…and if you miss you have to start again

It is common in many practices and drills (particularly in putting) for there to be a certain payoff if successful but also a certain punishment if unsuccessful. This punishment will normally take the form of moving back a stage or even starting the whole exercise over again.

Proponents of this tactic (and I have been in the past) will outline how the risk of the punishment creates a certain amount of pressure and pressure is what is present out on the golf course. By practising in this environment the player is effectively practising under pressure and acclimatising themself to what they experience out on the golf course. This in theory would lead to greater transference to the course as the practice so greatly mimics what can be found out there.

This is, in my opinion, theoretically correct. Our players do feel pressure out on the golf course therefore it makes sense to also practise when feeling some sort of pressure.

However, particularly recently, I have started to ponder how adding a punishment could potentially do more harm than good in the long term.

My main problem with it is how it frames practice and how the player sees golf in general. Let me explain…

I am the father of two young girls who, as luck would have it, are particularly good eaters. They always have been. However, that doesn’t stop them from playing up from time to time. To not want to eat what is in front of them. To be, in other words, young girls.

Now, as tempting as it is to say,

“If you eat these vegetables then you get to have the yummy dessert”
or
“you can watch tv after you eat that purée”, my wife and I have decided not to say it.

We have made a concerted effort for the girls not to see food, and in particular healthy food, as a chore. A necessarily evil which is blocking them from getting to the really good stuff. We are trying our best (and trust me not always winning!) to frame food in the positive as much as possible. We do this so the girls just see eating healthy food as normal. As just something you do. As part of the culture.

Back to our example of starting over again…

What are we actually saying by forcing someone to start all over again in a drill or exercise?

We could be saying that there are consequences to actions. That success comes from getting back up after being knocked down.

However, we could also theoretically be saying…

“I am going to punish you for that missed putt by forcing you to practise more!”

How do you think they see practice if this is the case? As enthralling? As the sustenance for any improvement that they might have? As something they want to do?

Nope.

As arduous. As boring. As a chore.

What sort of behaviour do you think this will foster in the long term?

• • •

We shouldn’t necessarily be against exploring with our players that there are repercussions to our actions and that in golf you have to constantly deal with adversity. But what if we could frame things in a different way? What if, with the right exercise and the right person, instead of the line being “…and if you miss you have to start again” it was…

“if you miss then you don’t get to start again”.

Now, that really would be something.


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