How to get Good, really good, quickly
How to achieve expert levels of performance in Golf:
I lied, it doesn’t happen quickly, but by understanding this article, you’ll realize the quickest way.
Fortunately, I have the honor of working with Mr. Len Hill, Ph.D., and Dr. K. Anders Ericsson on researching expert performance in Golf. First thing’s first, I owe a huge thank you to these two men for helping me expand my knowledge on the subject and share our findings with the world.
We shall start by defining the meaning of expert levels of performance. I was taught wisely to use words to create clarity, not confusion. Therefore, a clear understanding of the words used will, I hope, reflect in the understanding of this article.
What is an Expert?
An expert, defined by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, is the distinguished journeyman, highly regarded by peers, whose judgments are uncommonly accurate and reliable, whose performance shows consummate skill and economy of effort, and who can deal effectively with certain types of rare or tough situations. Also, an expert is one who has special skills or knowledge derived from extensive experience. To read more, I strongly suggest purchasing The Cambridge Handbook Of Expertise and Expert Performance edited by K. Anders Ericsson, Neil Charnes, Paul J. Feltovich and Robert R. Hoffman.
What is Performance?
Performance, on the other hand, has been defined by the Oxford dictionary as an action, task, or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed. Understanding both of the definitions presented in this article supports our belief that expert levels of performance in golf are that of individuals attaining accurate and reliable judgments, and who contains the ability to successfully perform the task – getting the golf ball in the hole – in the rare and tough cases. The attainment of expertise is a long process and takes years of preparation. The pinnacle of expertise is gained through an initial interest with the game, to a gradual increase in the involvement and intensity through thousands of hours of deliberate practice. What I’m really trying to tell you is experience in the game is simply not enough to take a beginner to a major winner.
Driving a car is something many people have experince doing. With this example, we hope to expose how learning by doing is more visible in the early phases of acquiring skills, and how it can be misconstrued or misinterpreted when attempting to reach higher levels of skill. One can become competent and reach an acceptable level of proficiency relatively easily using self-discovery, constraints, and more as strategies to help facilitate the individuals learning skills by doing them. However, just doing skills over a long period of time doesn’t necessarily mean the performer has reached an expert level. As unfortunate as it is for those who still believe practice makes perfect, it takes a little more than mindless repetition.
Those individuals who aspire to risk their lives reaching speeds of 200+ mile per hour racing equally driven individuals around a race track must engage in something a little more than just driving their cars. Let’s move onto the world of Formula 1 racecar driving and discuss a few key alterations to typical training.
What was once an average size and weighted car with top speeds of 120 mph (only to be allowed to travel up to 70 mph – legally - for the aspiring formula 1 racecar driver) has turned into a small, aero dynamic, light weighted machine with top speeds of 233 mph. Performing the skills involved with driving a car can’t be, and aren’t, the same as performing the necessary skills for driving a Formula 1 racecar.
Learning how to drive can take years or it can take weeks. We, as human beings, have the ability to learn new skills that are at a proficient level relatively quickly (in most cases approx.. 50 hours.) Taking myself as an example, I learned how to drive a car, pass a theoretical and practical examination of driving a car in less than 6 weeks. I engaged in driving lessons twice a week and devoted time each evening to 30 minutes of studying i.e. reading books or participating in online interactive simulation training. I learned how to get from A to B legally and safely in a very short space of time. Hence, the legal speed limit. If accidents were to happen, the speed limits and car specifications mean the accidents that do happen may not cost people their lives. However, race car driving means faster speeds, lots of traffic at high speeds and, at times, environmental conditions that are not very helpful to performance. Generally speaking, lives are now at risk.
A Formula 1 race car driver typically starts their road to excellence from a very early age. For the sake of our article, we are going to highlight the journey of an aspiring formula 1 race car driver.
Typically, the first point of call is go karting, which is the equivalent to soccer players at a young age playing on a smaller pitch. The carts are slower, smaller, safer and the tracks tend to be less difficult. This generally lasts between 5 to 10 years. During that timeframe, students upgrade divisions, cart speeds and track difficulty. Competitions go from racing against your class friends to racing against local, national or even international competitors. The go karting experience is a great stepping-stone that leads aspiring Formula 1 drivers to Formula BMW’s. Here is where they spend a few years developing and enhancing their skills. From there, it's widely known to go into G3 racing, then G2 racing, which can take around another 3-4 years. If the desire is still there, aspiring Formula 1 drivers typically decide to enter the world of becoming a Formula 1 test driver (approx. 2 years’ experience). By now, these individuals have spent anywhere from 10 to 12 years acquiring the skills a Formula 1 racecar driver needs to compete at a world class level. That's quite a long process, isn’t it?
There is a key driving force associated with the continuous progression in developing excercise know as deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is evident at each level of progression in the Formula 1 training, and should be in any Golf training, regardless of the individual’s phase (See phases of participation blog link below.)
The deliberateness should prevail.
A child in phase 1, completely new to the game, needs to be engaged, inspired, enticed and amazed. Deliberateness is in creating the learning tasks to achieve the engagement, inspiration, enticement and amazement, not in stifling it. As people move through the phases, the type of deliberate practice changes, but the deliberateness of the practice remains the same. Often, people do not desire to commence the journey from beginner to a major winner, so those people often remain in the same phase, undertaking the same type of training. But, for those on the road to acquiring expertise, they must continuously engage in deliberate practice. The specific organizing and structuring of targeted practice tasks aimed to enhance an area of weakness through challenges that are outside of their ability and comfort zone is what takes them from one level to the next.
Stay engaged for my next article dedicated to deliberate practice, what it is and how to do it. For now, here are some helpful tips that will put you ahead of the curve.
The road to mastery:
1. Have faith and patience – it takes a long time to see substantial increases in performance. Even the perceived overnight success stories you hear about are flawed.
2. Try to do things you can’t quite do. Get proficient with that and then move to the next task, that once again - you can’t quite do. Experts target weaknesses as much as they elevate their strengths.
3. Set very specific goals that are attached to the improvement of your weaknesses. Direct your energy and focus on those goals until achieved.
4. Seek out the help of a coach/teacher who understands the development of long-term acquisition of expert performance. Find a teacher who does not tell you the right path or necessarily point you down the right path, but inspires you to choose your own path.
Help from Len Hill & Information gathered from Dr. K. Anders Ericsson.