Practice variables

As we discuss in the Sweet Spot of skill and Learning environments, there is an art to fostering a new skill, and preparing it for the unpredictability of competitive play. Almost like a producer's mixer desk, you can do this by tweaking the variables of golf, in order to adjust the level of challenge.

1# One club vs. different clubs

Using a 7 iron or a PW exclusively in a practice session is fine if you are working on technique, and want to strip away as many variables as possible for a bit. However if you indulge this too much, you're not rehearsing the micro adjustments needed between clubs (e.g. the 0.5" length and 0.5 deg of lie angle separating each iron).

In a warm-up, Adapt or Perform practice session certainly, you need to be moving from club to club.

2# Same target vs. different targets

A single target unchanging for the whole session, keeps things simple for tech work perhaps. But bear this in mind: planning, preparation and engaging with the shot at hand, is an essential part of good play (since every shot on the course will be unique).

So even within a Technical practice session, mix it up a bit by changing targets. In Adapt and Perform sessions, the greater the variety of targets the better. Here you want to use every opportunity to engage with a new task afresh.

3# Easy lie vs. harder/random lie

In Technical sessions the primary goal is "Did I move as intended?". Placing the ball on a fluffy lie or short tee is a good way, initially, to make the task easy enough that you stay focused on that question.

However as less favourable lies are part of the game, you can move to tighter lies as you progress. In Adapt and Perform sessions throwing the ball down randomly is an excellent discipline. Most golfers are guilty of preferring their lie in practice, which leaves them exposed in a regular round of golf.

4# Calm conditions vs. wind

Obviously we have little control over this, although some simulators allow you to alter this. Learning how to cope with winds off the left, right, into and downwind are all valuable skills in golf. If you're serious about your golf, create the opportunity to experiment in all types, not just the prevailing wind at your local range. Being aware of your relative strengths and weaknesses is a good start point.

5# Flat lie vs. slopes

Studios and ranges all offer a dead flat lie as default. If a controlled environment is what you need to work on something difficult, perfect. But as with wind, you need to seek out some slopes every now and then, with the ability to have more than one attempt. Trial and error is an essential part of learning.

Golf magazines offer very prescriptive instruction for dealing with slopes, but in reality not all golfers fade the ball when the ball is below your feet, for example. Practice needs to firstly determine what your tendencies are, and find out what adjustments you need to make.

6# Dry conditions vs. rain

Fair weather golfers are only caught out by lack of experience in poor conditions, when it's a round they really want to do well in...and it rains.

Two things you'd learn from practising in the rain. Firstly what kit you need to alleviate the problem, and secondly what adjustments you need to make. Playing in waterproofs can be unfamiliar and restrictive if you don't do it much, for example. How does the rain affect your yardages? How does it affect the ball's bounce and roll on a pitch shot?

7# Multiple attempts vs. one attempt

One of the reason's golfers can get hot under the collar in a medal, is the knowledge they only get one go. Multiple attempts is a no-brainer when learning new movement in a Technical session, or fine-tuning impact skills in Calibration.

However if all your practice has the security blanket of knowing you can just throw another ball down, you may be creating the illusion of skill.

One-ball practice is a great way to transition to a performance mode. Accept the success rate is lower, but at least it's real.

8# No consequence vs. consequence

One of the common themes from the childhoods of famous players was a fiercely competitive environment. Lee Trevino once referred to those days:

Real pressure is playing for $10 when you've only got $5 in your pocket.

Many golfers don't thrive under tournament conditions, not because they aren't naturally competitive (fixed mindset belief), but because they didn't train for it.

Perform practice thus must ensure the outcome has perceived importance to you. Whether it be a P.B. you are chasing, imagining you are playing in the club champs, or playing for a fiver on the putting green. As long as you care, this has you engaged, and so preparing for pressure.

All pressure is self-imposed anyway so creating it in practice is possible.

9# Solitary vs. observers

In my coaching experience, the most common cause of a breakdown in performance with club players, is to do with other people. Fear of looking weak in front of our peers is a fear deep-rooted into our evolutionary past. It's natural, but can be trained.

If your practice is exclusively solitary, you might not be as prepared for inevitable company in a competition. Sometimes it's not fear, but maybe distracting playing partners.

Either way, playing with new playing partners, challenging someone to a putting competition is adds robustness to your game.


Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth

This famous quote by Mike Tyson perfectly sums up why introducing some of the variables above is necessary if you want to thrive when it matters to you.

Starting in a controlled environment is a really good idea, as you'll have enough to engage you whilst improving your technique, but look ahead to mixing it up and relish the challenge.

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