Motor Learning

4 Practice Hacks to Get More out of Your Time on the Range.

You probably know you’re wasting time on the driving range…

Maybe you don’t want to admit it but your practice isn’t translating to the golf course. The time (or lack of) you’ve spent practicing hasn’t been working.

And let’s dig a little deeper…

Maybe you don’t know what you ACTUALLY need to do to improve. What should you work on when you go to the range?

Most would say start with the 7 iron hit some shots and then work through the bag hitting a couple shots with each club until your done… And spend time putting and chipping! We’ve all heard that.

But what kind of plan is that? If it works wouldn’t we all be getting better.

So here are 4 practice hacks to get you on the right path. A path to taking your best game to the course.

*And these aren’t just “idea” we’re basing this off research done on how people effectively learn motor skills

Hack #1 – Practice Like You Play

0013A critical factor of effective practice is the similarity to the performance environment.  When you go out onto the golf course and actually play golf you face a new problem with each shot.  No two situations are the same.

Yet the typical practice session is composed of practicing the “same problem” (or golf shot) over and over again.  If we want to improve performance we need to practice like we play.

Check out this amazing quote:

“The concept of practice specificity is that what you learn tends to be what you practice.

In our view, an “optimal” driving range would have a number of deliberately nonflat lies, with varying turf, with targets on the range that mimic both greens and nongreen targets (for playing lay-up shots), with objects placed in front of the golfer to encourage shots to be played over, under, and around them, and so on.

The idea is to make the driving range as similar to the actual play-on-course as possible.

PaR (Plan-act-Review) Golf: Motor Learning Research and Improving Golf Skills by Timothy D. Lee McMaster University Richard A. Schmidt Human Performance Research

So when you go to the range simulate the golf course… Or even better make the golf course your range.  The best place to practice is the course itself.

Hack #2 – Set Appropriate Challenges

To many people practice what’s easy. They assume that if they’re aren’t hitting it well on the range or chipping the ball within a 3 foot circle during their practice they aren’t getting better.

Here’s the reality. Good performance during practice does not mean you are learning. In fact challenging yourself and lowering performance during practice can help you take those skills to the course.

By increasing the difficulty or challenge of your practice you’re increasing your learning potential.

Here’s a quote from two leading experts in the field Nicholas C. Soderstrom and Robert A. Bjork

“Conditions that induce the most errors during acquisition are often the very conditions that lead
to the most learning!”

Next time you’re in practice mode set up a number of desirable difficulties and don’t practice what’s easy.

Hack #3 – Change Your Focus

To many people focus on what they want their body to do in the swing.

“My elbow should be here”
“My hip needs to shift like this”

The problem is that an internal focus reduces fluidity and causes you to actually learn and perform worse.

When talking with Dr Gabrielle Wulf, author of a paper called “Attentional focus and motor learning: a review of 15 years” she said.

“When you focus on body movements, you consciously try to control your movements and the result is that you constrain your motor system, meaning there will be unnecessary co-contractions between agonists and antagonists, and even superfluous contractions in other muscles as well.

That disrupts the fluidity of the movement, and people use more energy than necessary, and accuracy of their movements is degraded and so forth. Now, when you use external focus, you use more automatic control processes which are unconscious, much faster, and as a result, movements are more efficient, more fluid, smoother, and more accurate.

So, performance and learning is facilitated and sped up.”


Hack #4 – Give Yourself a Break


In golf, the default status is to focus on what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed.

However, there is a lot of research happening (and plenty already out there) on motivational learning, which looks at the factors of motivation that have an impact on how effective an individual’s learning can be.

Let’s assume there are two groups of people and each group is asked to perform a motor task. One group is told their score after the task, while the other group is told their score in addition to some positive feedback such as “you have performed well relative to others.”

The second group — the one that received a second form of positive feedback — will do better, as it appears that this additional sense of success is what potentiates learning. Returning to the scenario a day later, the second group will also retain more of what they learned the first day when asked to perform a similar or somewhat related task. Not only that, but they will once again outperform the group that did not receive the additional sense of success.

In terms of practical applications for improving your game, it looks as though positive thinking is a key player. We all know that a strong mental game is a major component of success in sports, but the glass-half-full mentality really does seem to make a difference in performance and learning retention.

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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