The folly of Repetitive Practice

GLT Content Writer & Developer Joe Culverhouse
  • Author: Joseph Culverhouse
  • GLT Content Writer & Developer
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baseball practice drills

 

If you’re reading this article, I’m going to assume you have a general understanding of what constitutes a typical athletic practice. If, like me, you grew up practicing a sport in a standard, traditional manner, you may be surprised to learn how effective (or noneffective, depending on the type of practice) those practice sessions actually were. I can only speak based on my own experience, and I grew up playing baseball instead of golf, but after reading about different styles of practice and the science & research behind the information I will present later in the article, I was astounded by how deficiencies in the way I practiced directly related to weaknesses I remembered in my game.

I suppose some backstory would be useful at this point. While I played baseball year-round from the age of five through fifteen and competitive softball for another five years after, I was never a particularly good athlete, and whether during tee ball, little league, travel leagues or high school, due to the community in which I was raised, I never had access to elite level coaching… not that it likely would have mattered.

Practice Has To Change

Due to the coaches not knowing of any other ways to conduct practice, practice at each level was identical, with the same routine under the same stresses in the same environment. And, not coincidentally, each coach at each level raised the same issues regarding my game, “why can’t you perform in the games like you do in practice?” Whether fielding or at the plate, I was the model ballplayer in practice, but dropped easy fly balls and failed to even make contact during games. It never made sense to me until I began researching the different types of practice and how to practice more efficiently for an early GLT article. Then, boom, like a popup I misread in a little league game, it hit me right in the face: I could perform like an all-star in practice because I was doing just that, I was performing. I was replicating the feedback immediately provided by coaches, in a low-stress, controlled atmosphere. I wasn’t learning a new skill. I wasn’t even sharpening the skills I already possessed, at least not in a way that could be retained long-term. Why? I was failing to actually learn because the traditional, old-fashioned practice I’d become familiar with was simply making me better at practice, it wasn’t simulating the random and unpredictable events I would face in an actual game. In short, because practice was repeating the same things, also known as blocked practice, I was not growing or learning.

 

golf practice

 

Blocked practice is repeating the same task over and over in the same manner, under the same stresses and conditions. Blocked practice is great for beginning athletes that struggle with fundamentals (hitting a ball off of a tee, etc.,) but the moment any advanced skill is displayed, blocked practice essentially becomes counterproductive to athletic development. Skills acquired as a result of blocked practice are not typically retained for any significant period of time and are rarely transferred easily. In order for skills to be retained and transferred over a long period of time, they need to be developed organically through practice structured in a random, interleaved manner.

Challenge Golfers In Practice

Random or interleaved practice is practice that is designed to challenge athletes to access and complete motor processes, not simply repeat tasks for a short term performance. By forcing athletes to self-diagnose and complete motor processes, interleaved practice essentially makes athletes their own best coaches, and the skills athletes discover through interleaved practices are going to be retained much longer and transferred to actual competition much more easily than skills developed through blocked practice. To summarize, when practice is made more game like, athletes will be more successful over longer periods of time in actual games, tournaments, etc.

Why Blocked Golf Practice?

So, with scientific research pointing towards interleaved practice, in general, why do coaches continue to conduct the same old blocked practices? There are several possibilities. It could be that most local area coaches are concerned more with their own self-image, and therefore the immediate performance of an athlete is more important than the athlete’s actual development. However, such a self-centered rationale is unlikely. Unfortunately, the likely reason most coaches continue to conduct blocked practices is ignorance of other options. This is where Game Like Training comes in. At GLT, our goal, as always, is to better educate golfers and golf coaches. By helping golf coaches better understand how skills are acquired, retained and developed (also known as motor learning,) we can help golf coaches provide a more effective and efficient practice environment for the golfers they coach. A one-time performance should never be a coach’s goal, but a lifetime of growth and learning is something all coaches should encourage. At least, that’s the way we look at it here at Game Like Training Golf. GLT Golf, Think Differently. Train Differently.

 

golf practice