Practice is widely regarded as the single most required ingredient if you are to succeed. Without practice, and 10,000 hours of it in many people’s opinions, you will never reach a gold standard. Whether the occupation is Golf, Pianism, or any other highly complex skill, the theory has never failed.
It appears a new found esoteric group of experts have emerged in recent years and many of them believe that practice can, and should be scheduled, planned, prepared and designed, which will help to foster a greater rate of improvement. This relatively recent research has engulfed and encapsulated the minds of many. Anders Ericsson was the first person to dive into the world of practice and many books have been written on the subject since. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is my personal favourite, it is a must read, especially the chapter on Deep Practice. I would say to anybody whose career will depend on how effective their practice is, that they should seriously consider reading up on this research.
I want to share two stories with you, both of which taught me valuable lessons.
I’ll start with the winter of 2010 into 2011.
At the end of my season in 2010, I had an epiphany of sorts whilst away playing the Eisenhower Trophy, a realisation of how I had stopped ‘getting better’. I reached the conclusion that it stemmed directly from the way I had previously been practising. With the help of others I created a plan. I remember sitting on the plane coming home reading Clive Woodward’s book called Winning, it struck numerous chords and had a profound resonation in my mind. It particularly changed the way I saw practice, and I began to realise how I could tune into different parts of my mind using different methods of practice. This spelled the beginning of a 6 month period in my life where I lived like a hermit confiding in books written by empiricists constantly conjuring up way’s I was going to improve. This I’ve decided, was the genesis of my ‘deep-ness’! My practice quickly became creative and meticulous and I soon began to see results. The feedback I was receiving was deep and meaningful. I epitomised what ‘quality practice’ would look like in human form, and It all culminated in me winning my first tournament out in 2011, The Portuguese Amateur. I had really improved.
If that winter was all about quality, the next was about quantity… With a twist.
By the time the next winter arrived in 2011, my girlfriend was working in London and she would commute every weekday from home, catching the train 5 minutes from where I would hit balls. I picked her up every night at 7pm after she had finished work and I had finished practising. At this time, apart from becoming a wonderful boyfriend, I had become quite a ‘ball-basher’. Per day I was hitting up to 500 balls on the range. Whereas the winter before I would be completing range games and running up and down the range in the snow when I failed, I was now churning away day and night trying to oil a new machine. The change was in itself remarkable. Instead however I want to point out an even more remarkable circumstance; Why was I hitting so many more balls in the first place? My girlfriend is the answer. That may sound slightly ridiculous but here’s the thing, every night before I collected her London beaten soul, I would hit balls for two hours from 5pm until 7pm, at which point I would leave to go and get her, the convenience of it all was consequentially emphatic. It all added up to 2 hours a night for 5 days a week for 5 months, which equals 200 hours. I estimated that I was hitting 100 balls an hour which means I hit roughly 20,000 balls in that period. A period which never existed before. This culminated in me winning my first event on the Challenge Tour in 2012.
Two great lessons derived from this; 1) Practice in large quantities can still be useful and 2) If you can create conveniences in your life that will positively impact you, it’s worth it.*
*I believe that practice isn’t always a desire, it is sometimes a by-product of the world around us. As human beings we respond to convenience far more openly than we do to struggle, the paragraph above is a great example of this. One way to put more hours in than the rest is to have fewer friends, a rather unattractive thought, but when you have so little else to do, practice becomes the only option.
To conclude, I do not have a bad word to say about either form of practice, I would like to acknowledge that you can do both well and still succeed. I also believe it is advantageous to experiment over time, particularly in an extreme manner as you will gain a greater understanding of practice and ultimately a better idea on which is best to do when. As a result of my own experiences I find it difficult to give credence to one type over the other, as with most things I guess, an equilibrium is probably eventually best.
From That Wise Old Owl, Cheers.