Through my experience as a coach I would say that the majority of people I see who come to the Academy are not quite clear on what effective practice means. Effective practice is different for everyone and its crucially important to know what it means so you can become the golfer you want to be. There are many factors such as time, practice facility access, personality, and any coaching you are receiving.
There has been much research over the years of the 10,000 hour rule of deliberate practice to become an expert in a particular sport. Much of the current research is suggesting that golf may even be more like 15,000-17,000 hours. This means to become a world class golfer, you need to practice/play three to five hours per day for 10 years or longer. In order to achieve YOUR peak performance you need to find the right amount of practice for you. Lets consider three types of practice…under practice, ideal practice, and over practice.
Under practice would consist of too few of hours coaching and uncertain expectations. There are generally not defined practice goals and normally there is too much of a social component to it. Practice is not structured and doesn’t have defined purposes. When the golfer plays well there is almost a sense of undeserving. The players touch around the greens is generally poor and the timing in the swing will tend to be inconsistent. There is an overall low performance confidence.
Ideal Practice has a purpose and matches the goals of the player. It keeps everyday life and golf in balance. We will have better touch, timing and feel for shots. There is a more ideal blend between mechanics and feel. We reduce the risk of injury and are generally more rested for our important round or competition. It is very important for the player to have clear cut goals so the practice and expectations can match up.
As an example, I teach many competitive junior players who go on to play at big Division 1 schools and have aspirations of playing professionally. When a junior comes to me for the first time because they want to take it to the next level in order to play high school and college golf it is important for him/her, their parents, and me to know what their goals are. I ask them “on a scale of one to ten give me a number that you think you are. One would be they only play golf because their parents want them to and they are pleasing them. A ten would be they want to play at the highest level in game as a professional someday. A six as example would be they want to play decent high school golf and maybe play college golf. Some know right away and some may not and that’s ok, but we need to start somewhere. The point is that through this exploration we all get on the same page and can set appropriate practice goals as to what it takes for them to achieve their goals.
Over Practice can be a problem. I see it more with the competitive players, but many golfers fall into this trap at times. Over practice can be too many hours on the range trying to “find it”. Practice may not fit the personality. Practice can sometimes become overly structured and too mechanical. Life off the course can get railroaded and out of balance because golf becomes where we find too much of our self- worth. Our expectations get too high and we lose sight of the process. Golfers who over practice will experience fatigue and burnout and are more prone to overuse injuries. They practice too many hours and become too reliant on their coach. They get wrapped up too much in the technical aspects of the game don’t allow creativity to flow enough.
My advice to you to maximize practice is to keep a written journal, so you can write down mechanics, feels, thoughts, and important self-discovery findings as you practice or after a round of golf. It is easy to forget certain feelings or swing thoughts that have worked. Identify and define strategies for strengthening your weaknesses. People tend to put more practice time on what they are already pretty good at and not put enough attention to their weaknesses.
One thing I would recommend to everyone is keep detailed stats on your game if your serious about improving. There are great softwares such as Shot by Shot, Decade, Arccos, and Golfstat that you can you to use to analyze your game and compare all areas of golf to certain handicap benchmarks. Playing professionals have it done for them. They know where they need more deliberate practice or else they aren’t making money and keeping their card. You absolutely need to know where to focus your practice and not guess. I will wrap this up by saying practice comes in many forms and there is an ideal practice for you based on your goals. Certainly not everyone plays golf for the same reasons or has a great deal of time to devote. But start with a practice plan of improvement and write it down. This is probably something you want to explore with a good coach’s oversight.
But, for now go out and practice the important three areas to get really good….they are the driver, wedges, and putter. You need to be more consistent with a shot shape with the driver to hit more fairways and avoid penalty shots. You need to make sure you can hit virtually every green with a wedge in your hand. No two wedge shots on a hole! You also need to make most every putt inside 4 feet. Obviously there is much more to the game, but start there. The best players in the world have mastered these clubs better than most!