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For some golfers, practice is fun (maybe nearly as enjoyable as playing on the course) and for others it is pure drudgery.  Regardless of which category you fall in, why not make your practice more EFFECTIVE.  

I attended a Golf Teacher Summit a few years back in Dallas and sat through a fascinating presentation on motor learning, the effectiveness of various practice strategies, and the factors affecting what we learn compared to what we retain.  The presentation, titled The Science of Acquiring and Retaining Golf Skills was given by Dr. Tim Lee, a college professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada and author.  Dr. Lee has devoted his entire 35 year career to understanding motor learning.


Dr. Lee started with "Myths about Learning".  These included: practice makes perfect, perfect practice make more perfect, the more reps the better, and it's all about strengthing muscle memory.   As many instuctors in the audience were nodding their heads in agreement with these steps to learning, Dr. Lee said the scientific evidence does not support these learning models.  The whole concept of muscle memory was quite interesting to me since this is something that seems part of the common knowledge base of many golfers.  He explained how muscles are DUMB.  They only contract or relax in response to what the centerl nervous systmem tells them to do.  BOTTOM LINE, NO SUCH THING AS MUSCLE MEMORY.  DOES NOT EXIST!


The scientific community breaks motor control down into what is known as the 3 B's: brain, biomechanics, and behavior.  Learning requires repetitive practice of all 3 of these cyclical processes.

  • Brain - preplaning process such as what club to hit, where to hit the ball, alignment

  • Biomechanics - how to move your body (typical practice focuses on this phase of learning)

  • Behavior - processing results of shot (what went right and wrong) 


Now changes we make can be temporary or permanent.  The retention of information is the benchmark of evaluating learning.  And our goal is permanent change not temporary because we are seeking lasting (not fleeting) improvement.


In golf, practice occurs on the driving range but the true "test' occurs on the golf course.  


Performance changes can be temporary, but learning is a permanent change. 


Random vs block practice.  Random practice encourages the learner to involve the brain when faced with new tasks.  Blocked practice encourages swing practice.  Involves the biomechanic phase without engaging the planning and evaluation phase.  


Involving the brain make practice more difficult.  Blocked practice teases one into thinking that it is effective.  


Need to reengage the brain before each repetition prior to invoking the biomechanics required and in evaluating the results afterwards.


Random practice engages the learner in behaviors that are appropriate for learning.  


Here is the kicker.  Involving the brain makes practice more difficult (less desireable).  It is a difficult type of practice.  


Block (repetitive) practice teases one into thinking you are learning.  Makes you feel like you are engaged in effective practice.  Why?  Becuase you are seeing improvement, you are seeing change immediately.  Problem is change is elusive, change is temporary, as a result it is just teasing you.  


Block practice - easier to do, more immediate rewards, feel good about progress, but less retention


Random practice - harder to do, fewer immediate rewards, less happy about progress, but more retention.  

Real learning (permanent change or new normal) is what we remember after we have forgotten what we learned.

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