"Repeating one type of stroke over and over to the same target can improve your rhythm, tempo and timing during the session, which can influence you to believe that you are getting better at your golf skills because you are hitting lots of good shots in your session...But just be aware of the trap that this type of practice can lead you into."
Are your golf practice sessions boring and tedious at times?
You are not a golfer if you haven’t experienced these aspects of golf practice, and yes it’s true that golf practice can seem monotonous and even boring at times, however by managing the two practice styles I'm going to discuss in this article your golf practice routines will become far more challenging and a lot more enjoyable.
Let's start with an important question I want you to answer honestly; "How do you know that you are practicing your golf skills the right way?"
Do you favour block style practice or random style practice?
You should know the difference between these two main practice styles - especially if your intention is to practice your golf skills to improve, because these different golf practice styles can help you to develop and improve the high pay-off golf skills and transfer them to the golf course faster.
Many of the amateur and professional golfers we have observed over the years lean towards practicing the style of practice known as block practice.
Block practice is when you practice a single golf skill over and over to one target (like hitting chip shot after chip shot to one hole) until your practice bag or your range bucket is empty.
I think you’ll agree that this type of practice is a very common way for golfers to practice?
And here’s what you should know right up front about this common type of practice; block practice style is a lot like rote learning (it's very repetitive) and can lead to “the illusion of competence” where you mistakenly rate your ability when performing a certain skill repetitively much higher than it really is.
Repeating one type of stroke over and over to the same target can improve your rhythm, tempo and timing during the session, which can influence you to believe that you are getting better at your golf skills because you are hitting lots of good shots in your session.
The Golf Practice Trap
But just be aware of the trap that this type of practice can lead you into.
Blocked golf practice can and does influence golfers (and even their instructors) to develop a false sense of confidence (when they are preparing for a tournament) because the golfer is hitting the golf ball so well in practice that it can really increase their confidence.
But it is often only short-lived as this confidence is often crushed during the tournament because the consistency and predictability of those exciting and productive practice sessions goes right out the window when shots are on the line.
The research on blocked practice suggests that this type of practice does not transfer well to the golf course in competition, or lead to long-term memory retention.
The simple fact is that the way you practice your golf skills really matters because when it comes down to it, the whole idea of golf practice is to transfer your golf skills successfully to the golf course and perform them to the best of your ability.
In a 2011 article by Ron Kaspriske in Golf Digest magazine Kaspriske included advice from UCLA Professor Emeritus Richard Schmidt PhD and expert on motor learning who shared with attendees at the World Golf Fitness Summit that year the following advice about block practice;
“In blocked practice, because the task and goal are exactly the same on each attempt, the learner simply uses the solution generated on early trials in performing the next shot. Hence, blocked practice eliminates the learner’s need to ‘solve’ the problem on every trial and the need to practice the decision-making required during a typical round of golf.”
Block practice is ideal for performing repetition practice where you might be performing a particular golf drill your instructor wants you to practice, and you need to perform lots of repetitions to develop it and habituate it to the level of unconscious competence.
Block practice is extremely important for skill perfection practice, such as when you are perfecting a golf swing habit.
The mental challenge level is lower in block practice as you are mainly focused on correct execution of a skill-set.
This could be the perfecting of a particular drill where you are focusing on the correct feel of the drill, and using the feedback of a mirror, video or possibly your golf instructor to determine your level of accuracy at performing the skill.
If you are hitting golf shots to targets, you would be hitting sets of golf shots to one target at a time with the intention of hitting many shots to reinforce consistent motion.
Block practice is very helpful for developing your techniques during the preparation phase in your golf development cycle, but is not nearly as helpful during a golf tournament cycle.
For more information on how to plan your development cycles with block and random practice read our article on periodization (here).
Random practice is quite different to block practice because you are continually varying your practice routines to improve your shot-making adaptability.
You do this for example by hitting a set of golf shots to different targets that vary in the length and also in orientation to where you are on the golf range.
Random is as it sounds, you continually hit different types of shots to random targets just like you get on a golf course.
An example of a random practice routine would be when you hit a 7 iron to one target green, then you might hit a driver to another distance target and then a sand shot to a tight pin and so on.
You are practicing adaptability which is the BIG SKILL of high performance golf. Varying your shot-making skills to include a range of shot types from short to long continuously, really helps you to develop and enhance your playing skills and ability.
Random practice style is very helpful in the pre-tournament and tournament phases because it gets you out of swing thinking and improvement mode and into shot-making and feel mode.
The Random Approach Wedge Routine
One of the most helpful practice routines we use at Pro Tour Golf College is random approach wedge training routine (see image above) where our students hit sets of 10 golf shots to 5 different length targets on the range that range from 20 metres to 90 metres.
In a routine like this they might hit 50 shots, but they will keep changing the distance of the shots to constantly keep adjusting their stroke length and feel which teaches them to learn to adapt. Sometimes we'll also add SERIAL STYLE where they hit one shot in succession to a 20 metre target zone, then one to a 25 metre, 30, 35, 40 etc.
When our students practice random approach wedge shots they might hit 1 shot to a 45 metre target, then one to a 20 metre target, then another to the 60 metre target and so on until they complete the routine.
The Random Long Putting Routine
On the putting green when practicing long putt skills our students might hit one putt to a target at 20 metres, then another to a 35 metre target and then a 15 metre target zone and so on until they have completed the allocation of balls within the set that has been programmed for that session.
You would be surprised at how many professional golfers are working on their techniques during a tournament cycle instead of working on it in the pre-season.
You need to really think about how you are practicing your golf skills and which style you are favouring by making sure that your practice is influenced by the development cycle you are in currently.
Both these styles of practice are very important and you should sit down with your golf instructor and design a practice plan that distributes the proportion of time you need for block style practice (for technical development) and balancing it out with a proportion for random style practice (targeting development).
Get the mix right, and practice will never seem boring, and you will discover that the hard work on the practice ground will transfer to the golf course more easily, leading to better performances and a lot more fun.
Lawrie Montague and David Milne - Pro Tour Golf College
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