Golf is a unique sport in the sense that you can play it for years and never really get any better. This is certainly not the case for everyone, but there does seem to be a large cohort of golfers whose games have “plateaued”. This phenomena occurs in other activities as well- for example our typing speeds increase rapidly as we learn to type and then at a certain point our speeds plateau and flat-line.
The ideas behind deliberate practice are summarized in 7 steps below; our next post will involve tailoring these to golf, but this should be a good introduction to get you thinking!
- “Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance with the key word being ‘designed.’ The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. By contrast, deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them. The great performers isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they’re improved; then it’s on to the next aspect.”
- “Feedback on results is continuously available.” Though this is obvious, it is “not nearly as simple as it might seem, especially when results require interpretation. In many important situations, a teacher, coach, or mentor is vital for providing crucial feedback.”
- “It’s highly demanding mentally. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate.’ Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities. The work is so great that it seems no one can sustain it for very long.”
- “It’s hard. This follows inescapably from the other characteristics of deliberate practice, which could be described as a recipe for not having fun. Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands. Instead of doing what we’re good at, we insistently seek out what we’re not good at.”
- There is a definitive ‘before the work’ component. “Self-regulation begins with setting goals – not big, life-directing goals, but more immediate goals for what you’re going to be doing today. In the research, the poorest performers don’t set goals at all; they just slog through their work. Mediocre performers set goals that are general and are often focused on simply achieving a good outcome. The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
- There is a ‘during the work’ phase. “The most important self-regulatory skill that top performers in every field use during their work is self-observation. Even in purely mental work, the best performers observe themselves closely. They are able to monitor what is happening in their own minds and ask how it’s going. Researchers call this metacognition – knowledge about your own knowledge, thinking about your own thinking. Top performers do this much more systematically than others do; it’s an established part of their routine.”
- There is an ‘after the work’ component as well. “Practice activities are worthless without useful feedback about the results. These must be self-evaluations” and “the best performers judge themselves against a standard that’s relevant for what they’re trying to achieve. Sometimes they compare their performance with their own personal best; sometimes they compare it with the performance of competitors they’re facing or expect to face; sometimes they compare it with the best known performance by anyone in the field.”