Performance vs Learning

Performance vs Learning

and learning are different – you probably didn’t realise that.
Performance –    the ability
of a person to produce the desired result

Learning –         The acquisition, retention and
recall of new skills which will lead to improved performance and increase
potential in the sport specific scenario
What most
people seek when they go to the range or go for a lesson is improved
performance. They want to come away from a range session or lesson feeling like
they hit the ball the best they can or better than before. Whilst this is a
nice goal to have, and there are certainly times where this should be done, it
should not be the only goal of the golfer.

Performance in training

and learning are not inextricably linked – in fact, they are often at odds with
one another. As an example, 2 players are learning how to control the height/lowest
point of their golf swing. They go through a simple drill of lining tees up, 1
inch high, and work on clipping the tee out of the ground without making a
divot. They both do a small testing session and do a ’10 shot test’. Amazingly
(for the sake of the example J ) they both manage to get 3 out of 10 tees out
of the ground successfully.
Then they
go into training
Player A practices/trains this by standing in the same
place with the same club hitting tees. During the session, his ability to hit
the tee (performance) greatly improves to the point he can get 5 tees out of 10.
Player B practices this by doing a full routine, changing
his club every time and changing the target. This is a lot more difficult as
the length of the club is changing each time, and he is having to stand back
and re-position himself after each shot. His performance decreases (due to the
difficulty of the task) and he is only able to hit 1 out of 10 tees.
So, we can
see that player A, through the way he is practicing, has produced an immediate improvement
in performance. But, what happens if both players do this after a week? What
about after practicing this way for a month?
graph showing amount of tees hit in training, starting with
the test session, and progressing 8 weeks
Player B
So we can
see that player A is better than player B after the first session (mainly to do
with the fact he has a simpler task), but then player B ends up catching up
with and ultimately surpassing player A. It takes a long time for this to
happen, and it looks like player A is doing better because he is performing
better – but his task is also a lot easier. His learning rate is not the same,
as you can see by his retention of performance after each session.
importantly, what happens on the course, where it counts?

Performance on golf course

in a training situation is also not always indicative of what would happen in the
real scenario. It is often a first step, for sure, but how specifically you
trained to the game scenario will have a big effect on whether those skills/learning
are transferred or not.
Graph of Player A’s ability to successfully hit a tee in both
training sessions and on course play over the course of 8 weeks
Graph of player B’s ability to produce what he did in the training sessions
onto the golf course (skill transference) over 8 weeks.
Player B –
the routine guy – was using a practice methodology which was more
representative of an actual on-course scenario (changing clubs and target and
shot type every time). For this reason, Player B is able to take their skills
learned during practice and apply them directly on the course. 
Player A
practiced artificially; standing in the same place with the same club over and
over is not representative of an on course scenario. For this reason, when they
finally get on the course, their performance drops significantly. They may have
been able to hit 7 out of 10 tees on the range with their BLOCK PRACTICE
mentality, but now they struggle to hit 4 out of 10 on the course.
Think about
the mental ramifications for this. Player A goes from feeling like a god on the
range, fully in control and able to do what he desires, only to have it all
leave him when it matters the most. This leads to frustration, tinkering with your
swing, changes of focus, over conscious behaviour, and sets in a downward
spiral due to the increased expectations (you expected to hit 9 out of 10 tees
on the course). Player B, on the other hand, may experience more frustration in
practice, but they learn to deal with it. This type of practice also BALANCES EXPECTATIONS leading to more consistent play due to more consistent emotions
and perception of results (relative to skill level).
So, although the more random practice method employed by player B showed an initial drop in performance, both on course performance and overall learning surpassed player B, the one who initially performed well.


Differential practice

For a primer on what differential practice is, read my articles on the topic linked below
practice is also another way in which we may see short term negative effects on
performance, but massive long term effects on learning. For example, someone
trying to control the ball flight through improved clubface awareness may be
given one of two tasks.
Task A – try to hit the ball as on target as possible
by tinkering with a more open (to the right) or more closed (to the left) clubface
position at impact. (This is calibration practice, which I will write an article on)
Task B – Try to experiment with hitting offline shots –
as far left as possible followed by as far right as possible and then
everything in between. (differential practice)
In terms of
performance relative to what you are trying to ultimately achieve (an on-line
shot), player A is obviously going to outperform player B, as it is not the
intention of player B to hit it online. Player B’s shot pattern in training is going to be all over the place, whilst Player A is going to have a much tighter pattern (better performance). But this doesn’t tell us who is learning the most. Even when the players go on the golf course,
player A may initially perform better, as they have been practicing in a way
which is more specific to what they want (and on-line shot).
the SKILLS ACQUIRED by player B (the ability to control, manipulate, feel the
difference between clubface positions) will ultimately allow player B to
surpass player A. This is because the player can ultimately self coach, and
will have more sensory information to draw upon.
Now, if you
were to combine the 2 different types of practice, in the right doses and in
the right combination, you may get an EXPLOSION of learning.

Need for Periodisation

is setting out your individual training sessions, daily sessions, weekly
sessions, monthly sessions and even yearly program so that you can take
advantage of the difference between performance and learning. For example, if I
have a mini tour player needing to peak during the season, we would set up
their practice schedule that allows periods of maximum learning (which may even
disrupt performance) followed by periods of maximising performance (which may
slow down learning).
As an
example of a yearly split, where the golf season runs from May to September
–  Technical changes
calibration practice (scroll down the link to where it says ‘calibration’ to see an overview)
routine work
May – Sept
performance practice (scroll down to ‘performance practice’ to see a brief overview)
So the
levels get from (tending to be) more disruptive to performance, but more
conducive to learning/change/improvement in the early stages. It then gets
gradually more performance focused and less focused on change/improvement as we
get closer to the ‘in season’.
This is obviously
a basic framework based on a theoretical player. A proper practice regime would
be fit around the individuals needs. If a Tour player came to me needing to
Peak four times a year (for majors) I would set a different program. And for a
complete beginner, there may be a different structure more focused around
A tour pro may spend 6-8 hours a day practicing and will need to 
peak for certain events. Therefore, practice should be structured
in a way which maximises the ability for them to increase their potential
and bring their potential to the table when it’s ‘game day’
Even within
this yearly framework, there may be weekly and daily periods where all stages
are included. So, if we took (in the above example) the month of April (routine
work), a typical week may be set up like this
Monday – ½ technical
practice                   ½ differential
and variable practice
Tuesday – calibration
Wednesday –
Routine day
Thursday –
Routine day
Friday – Routine
Saturday –
Routine day
Sunday – performance
practice / day off
Obviously this
is massive schedule, but keep in mind this is for a mini tour player who has the
goals of both improvement whilst maximising performance for competitions and
the ‘in-season’. A beginner schedule would look completely different. But from
the above, we can see that the player has a definite focus on improving and
practicing the routine, yet at the same time keeping all elements of the
schedule involved.

Performance up learning

It is not
simply an on or off switch however – it is more like a sliding scale, and each individual
may experience different levels of learning and performance with different
types of practice.  But understanding that,
sometimes, things which make you performance worse are actually beneficial for
your game and skill-sets in the future (such as applying pressure during practice
or applying Random practice principles).
This is not
to say that both learning and performance cannot improve synergistically – they
very much can. But there are more efficient ways to maximise each. And
structuring your practice to do so is imperative if you wish to become the best
you can be. For a tour pro, simply structuring the practice effectively can
make the difference between getting on tour or never making it. If you work on
the wrong things at the wrong time you are going to be severely hampering your
chances of playing your best.  Unfortunately,
I have seen players do this.
I have also seen a lot of well intentioned players basically wasting their
time. For some, this is ok as they may be enjoying the act of beating balls.
But if you are trying to be the best you can, you have to practice like a genius

Performance, Learning and

The number
one goal I get from people is that they want to be more consistent. They don’t understand
that even tour pro’s are inconsistent. One day Furyk might shoot a 72 then follow it up with a 59. That is 13 shots difference from one day to the
next, with a player who is practicing every single day, 8 hours a day and he is
also one of the most consistent players on tour.
Even Furyk, one of the most consistent players on tour is inconsistent
that we have a RANGE of scores that we can shoot. Our actual LEARNED level is somewhere
in between that. It is like the stock market, if you look at it from day to day
you will drive yourself nuts. The stock market is constantly oscillating around
a moving average. Just like the stock market, our scores and performance on the
course will oscillate around our actual learned level. Pro’s are no more consistent
than you, they are just better overall and more learned.
Our performance may be a little all over the place from day to day (black line).
But over time, if we have put our efforts in the right areas in the right way,
we will see out overall level (the red line) gradually rise. We will still get day to day fluctuations,
but they will be around a ‘higher’ skill level
It would
make much more sense to look at a yearly average to see how your learning is
going. If a player has a yearly score average of level par, this may include a
round of 10 over par and 10 under par during the year. But this range is not as
important as the yearly score average (as long as we take into account the difficulty
of the course played on).


and performance are not the same. You could be performing well, yet learning
nothing. Likewise, you could be performing awfully and learning a hell of a
What is
more important to you at this time? If performance is all that matters, be
prepared to stagnate. You may reach your potential more often, but you will
never push that potential higher. This is like the guy in the bar who always
has a new swing tip or swing thought which is working for him, only to see his
handicap stay the same year after year.
 If Change and ‘potential pushing’ is important
to you, be prepared to sacrifice some level of performance (in a good majority
of cases) in the short term until those changes are realised. This is not
always the case. Also, don’t get stuck in this mode. Understand that the golf
swing is an unfinishable  project – there
will never be a day where you master the swing mechanics. There has to be a
time where we switch this mode of learning off and GO PLAY GOLF and actually
realise the potential we have created.

your year, or week or training session as to get a nice blend of both learning
and performance. Focus more on the one you wish to achieve the most, or find
ways which blend the two together nicely.
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