It’s one thing I see all the time as I look down the range, either as players are warming up or are working on their games. They adhere to a typical pattern, starting with some wedges, working your way through your irons, before moving on to hybrids, fairway woods, and then driver.
Like all golfers, you probably hit a bunch of shots with a selected club and only agree to move on once you feel like you have that swing grooved. That's how a lot of golfers practice, and it's no different than musicians trying to master a difficult piece of music. Much like a golfer who will hit his 7-iron until he starts hitting it clean, a violinist, for instance, will repeat a certain passage of music until he or she feels they have it down pat.
This is called a "blocked practice schedule," and it's the way a lot of us have gone about learning a variety of tasks. It's also woefully ineffective.
Dr. Christine Carter is a musician who wrote her dissertation on "contextual interference effect." It's a method that she champions for other musicians, and the thinking directly applies to the way we work on our games.
“Blocked practice does hold some merit, especially if working on your mechanics, however, this should be more drill based than just hitting and scraping”
"The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information," Carter said. "And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged."
Instead, what Carter advocates is called a "random practice schedule" where your brain has to constantly re-adapt. In music, it would mean bouncing around to different passages so you're constantly engaged. And in golf, it would mean different clubs: a driver, followed by a wedge, followed by a 7-iron. The goal is to still hit a bunch of one particular club, just not in a row - which, of course, is how golf is played.
"This challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective," Carter writes. "When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning."
Although Carter doesn't address golf, she does cite another sports example in which two sets of elite baseball players are thrown pitches in either a blocked pattern -- i.e. a bunch of fastballs, followed by a bunch of curves, followed by a bunch of sliders -- or a random pattern. The results were dramatic.
"After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches."
So consider this next time you head to the range, bring a bunch of clubs with you. And make sure you switch them out often.
Ideas for Random Practice
Bring the Course to the Range – This is a very simple exercise in which you visualise the course. For example; the first hole at Awali Golf Club is a 376 yard, par 4. Pick your normal teeing club and imagine the fairway. Once the tee shot is executed, recalculate the distance you may have left and hit the relevant club. If you would have missed the green play a chip shot for your third.
Par 18 – This is a great practice tool for the short game. Start by placing 9 balls in different positions around the chipping green, making sure to give yourself different lengths and difficulty of shots. Then proceed to chip all the balls to the hole. After you have hit the 9 chip shots you can putt them. Mark down your score…par is 18. Try to beat your score every time you play.
Hit through the bag – Again a very simple idea, start with your smallest iron (Sand wedge) and work your way through the bag to driver. Once you have done this start with the driver and work down to the sand wedge.
Same Club, Different Shot – This would be more for the experienced golfer but still fun to try. You hit 5 balls with each club but each time trying to hit a different shape/flight of shot (Draw, Fade, High, Low and Straight).
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