How to Perfect Practice. Deliberately.

Matthew Cooke
  • Author: Matthew Cooke
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Golf practice facility

What exactly is deliberate practice, anyway?

It’s quite easy, to be brutally honest. It’s practicing Game-Like. I wrote my personal interpretation of it a few articles ago, and I still haven’t changed my mind.

“Deliberate practice in golf is the amount of Game-Like repetitions a player gets during practice.”

My interpretation of the deliberate practice concept is right in line with the pioneer of the original work, Dr. K Anders Ericsson.

“Deliberate practice is the engagement with full concentration in a training activity designed to improve a particular aspect of performance with immediate feedback, opportunities for gradual refinement by repetition and problem solving”- Dr. K Anders Ericsson

This is a great explanation. It’s very clear and concise. But, in that message, there has been a very misunderstood word. Repetition. It has been completely misconstrued. More on that soon. Right now, let's clarify how to make practice as close to the real game (Game-Like) as possible.

Whether a beginner, intermediate or advanced golfer, it doesn’t matter. Make practice Game-Like (recreate, simulate, and regulate for chunking opportunities.) There are differences in the specific design of practice, but they are all underlined with the same principles:

1. Recreate a situation (A 10-foot putt, downhill, breaking left to right with the greens rolling at 12)

2. Simulate some form of intensity (Miss this putt short or long by 1 foot and you lose the Masters, or you run a lap around the putting green.)

The choices are yours, but attach an outcome and try to make the outcome mean something to the student, not necessarily you, and regulate what happened (write the task down, your goal and if you achieved it or not.)

If the above is followed, something magical called chunking happens. Before we go into chunking, let me give you 3 different examples for 3 different categories of players. I did mention earlier that whether a beginner, intermediate or advanced golfer, a practice should be Game-Like. So:

Beginner example:

Recreate

10-foot putt downhill, left to right, green speed running at 12.

Simulate

If the putt is outside 2 putter lengths (6 foot,) the player must do 2 push-ups and a lap around the green (This person is a junior and very athletic and upbeat.)

Regulate

Write the score down, use the words pass or fail on a white board (This golfer is in phase 1 i.e. FUN, so regulating is kept to a minimum intensity, outcomes should be written on a white board during class/lesson only)

Intermediate example:

Recreate

10-foot putt downhill, left to right, green speed running at 12.

Simulate

If the ball stops short or longer than 3 foot past, it’s noted as a bogie, dropping 1 shot back of the lead (this person is a passionate golfer wanting to improve and has the desire to become a professional one day.)

Regulate

Performance game scorecard must in hand. On the scorecard, the golfer will note if he/she holed the putt, passed or failed the task.

Advance example:

Recreate

10-foot downhill, left to right, green speed running at 12.

Simulate

If the ball stops short of the hole or rolls more than 9 inches past the hole, or 5 out of 10 aren’t holed, the player must do 5 push-ups and a lap around the putting green. Results written on the performance scorecard are shared with other team members. A psychological element can also be added (1 shot has been dropped in the masters [This person is also young, in shape, healthy and has the desire to become professional.])

Regulate

Performance game scorecard must be in hand throughout practice, and all results will be recorded.

They are the differences I was talking about in the design of the practice tasks. Constrain the environment and design the game in a way that is appropriate for learning. By doing the above, you provide an opportunity for the last piece, which is chunking, to take place. Before we go any further, I may know what is going through some people’s minds, or something similar, anyway.

“What if there is a real technical flaw!? They can’t just practice Game-Like, otherwise they aren’t going to change it.”

In our manual, I discuss the mechanical aspects of improvement. In short, make the technical changes, but in a Game-Like way. Read more in the manual, though I will write an article about it in the future.

Chunking

Imagine a piece of information. Within that piece of information, there are details regarding concepts, movements and much more. The piece of information is what’s being referred to as a chunk and, in essence, is stored in memory. Chunks then become accessible pieces of information that golfers can utilize (if trained correctly) when they are competing in a tournament. To be accessible during the competition, the prior 3 principles (recreate, simulate and regulate) must be followed. This is because the task and context in practice, where chunks are created, have to be as close to the actual task and context in real time. Over a period of time, in practice, working through appropriate stages, the stimulus that is created from the environment around a golfer will fire the right patterns, connected to the right pieces of information (chunks,) rather than the wrong ones aiding performance.

Skill-based differences were a result of the (re) organization of small units of information, such as letters, into larger units of information, such as words and phrases. Perceptual chunking ideas have been at the forefront of explanations for expert-novice differences in purely cognitive domains. (Chase & Simon, 1973; Ericsson & Polson 1988) 

The ability to quickly and efficiently process domain-specific information has since been shown to be one of the defining features of expertise in sport, and hence explanations for skill-based differences in motor skills have been heavily grounded in cognitively-based theories of information-processing activities. (e.g., Fitts, 1965; Fitts & Posner, 1967; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977).

This was taken from the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

Here is an example:

It’s the Masters and, lo and behold, we have that 10 foot, downhill, left to right putt with the green running at a speed of 12. By practicing Game-Like for all those years, all those times, those skills are now put to the test. By sticking to the process and going through a routine, the pieces of information (chunks) that were created and stored from all that practice is now available to access and in a very beneficial way. A quote from Tiger Woods on his final putt to win the Masters some years ago said this, “My mum could make this putt, this is easy.”

I wonder how many times he had already hit that put in practice, thinking it was for the Masters win? Debatable, but, I believe, a lot.

Back to repetition, the word that has misled many for quite some time. Just like muscle memory (that’s another article in the making,) by doing something over and over again, our muscles begin to act more seamlessly, which gives the outside world a perception of expertise for that particular task. Check out the link below.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egltg4kW06Q)

Notice how easy the tasks seem to be getting done. The guys could practically do it with their eyes closed. They sure didn’t start out that way; they started off slow, failing a few times and even messing up some orders along the way. You could even call it ugly as they were learning, as a friend of mine Trevor Regan would say (check out his website by the way: www.traingugly.com). Golf, unfortunately, doesn’t work quite like this. Maybe on the driving range, when people use the same club, but we all know the whole “how do I take my range game to the golf course” story. You don’t, by the way. It stays there.

In golf, each shot you get is different, like it or not, in some form. That’s the truth. There might be similarities, but it’s never exactly the same. In golf, we use our memories and decision making capabilities to decide what the best action is for the presented task (shot.) Therefore, repetition has to be a little different than what is currently believed. Repetition of the whole skill, not just movement of the golf swing, is the type of repetition needed to learn golf shots. This type of repetition allows us to be able to access those previously discussed chunksand execute good golf shots.

After all that information, the question is, “How do we make all practice deliberate?”

Using what you have learned from this article, make sure that each practice session, golf class, golf lesson, whatever it may be, is Game-Like, and encompasses the following 3 aspects:

1) Recreate
2) Simulate
3) Regulate

If the above are evident, chunks will be built and memories will form. This leads to a better chance of accessing them during competitive or regular play on the course. In most cases, they can be implemented into an actual game.

Golfer hitting into a practice net

Here is an example from one of our workbooks:

This covers recreating and simulating, it’s a game with a goal and a scoring system.

This covers the regulating aspect. We have a scorecard stating the name of the game, the players name, date, time and score.

All of a sudden, we have made an opportunity to create a chunk or lots of chunks.