Practice, Learning and Performance….Part Three: Conclusions

Author: Gil Ash
Posted on May 7, 2014

Over the past two months we have talked about how there is only one way for anyone to determine whether they have learned anything.  In our game that would be; can you do it on command, cold turkey so to speak, on game day when there are people watching and they are keeping score?  Until you can do that you really have not learned anything, you are in the process of learning and there is a great difference in the approach to practice once you have mastered something and when you are still learning it but we will get into that a little later.   We also have made reference to the fact that ultimately mastery comes down to not only how many times or how long you have done something but the process in which you practice determines to great extent how quickly mastery occurs.

Research shows over and over again that mastery of anything is not a gift; it is a result of good old fashion hard work, perseverance and determination or in other words practice, practice, practice.  In order to be competitive in anything on a regional level one must have at least 5,000 hours of actual engagement in the activity and to be competitive on a national level it is 7,500 hours and on a world class level it takes 10,000 hours of what we call “touch time with the gun”.  When we first began talking about this on our Coaching Hour several years ago some of the listeners were not as accepting as were others and they were sure there were or would be some exceptions but the research has shown to be factual. 

As recently as the Sat-Sun edition of the Wall Street Journal March14-15, 2009 in an article titled, “Mastery, Just 10,000 Hours Away….Forget All the Talk of Natural Prodigies—Being the Best Really Takes Hard, Hard, Hard Work”, the author John Paul Newport talks about “Golf’s grand illusion that secretly all golfers think the they are a lot better than their scores would indicate and all they need is a little more practice and a few more rounds under their belt to get there.”  We guess our game really is a lot like golf because our findings indicate that there are a lot of shooters out there who think they “have seen the light” but in reality it is that grand illusion.  This misguided illusion comes from the fact that everyone makes great shots from time to time or even shoots a good score on a day when you were out of your mind, and in our excitement we see ourselves as almost there and in record time we might add and without all the hard work.  Well we are sorry to pop your bubble but it is a fairy tale and John’s closing sentence sums it up well.  “One of the main problems golfers have is unrealistic expectations, and they make themselves miserable when they should be having fun.”

We talked about and explained why you should never look at how you shoot during practice as indicative of mastery or what you have really learned because you have not learned it until you can repeatedly do it on game day.  We talked about how we coach during a competition through observation and then after the competition go over not just the hits and misses with students but our observations on all of the skill sets used when shooting a competition.  Shooting the target at a competition is just one of the skills necessary to win and there are so many more not the least of which is handling missing because it will happen in this game.  Anyone can handle hitting the target, it is however handling failure or the misses emotionally and learning from them that must be learned and mastered. 

The first step in this part of the journey is controlling your emotion which usually becomes the biggest monster that stands in the way between practice and performance or learning and mastery.  Negative self talk consisting of judgmental words about a perceived stupid action that caused a mistake seems justifiable and sensible by the one saying them but when listened to carefully by others sound foolish and immature.   These emotional outbursts end up leading to tightening of the muscles, shortness of breath and an inability to focus.  Don’t know about you but that don’t sound like a cocktail for success to us whether you are talking about performing or learning.

The practice arena is where learning begins and we discussed two kinds of practice, blocked and random and the benefits of each both on game day and during practice.  When we would coach students during a competition it was more like blocked practice to them because they were relying on our experience to tell them what to do and although they shot well they could not repeat it on their own.  This is why we began to observe students and then afterwards we would help them learn from their failures and put the experiences of the day into somewhat of a different perspective.  This turns a tournament into random practice because you are having to use all the skill sets necessary to perform on game day.  If you try to learn this game from only others experiences or without being willing to fail yourself you are destined to be behind at least half of the targets you attempt.  Eventually if you plan to do well at this game you will have to learn to self correct as well as self coach and both of those must be learned first on the practice field and then at the tournament.

Learning to be able to put your previous shots behind you regardless of result (hits or misses) is big if you are going to get any enjoyment out of this game or anything in life for that matter.  Once the shot is done it is over and you will never get it back.  We suppose that is the thing that makes our game really different from golf.  You miss a target and it is gone forever but you hit a bad golf shot and you can still recover and get up and down in par.  If you keep swooning over the ones you hit or lamenting the ones you missed you are not in the present and you must be presentto win.

Next month we are going to look at score plateaus and how blocked and random training changes based on your score plateau and how close your next tournament is.

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