Category Archives: practice

You’re just like Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

I’ve never been very good at golf. I’ve always played different sports and I could usually pick them up fairly easily and be adequate without a great deal of practice.

Not golf.

I would play a couple times a year. My friends would call when their 4th player canceled or they were desperate. They knew I was a hack and was likely to spend as much time in the woods as on the fairways.

I recently decided I wanted to get better at golf. My uncle John talked very highly of a golf instructor on Long Island named Victor Romano. John insisted that if I was serious about improving, that I drive out to Long Island and take lessons with Victor.

Victor is a wizard. In the matter of only a few lessons, he has helped my swing immensely and has fixed some major flaws. I still have a long way to go but I’m starting to see improvements.

Victor has a metaphor for golf improvement he calls “moving the bell curve”.

The metaphor is one of a 100 golf shots. Every swing a golfer takes, they reach into this metaphorical bucket and take out a ball. Ball #1 is the best shot they could possibly hit that day, given their skill level. Ball #100 is the worst. Plot those 100 shots and you get a representative bell curve of that golfer’s current skill level.

When you’re starting out, the bell curve is very wide. The #1 shot is probably OK and the #100 shot might be a complete whiff.

Bell Curve

As you gets slightly better, the #1 – 5 shots are quite a bit better but the worst #90 – #100 shots are still embarrassing shanks.

As you continue to improve, the #1 – #5 shots get even better, the medium shots get a little better and the worst shots aren’t quite as bad but #99 and #100 are probably still ones you would rather forget.

This is true for me and it’s true for you and it’s true for Tiger Woods. When Tiger Woods shoots a 76 (a terrible day for him), he hit some of the worst shots possible on his bell curve.

After working with Victor, my best shot (my #1) is almost as good as Tiger’s worst shot (his #100). That means the best shot I can hit out of 100 is comparable to the worst shot Tiger Woods hits.

The point of Victor’s metaphor is this.

Golfers always make excuses for the way they played a certain hole or a certain round. If they shot a great score on the front nine but played poorly on the back nine, they blame it on exhaustion or the fact that it was getting dark. If they hit a huge slice into the pond, they blame it on the fact that they pulled their head or that new wedge that they just haven’t figured out yet.

They’re wrong.

Their skill level is at a certain point. On a bad day, they hit more balls from the higher end of their bell curve.

The purpose of practice, in golf and many other endeavors, is to move the bell curve.

Chris Brogan and Seth Godin write new blog posts every day. Some posts are better than others but their last 100 are significantly better than their first 100. Through practice, over time, they have dramatically moved their blog quality bell curve. Following their lead, that’s what I’m trying to do as well.

Pick a skill in your business or personal life, what is your #1 ball? What is your #100?

How can you improve and move your own bell curve?

[Photo credit: Paul Gallegos / PR Photos]

Deliberate Practice

Marc Yu, a 9-year-old piano prodigy from Pasadena, Calif., recently played at a benefit for victims of the earthquake in Sichuan, China. And he didn’t play “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” He played a piece that Chopin wrote for victims of the Polish-Russian war, the composer’s “Nocturne in C Minor.”
Marc Yu

“My legs are long enough for the pedal, but still my legs aren’t straight,” Marc says. “I sometimes have to sit close to the piano or stretch my legs.” He says his left hand can reach an octave, but his right hand isn’t quite there yet.

Marc says he can only vaguely recall beginning to play the piano. He says his mother has told him over and over that he was 2. He does remember his recital debut, when he was 3. He played a G major sonatina by Beethoven.

That same year, he asked his mom if he could become a pianist. These days, he practices up to eight hours a day, depending on his schedule and his mood. “Practice makes perfect,” he says. “You don’t want a Beethoven piece to sound like something else. That’s disrespectful to the composer.”

Anders Ericsson and his colleagues have done a great deal of research in the “expert performance” movement.

When trying to explain what it is that makes someone very good at what he or she does, they focus on “deliberate practice.” This means that, your individual level of natural talent aside, expertise is accomplished primarily through the tenets of deliberate practice:

1. Focus on technique as opposed to outcome.
2. Set specific goals.
3. Get good, prompt feedback, and use it.

When most golfers go to the range to practice, they hit a bucket of balls. They may even have a method that in their mind is very structured and helpful, “10 balls with the pitching wedge, 10 with the 8-iron, all the way up through the driver and then 10 more balls with the pitching wedge.”

Sounds organized, right? That’s why most golfers are home eating Cheetos on Sunday, watching Tiger Woods on TV.

Deliberate practice, the type of practice that superstars like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are known for looks more like this . . .

“I’m going to hit 500 balls with my 9-iron at that flagstick off to the left of the range with a specific goal of 80% of the balls landing within 10 yards of the pin.”

Michael Jordan was famous for thousands of hours of extra practice; shooting and making more shots in his personal practice sessions than some of his teammates would make all month. But he didn’t just shoot around in the gym until he made the 1,000 shots. He would pick very specific things to work on and practice relentlessly.

“I’m going to shoot 1,000 three-pointers from the left corner with the specific goal of making 60%.”

Sure, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan were born with extraordinary athletic ability, but so was Michael Olowokandi and numerous other high-profile flops.

Ask yourself. How deliberate is your practice?

More reading…

Anders Ericsson’s research
Malcolm Gladwell on 10,000 hours being the minimum needed for mastery of a complex cognitive task or subject.