WHO IS THE DELIBERATE GOLFER?
I’m Ross. I’m an average guy in his thirties. Family man. Slightly overweight and hair starting to thin. Average at a lot of things. Never considered to be talented in any sphere of life. Passionate about golf, but not talented. Frustratingly, below average, rarely able to break 100. Why is this? Reflecting on my twenty year golf career to date, I had a fairly typical introduction to the game: mini golf, pitch and putt, an old set of clubs aged 17 along with beginner lessons from the local pro. Occasional trips to the driving range followed, alongside a couple of instruction books. Drifted away from the game after showing no tangible improvement and then returned a couple of years later with renewed enthusiasm and a new set of irons. Succeeded in playing every two weeks over a typical British spring and summer but again discouraged at a lack of progress and time. My membership lapses and I consider giving up for good. Is this my lot? Is this the best I can achieve? Do I simply lack the talent to get significantly better at this game I love?
It was then however that I worked out why I’d failed to improve and my project, The Deliberate Golfer was born.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT?
Put simply it is the test of a theory that expertise in many skill domains is the product of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over a period of roughly ten years. I discovered the concept of deliberate practice through a number of sources:
- K. Anders Ericsson’s groundbreaking research into the acquisition of expertise through deliberate practice.
- Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A superb demonstration of the 10,000 hour rule in action.
- Bounce by Matthew Syed. A fascinating insight, showcasing the powerful role deliberate practice played in his success as a table tennis player.
- The Dan Plan by Dan McLaughlin. Dan achieved significant progress in his 10,000 hours quest to reach the PGA tour before injury forced him to pause with 4,000 hours remaining.
Everything now clicked into place; I’d failed to progress as I had not practiced or played golf deliberately. This realisation was a game changer. Innate talent does not determine golf ability. Talent in this sense does not exist. And a golf gene does not exist.
My project is therefore about human potential. We can change, learn, improve and fulfil our ambitions through practicing in a deliberate, deep and focused way. To progress we need challenges, we need to fail, we need to learn from failures. We need a growth mindset. We need grit. These are all essential to making practice deliberate. The deliberate golfer is me. It’s about my life and my journey.
WHAT IS DELIBERATE PRACTICE?
In Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise Ericsson and Pool outline the key elements of deliberate practice. For practice to be deliberate it must:
- use established training techniques, overseen by a teacher/coach
- occur outside of your current comfort zone, striving to achieve aims that are outside of existing abilities, demanding near-maximal effort
- consist of well defined, specific goals
- require full attention and conscious engagement
- use feedback and incorporate changes in response to the results of feedback
- produce and require the development of effective mental representations
- build upon previously acquired skills
Consequently, hitting a bucket of balls at the range with the same club is not deliberate practice. And if it’s not deliberate practice it won’t lead to improvement. I’ve done it and seen many others do it.
The aim, like many, is to be the best I can be in my chosen field. Specifically I want to see where 10,000 hours can take an average golfer like myself. At the outset I am seeking to complete my 10,000 hours by the year 2030, at which point I will turn 50 and be eligible to play on the Senior Tour. Yet, as Ericsson and Pool indicate, the number of hours required for mastery varies between domains. My target of reaching Senior Tour level may require more than 10,000 hours. This I’m prepared for. But it will take at least ten years. That’s right, ten years of practice…deliberate practice.
WHY 10,000 HOURS?
Because it’s neat. Yes, it is not a rule from the perspective of Ericsson’s research. Indeed, a ten-year rule underpinning skill development might be more accurate than a 10,000 hour rule. And I accept that nothing magical happens to your skill level as you complete the 10,000th hour. But, as a guide and as a representation of mastery it has proven inherently useful to my understanding of talent, progress and success. Writing in 2016, Ericsson outlined that the question of whether anyone can become an expert by taking part in enough designed practice remains open.
I am testing this. I’m a someone who is willing to dedicate themselves to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to find out if I can become an expert at golf. I’m looking to answer the question. And if deliberate practice is not enough, what else is required?
For me, it is simply the greatest pursuit in the world. It’s addictive, competing daily against the course, the elements, myself. This passion to pursue the sport will carry me through the years, the days, and the hours. It will help me deal with setbacks, failures and plateaus. And I’m not alone in seeing the world in this way. The quotes listed here demonstrate how a love of what they do are central to so many individual successes. There are also some practical benefits to using golf for such a project. Firstly, it’s an individual sport. Secondly, the handicap system is an established and reliable way of tracking progress. Lastly, the game does not rely on physical fitness as much as other pursuits do; age will not be a determining factor in the outcome.
FOLLOW THE DELIBERATE GOLFER
When not practicing deliberately I regularly blog, tweet, update my Facebook and post to Instagram. Do comment, subscribe, give feedback and ask me questions. Answers to many questions will be posted here. Equally I’m interested in what your 10,000 hours are in? Share your own ideas, progress, failures and inspiration…