Make Practice Tough for Maximum Improvement

Make Practice Tough for Maximum Improvement

Look at us – big, chunky, easy to hit irons: frying pan size drivers: driving range mats where you can hit 4 inches behind the ball and get away with it.

 My new irons

And our driving ranges – massive; they are five times the size of an average fairway. And the consequence should we miss it? Just grab another ball and try again.

Don’t you see what we have done? We have made things incredibly easy for ourselves. We have taken away all the constraints, and as a result, our ability to improve is greatly diminished.


But I want things to be easy

No – what you want is to play your best golf on the course.

That’s great – use your game improvement clubs and clubs which drive the ball for you. I’m not saying to take those things away when you play. But you are making one of the biggest errors that most people make. You are not understanding the difference between performance and learning.

Performance relates to whether you are doing the task effectively or not

Learning relates to how well that performance is retained – and what the long term performance is.


We grow from demands

Think about this – two guys (Bob and Billy) are going to have a weight lifting contest in 3 months time. They are going to see how many times they can do a bicep curl with a 20lb weight. They  go to the gym 5 times a week.


Bob makes it easier in training – he does bicep curls with a can of beans


Billy makes it more difficult and does bicep curls with a 25lb weight.




During the training, Bob may be performing better than Billy (doing more repetitions as the task is essentially easier), but who will be getting stronger? Who will win the contest?

Think of strength gains similarly to learning gains. Our brain is essentially a muscle, and it improves as demands are placed on it (just like muscles get stronger when demands are placed on it). But, when we increase the demand, performance goes down – but our brains and bodies respond by improving.


Practice like you play, play like you practice

I love this saying, and there are many truths to it. But, I would like to change it.

Practice harder than you play, so play is comparatively easy”

That way, we get to maximize the learning during our training sessions (due to the difficulty, challenge and demands), yet we get to perform our best when those demands are taken away.


Sprint to success

How can we make more demands in our training?

Think about how a sprinter trains – they often do it with something weighing them down, or a parachute on their back to slow them down. How did David Beckham become one of the best free kick takers in the world? He practiced getting the ball through a car tyre in the top corner – a much smaller and more difficult target. What about pro basketballers who practice to a smaller hoop, so that the real one looks like a bucket?


 Sprinter training with a parachute
 Soccer players training to smaller targets


These are all examples of a constraint which forces more mistakes. The task is more difficult, more demanding, and thus performance decreases during training, forcing an improvement and refinement in skill to arise.



And the opposite

Imagine the sports star who makes things easier for themselves. They practice every day to a hoop which is 10 times the size, or they take free kicks from 3 yards away with no goal keeper. What skill improvements would you see?



 Anyone want to shoot some hoops?


Silly isn’t it. I mean, imagine training to hit a 20 yard fairway by practicing in a field five times the size. Or imagine training to hit the sweet spot of the club better by using a club which still flies great even when you completely mis-hit it.

See what I did there?


So, how do we make our practice more demanding?

Many ways really, but they usually fall into one of these camps

  • Increase environmental demands – there are many ways to manipulate your training environment to force greater improvement
  • Increase task demands – my game ‘Impossigolf’ effectively allows you to add a rule constraint to the course you play to make the course more difficult. We can also simply train with a more difficult task, such as trying to hit a 15 yard fairway as many times as possible (when our normal fairway size is 30 yards).
  • Increase mental demands – pressure
  • Increase physical demands – Iain Highfield does some great work here. Check out his OSVEA training, which is brilliant ( )
  • Equipment constraints – read below)



Equipment constraints

Most people don’t realize, but we can change the equipment we use (or modify our own) to cause heightened learning.

Scenario A

A player is playing with their normal forgiving club. They are hitting all over the clubface, never really striking the sweet spot, but the ball is still flying to their expectation level (as the club is so forgiving).

Where is the demand to improve here? That’s right! There is none – so improvement will not happen.

Scenario B

Imagine a player were to take a club where a small mis-strike causes an awful shot?


Jeez that was not good

Now they try and figure out how to make it better. Now learning is happening. Now, when they get it right, they are really refining their skill and ability to hit the middle.

After their training, they go back to their normal, forgiving club.

WOW, this is really easy to hit now

Is there a club out there which helps us do this? Sure, a club I often use in training is the Tour Striker iron, as it has a much smaller sweet-spot on it, which forces an improvement in strike quality to arise.


There are a ton of other equipment constraints we can use too, helping us improve trajectory, direction and strike quality.


If you want to learn more about constraints led learning, as well as a whole boatload of information about how to train for your best golf, click the link below to learn more about my book “The Practice Manual”


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