There’s something beautiful about the sound of range balls banging against the dispenser as they fall into the large plastic bucket. Each ball is its own lottery ticket to find that magic feel. There are 100 chances in that bucket to find the golden swing thought that changes everything. A lucky lottery ticket to a better swing. What that large bucket really represents is chances to complete a task. When we are playing each shot there is a task assigned to it, typically something along the lines of hitting it as close as possible. When we get that large bucket that mentality disappears as the golf balls are sent down range until we are thoughtlessly swinging at balls trying to get through the bucket. This is why practice can be so ineffective for golfers, the goal should never be to hit balls mindlessly, it should always be focused on deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice is a term introduced by Anders Ericsson who is a leading researcher on expert performance and famously researched the 10,000-hour rule. This rule has become perverted into thinking that if you practice 10,000 hours in anything you will become an expert, what Ericsson’s research showed was that time spent practice was only part of the equation. The important distinction was how you practiced. The more time spent in deliberate practice the more effective the practice was, the less time it took to become an expert. One of the keys to creating deliberate practice…practicing with a purpose. Golfers should practice their golf games by trying to complete tasks or challenges, not just hitting the ball as close as possible. This task completion allows golfers to hyper-focus on individual parts of their game rather than seeing if they can get lucky or time up their swing well enough to hit a shot or two close. Completing tasks allows us to focus our mind in short bursts and keeps our practice replicating on course experiences. Creating tasks to complete in practice leads to more time spent in deliberate practice which makes that hour we spend at the range far more effective than the usual range ball beating session.
To create tasks for golf practice we want to break down golf into its most basic skills. The thought process goes something like this. If you want to work on hitting more drivers in the fairway; first we only focus on the driver, then we eliminate worrying about distance for this task, next we determine if we fail to start the ball on line, or is the problem the ball spinning offline. If we struggle with fairways because the ball is spinning offline then we create a task of hitting 3 out of 5 drivers between target 1 and target 2 but the ball cannot start outside either target. This sort of task handcuffs the player into figuring out how to prevent the ball from spinning offline without using any other goal to measure success. It can be very frustrating, but if the goal of the task is set at an appropriate level of difficulty the challenge is a lot of fun and can make a big change to their swing without a technical overhaul.