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It is important to learn how to manage your practice so that it's not only fun, but effective
I love to practise. If I had the time I would spend most of the day on the practice area. However, like me, you can doubtless remember times when the practice was not exactly constructive. While it's fine to go and hit balls at the range for fun, don't be fooled into thinking you're improving your swing. How many times have you had a lesson in which you showed positive signs of improvement but a month later you were back to your old bad ways?

In today's world, time is our most vital asset. When you want to make changes quickly and correctly you need to maintain as much, if not more, focus than when playing. Achieving results from practice will result in more enjoyment and satisfying play. Practice has to be outcome driven, focused, organised, planned and use accurate feedback.

Follow these basic guidelines to put together a positive, constructive practice session:

What am I going to work on today? Usually the best idea is to work on the one thing that will make the most difference to your game.

What is my specific outcome and what will the final outcome achieve for me? Be very specific and use tried and tested methods to evaluate your goals such as SMART - are your goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Tangible.

What drill, exercise, or routine am I going to use? Pick a drill that you believe will work and stick with it.

How am I going to measure the feedback? This is where you will need the most focus. Frequently the feedback will be more detailed than you have experienced before. For example, what angle did I create on the backswing between my off-target upper and lower forearm. It's usually too acute.

How will you know when you have succeeded? What exact criteria will be evidence that you have succeeded?

Coaching tale
Brian had had many lessons, most of which were in an attempt to cure his banana slice. I went over every piece of advice and drill that had been recommended to him. We decided to use the drill that had made the most difference and mapped out a practice and feedback schedule. It was very precise, including how often and long he was to do each part. I asked him to call me if, at any time, he failed to keep to the plan. Sure enough, 10 days later he called and said he needed to see me. We met and he demonstrated each and every feedback procedure we had put in place. He diligently explained what he was feeling with each movement and how, disappointingly, not too much seemed to be changing. He continued to hit balls, giving me detailed feedback each time, until he noticed I was in fits of laughter.

He had been so focused on giving feedback, he hadn't noticed the gentle draws he was now achieving with his driver. Brian had successfully got so lost in the process that he had ingrained changes that he had been attempting to achieve for years.

Keep a clear picture in your mind of what the practice will eventually get you.
Warm up and warm down.
Leave yourself plenty of time.
Listen to relaxing music beforehand.
Focus on what your body is doing.
Hold your balanced finish from a good swing, allowing the neural pathway to deepen and maximise your ability to notice what you felt.
Maintain a professional attitude.
Find a great coach who will give you the right practice.

Rush your next shot.
Practice until you know what you are doing is correct.
Hit balls without moving away from the mat and starting a whole new routine.
Hit too many balls - the quality of feedback is what matters, not quantity.
Pay attention to where the ball is until you've achieved what you want with your body (and then you'll probably be pleasantly surprised, like Brian).

Practice makes permanent, good practice makes perfect

Feedback is your most important aspect to good practice. Using a scale of 1-10 will help. Ten will be what you want to feel. You can monitor how other parts contribute to the movement on this scale. Making slow motion swings without the ball. Feel what you want to feel, before hitting the ball and comparing the two swings. Discover the difference and focus on what makes that difference. Remember, practice should be fun, just like play. Get lost in the process and notice how quickly you begin to make permanent changes in a fraction of the usual time. Good luck.

Fact file
Golf coach and sports psychologist. Peter Hudson, has joined the ScottishGolf instruction team to present an innovative series of articles, which we hope will shed new light on the game.

As president of the World Golf Teaching Federation of Great Britain and coach to the Essex county team, he brings 30 years experience to ScottishGolf readers who are keen to get the most from their golf.
He says: "I don't just teach what to learn but how to learn."

More information about Peter Hudson's approach to coaching can be found on his websites - and or call him direct on 08700 114 292.

©    8 - FEBRUARY 2005

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