • Creativity leads to innovation and learning.  You know the old saying, if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got.  If you try new things, you might find an easier way to achieve your best.  Imagine if Dick Fosbury never tried his flop in the high jump.  Would someone else have it figured it out or would we still be doing a scissor kick over a low bar?  On a smaller scale, I watched a great player at A&M practice his knock down shots in a way I had never seen a knock down hit before.  When I asked him who taught him that method, he told me he figured it out himself and it worked every time.  I had never read about the shot being hit that way or seen it by any other player, yet when I tried it myself, I found that it did indeed work every time.  It is now a shot I teach to others, thanks to the creativity of a young and talented player.
Was Fosbury the most creative person in sports?  His imagination changed his sport.

Next time you go out to practice, make a conscious decision how you will practice.  All of us need all areas, no matter where we are in our game.  Great players need repetition and critical practice to keep their skills sharp and new players need to move their game to the course and can prepare with game like practice.  We all need creativity, imagination and fun to stay fresh and stay in touch with life long learning.


    

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