5 STEPS TO TRANSFER NEW SKILLS TO THE COURSE
WHEN AND HOW TO SHIFT FROM BLOCKED TO RANDOM TRAINING…
It’s no secret anymore. What sports scientists, researchers, and coaches from virtually every other sport have known for a long time has finally begun to penetrate the not-so progressive culture of golf — Players that spend the majority of their time in a blocked practice environment have a difficult time transitioning their skills to the dynamic environment of the golf course.
While many of us recognize this concept and have shaped our coaching habits to allow for more Random Practice, we’ve still got a long way to go to shift a legion of golfers conditioned for mindless repetition.
The years of indoctrination is one obstacle to overcome, but maybe the hardest thing about shifting the paradigm is that we need blocked practice. I know. Blasphemy, right?
A PART (extra stress on part) of our job is to alter technique. The relatively stable environment supplied by blocked practice makes it MUCH easier for us to fulfill that directive. The learner can focus exclusively on learning new movements and begin to build confidence.
If you’re a coach that places any importance on actual course performance (HINT: you are), you’re familiar with the resulting conflict. A new movement has been introduced in a massed setting, the learner experiences success, but the skill isn’t adaptive enough to meet the dynamic demands of real golf course conditions.
Herein lies the most significant challenge to coaches when modifying technique:
How do I transition the performer into more authentic practice without impeding the progress they are making in learning this new motor skill and hurting their confidence?
Here are five steps to take that we’ve found to be effective that you can implement in transitioning from blocked to random practice:
1. ALWAYS HAVE A TARGET
When you learned to shoot a basketball or throw a baseball, did you learn independently of a target? Likely not. Even during a blocked exercise, establish a target. It creates valuable feedback and helps the learner associate what they are doing with something external and contextually relevant. With some attention on the target, the player can access all of the self-organizing capabilities that allow an even more effective technical change to naturally emerge.
2. PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF ‘CORRECTNESS’
Confidence comes from evidence. We have heard short game performance expert, James Sieckmann, refer to this as ‘creating certainty’ for students. When performing the blocked practice exercise, the student should get enough feedback to know they are performing the motion correctly. This helps them build confidence. As a coach you can decide what this means. For example, if Joe is working on getting the ball to draw by virtue of a change in his path, his confirmation (or evidence) comes from two sources – the ball flight and whatever feedback source any drill he is performing provides. Martin Chuck, pictured below demonstrating a Plane Towel Drill, is one of the best at this. His YouTube channel is one of our favorite resources for a ton of drills that utilize external feedback and create certainty for students making a change within a blocked setting.
Once the students goes through enough ‘successful’ attempts, it’s the first sign that a shift to a more randomized schedule is appropriate.
3. SPRINKLE IN RANDOM TRIALS
We can make it easier to transition from blocked to random practice by sprinkling a bit of random into the learning process. Have students perform a movement or drill in blocked form 3 times, then have the student hit a shot as if they were playing on the course. This keeps them from getting to too comfortable within a stable environment and a chance for you to facilitate some transfer. Moreover, by layering on a reflective exercise and asking them how they felt relative to their blocked repetitions you facilitate the development of their self-awareness and spur deeper learning.
4. INTRODUCE VARIABILITY… SLOWLY
Play is ultimately the purest form of learning. It produces an environment that contains a large degree of variability and instability. While the benefits of participating in such activities is well noted, we suggest a slow layering of environmental elements on the simplified task as student proficiency increases. Start with simple, straightforward shots off of good lies, and slowly transition into more difficult. The game ‘3-point’ can give you an idea as to how to do this.
3 POINT CHALLENGE
Hit 2 different shots to each target. One point is awarded if the trajectory is as planned and one point is awarded if the shape is as planned. A final point is awarded if the shot hits the target green or within 10 yards of the target (if a green isn’t used).
Based on the performance, you can choose to add or subtract variability for ensuing trials.
5. DEFINE A PERFORMANCE STANDARD
The last step in making the full transition into practice with high contextual relevance is to define a standard of performance, that if not met, signals a re-doing of the exercise. This is a great way to create mental engagement and test the skill of the learner. If coupled with an appropriately scaled exercise, this type of practice can accelerate learning and on course performance.
Using skill appropriate targets or boundaries, and/or fewer rules/constraints helps create the context of golf without overloading the learner. This lets them practice the skills at the most appropriate level possible. Statistics provided by Mark Broadie in Every Shot Counts are a great resource for assisting you in finding appropriate full swing challenge points for every ability level. The chart below is posted in my studio and when making a technical change, manages expectations and introduces the opportunity to assess the functionality of the changes at various yardages and with different clubs. It serves as a great starting point to test different clubs and begin the shift towards random.
Coaching is an art and requires you to be attuned to the learner and continually evaluating where they are on the learning spectrum.
Leading learners through the improvement process effectively is in large part regulated by the coach’s ability to provide the right environment at the right time. These 5 steps can certainly help you provide the right mix of a blocked and random setting your students.
It’s always great when a blocked setting produces a technical change that quickly results in better shots. It’s a nice ego boost to the coach and cause for excitement for the student. But, both are artificial and short-lived if the student doesn’t know how to train the skill towards more unconscious execution in a variety of conditions.
Our goal is not to produce transient improvements that last the length of the lesson. Our goal and obligation to the student is to make sure that those technical improvements will show up in the performance context. Having a plan for how you will employ blocked training to produce changes and then random environments to make those changes more adaptive should help you achieve that goal more often. We hope this will help!
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