Learning is in the Valleys not the Peaks

Learning is in the Valleys not the Peaks

We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training. This quote, made famous by the SEALs but attributed to Archilochus the Greek poet, is the perfect idea of how skill development works. Golf is a game of skill made up of a series of one off shots. When we are playing our success is measured by singular shots, when we practice it should be measured by groupings or averages. The pitfall most golfers fall into is they measure practice based on one or two shots; and because we are human beings they are the extreme worst or extreme best shots we hit also known as the outliers. Skill development does not come from the peaks of training, instead it shows itself in the slow rise of the valleys climbing up the mountain range. 

Golf technology and the distribution of golf instruction of the past 5 years has exploded to unprecedented levels and for the most part is a good thing for the game of golf, but the dark side of this distribution of knowledge is that everyone is focused on building a singular perfect swing. What truly changes your scores in golf for the better is a focus on skill development first. The winner on tour this week is not judged by who has the best looking swing but who controlled their golf ball the best. Controlling the golf ball happens from skill not technique. The difficult part about training skill is that it takes time to see the gains made and it is always influx. Skill is not a fixated metric that we can focus on, every day our skill level changes based on an infinite number of variables. This is why it is so important to measure progress by your valleys not your peaks. Relying on your peak skill performance can lead to disaster, but your valleys, that is your performance safe haven, its bankabale. You are far better judging your iron distances by the worst 10% than the best 10%. 

Skill practice is what happens when you are not in need of major technical changes and instead switch your focus to results based practice. This practice focuses on what happens, not on how it happens. This should have clear and measurable goals for each shot to achieve and the player should constantly build to more and more difficult goals. One of the things players will see is that your skill level will peak in practice and then diminish as time goes by between repetitions, be it 4 minutes, 4 days, or 4 months. This elapsed time is what creates valleys in our skill development and that is a good thing. The newly created valley in our skill development can be higher or lower than our previous valley based on the time lapsed between practices, if the valley is higher than the previous one we are improving, if it is lower than we need to keep working. 

The psychology of measuring performance based on peaks and not valleys is engineered for let downs as soon as we test ourselves on the golf course. Your peak is the absolute best relative to your current abilities, therefore this is a very rare instance. Playing to your peak should be the goal but never the expectation. Golf as a score is a measure of who’s worst shots were better than others. Tiger Woods and your best shots are the exact same since his and your best shots both finish in the bottom of the cup. Tiger’s worst and your worst shots are likely very different though. Keep in mind that we are not trying to play down to our valleys, we always want to keep improving the low points of our skill, but the expectation of where we stand skill wise should be measured by the valley of our skill not the peak. Measuring the peaks is a vain way to hurt your golf game, it takes putting our pride aside to measure ourselves by our worst performance not our best.

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