Attention Golfers – More Research Supporting Random Practice

Attention Golfers – More Research Supporting Random Practice

If you look like Mcilroy on the range and a lumberjack on the course, this article is for you.

In 1997, Pollock and Lee studied the effects of training styles on learning. 48 people (24 seven year olds and 24 university students) practiced a task (ballistic aiming) under two different conditions;

  • Blocked practice (same thing over and over) or
  • Random practice (mixing it up)

They performed 90 ‘learning’ trials, followed by 20 transfer and 20 retention trials. Basically, they gave them a lot of practice and then tested how well they retained skill from that practice.


What happened to the adults?

The adults performed the task much better when using blocked practice during the practice sessions. Random practicers performed the task worse.

To put this into golfing terms, the block practicers looked like Rory McIlroy on the range – flighting beautiful shots neatly onto their target – while their “random practicing” counterparts were chopping around like a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


But (and it’s a big but)

When the two groups were tested for both transfer and retention, random practicers outperformed the block practicers.

It flipped!

To put this into golfing terms –

  • The players who were hitting great shots on the range lost on the course
  • The players who performed awful on the range won on the course

Not only that, but the random practice group had greater retention of learning – meaning that when they were retested after time, they maintained more of that performance increase.


Performance and Learning

In my book, The Practice Manual, I wrote about the differences between performance and learning, and this study really highlights it.

One of the biggest misconceptions in learning a skill is that you are learning it faster if you are doing it well. This study shows that it can be the complete reverse.


You can be performing something poorly in practice, but learning it quicker. Alternatively, you could be performing something great in practice, but learning nothing


Think about this example

What is 8X7?


Ok – got the answer? Good. Now another question.

What is 8X7?

What is 8X7?

What is 8X7?

What is 8X7?

What is 8X7?


Ok I will stop. No, I haven’t gone mad; I am demonstrating block practice. The first time I asked the question to you, you had to think about it and compute the answer. But what about the second and third and fourth time of the same question?

How do you think people would perform in that test? It is likely that, after the first time the question is asked, speed of answering correctly was increased and performance would have been great.

But how much are you really learning doing this?

What about this?

What is 8X4?

What is 6X9?

What is 7X7?

What is 8X8?

What is 7X6?

What is 9X9?


Same number of questions, same difficulty. But if you were to give this test to someone, it is likely that they would take much longer to answer the questions and would also make more mistakes.

Performance is poor.

However, what do you think would happen to learning?

Because this person is having to go through the cognition and construction of an answer each time, their learning is dramatically increased. This is random practice. The irony is that, when tested later in the future, the random practicer will not only be able to answer a wider variety of questions quickly and accurately, but they would also be able to answer the question “What is 8X7?” more quickly and accurately than the person who practiced that exact question more.


What happened to the kids?

The kids also improved their ability to transfer their skills better with Random practice.

Also, like the adults, they retained more of the information with random practice compared to the block practice group.

One slight difference – during the learning stage, kids performed equally as well with random and block.


What all this means for you

If you want to look like a golfing god on the range, go ahead and do block practice. Stand there with a 7 iron hitting shot after shot to the same target. But, when you get out on the course, the rug will be whipped from under your feet, and all of your hard work will disappear before your eyes.

Conversely, if you want to improve your ability to play better on the course, practice randomly. Sure, it may be more difficult to change clubs, targets, shot type etc (deal with it, put your Ego aside), but your on-course performance will benefit more. Just remember

Performing well on the range does not mean performing well on the course


To learn more about effective practice methods and much more, click below to get the practice manual

the practice manual golf book

One Comment

  • Daniel Stinson

    I really like your thoughts on differential and variability training. I’m excited to start trying them.

    That said, I’d love to learn more about why block training isn’t helpful. In your analogy of asking the same questions (8X7) over and over, you easily provide the right answer every time.

    When it comes to block training, I’m a high-handicapper and am certainly not getting “the right answer” over and over again. Isn’t there something to be said about generating muscle memory, and knowing you can hit the same club well multiple times in a row?

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