Game Like Training, Motor Learning

The Critical Missing Component in Most Practice Sessions w/ Trevor Ragan

jungle tiger

Our guest today is Trevor Ragan from TrainUgly.com. Trevor explains his “jungle tiger” analogy and walks us through his four-step framework to achieve amazing results in your game.


Trevor explains that Train Ugly is the marriage of the mental component, or growth mindset, and motor science learning. He emphasizes that a motor learning science practice can get ugly – it’s harder, more chaotic and more random. When you’re in that zone, you make more mistakes.

That’s why coupling that science with growth mindset research produces the best results; the mental approach to learning helps you see the value of mistakes and struggle and how that helps you to grow more.

Trevor notes that two concepts matter most with the growth mindset:

  1. Belief in your ability to learn and
  2. Value of learning and getting better over how you look to others.

Throwing Zoo Tigers Into the Wild

Trevor cites his “jungle tiger vs. zoo tiger” analogy to better illustrate the concept: There are two tigers; one lives in the zoo, one in the wild. One lives a life that is safe and easy, whereas the other faces daily danger and struggle. If you put a zoo tiger in the wild, it wouldn’t survive. The jungle tiger figures out how to survive in the wild by being in the wild. Both are the same animals with the same tools; the only difference is the way they developed.

The point of this analogy is that a training approach filled with struggle and mistakes develops skills. The game is “the wild,” in that no two games are ever alike. When we design our practice like the zoo, players aren’t developing the skills needed to perform in that wild environment.

How do you approach failure?

When asked how to help players deal with the inevitable failures and mistakes that come with this method, Trevor makes the following points:

  • The most successful people, regardless of industry, have been through a lot of obstacles and struggles in their lives.
  • Ugly is where the magic happens. A stumble should be celebrated as a special learning opportunity.
  • Practice is there to help us learn how to get better. It doesn’t matter how we look when we’re practicing.
  • We need to find ways to maximize the transfer of improvements in practice to the game by making our practice resemble the game as much as possible.

train ugly quote

How does this apply to a beginner?

Trevor has a specific four-step framework for applying his training method to beginners and young players. He explains that when you’re teaching a new skill, it’s okay to involve a bit of block practice, or drilling, combined with the Train Ugly concept.

His format follows a progression of watch, keys, block practice, and random practice. He explains it in a bit more detail:

#1 What does it look like? Watch a video about technique and then ask “why do you think it would be important to learn this skill?” This builds engagement and gives purpose.

#2 What’s important? Next, create skill keys surrounding that technique.

#3  How does it feel? Spend a short, intense period of time in a block practice atmosphere — e.g. reps with no defense — and give visual feedback.

#4 Add game elements. Finally, enter into a more random zone by adding game elements into the equation.
And finally, when it comes to adding the pressure of the score, Trevor always tells his trainees, “Never let the number on the scoreboard rob you of an opportunity to grow.”

Links Mentioned:

trainugly.com
Train Ugly Twitter
Learning Like a Jungle Tiger
BOOK – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

About Trevor Ragan and Train Ugly

trevor raganTrevor Ragan has dedicated himself to researching how learning best occurs. However, he has noticed that there is a large gap between the best practices found in the research and common coaching methods.

Train Ugly is based on motor learning and performance science research, and focuses on how to foster an environment that promotes personal growth and improvement. Trevor’s mindset approach has been used both in the sports world (e.g. the USA Women’s Volleyball Team, the Miami Heat) and the corporate world (e.g. Starbucks).

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Founder and chief curator of the Golf Science Lab. Documenting what's going on in the world of research and beyond that can help you play your best golf on the golf course (when it counts). Join the movement of researched based coaching over trusting beliefs and what worked for one person a few decades ago. Follow on Twitter