Blocked Practice Vs. Random Practice For Golf

As you think back to the article that you read last night and again wonder, “What is blocked practice vs random practice for golfers?” Another weekend of bad golf and you know something has to change. You have spent extra time with your golf practice and you are not feeling great about your game as the sun goes down on another day. It is not only that you are not feeling great about your game… you are downright frustrated with it.

Mad GolferMaybe it is not about doing extra full swing drills, short game drills or putting drills? Could that be true? One thing that most golfers agree on is that just because you hit it great on the range does not guarantee that you will hit it great on the golf course.

Well… not to be harsh… but… what you have been doing has not been working. What should you do next? Maybe the answer is just as simple as understanding the difference between block practice and random practice.

What Is Blocked Practice vs Random Practice?

What Is Block Practice For Golf?

A simple explanation of block golf practice is when a player performs a single skill over and over. The key is repeating the skill with no variance in training. So in a practice setting, the driving range is a constant being able to create a flat lie for every shot. A player gets a full swing drill from their instructor and does the drill with the same club and keeps hitting it to the same target. Again… and again… and again… etc.

In a 2001 study by Simon and Bjork, athletes who were trained using blocked practice were more likely to predict higher levels of future task performance than those who were trained using random practice designs.

If a player’s golf drills enable them to quickly achieve success, it is human nature to think that they are improving, making progress or actually learning something. This leads to a culture of training that is too easy or comfortable for the player. In the future, the player will use types of practice conditions to act as a crutch and ultimate learning will not take place. Unfortunately, the inverse is true as well. We think that if completing the task is difficult then we are not learning. This is not necessarily true.

It has been proven in multiple studies that block practice can give you a false sense of learning. During a blocked practice session, a player or a coach can get to where they “see improvement” but, when the target or clubs are changed the player cannot then perform the skill. Even if the player can perform with the variable(s), true learning has not taken place until the player can perform the skill at a later time. This is when you are frustrated on Sunday Evening from not meeting your expectations from your practice sessions earlier in the week.

Although one of the newer buzz-words or phrases in the golf coaching world is random practice, block practice is an important part of learning when first learning a new skill. You cannot simply forget block practice and not take the time to do it. Like everything else in golf (it seems), there are many factors or variables that go into acquiring a new skill. All players bring some skill level with them from other activities that they have done.

What Your Blocked Practice Should Look Like

If you have spent any time on a driving range you have seen blocked practice. You may or may not have known what it was but, trust me. You have seen it.

A player walks out onto the driving range and pulls out a club. They then stay in the same spot and swing at the same target attempting to hit the same shot over and over again.

Many of these players are trying to “get a feeling” or change their actual swing. They are trying to hit a certain position in the backswing. they will take a slow practice swing, stop at the top of their swing and then continue back to impact.

The focus of blocked practice is to do the same thing over and over without changing any variables. Some players achieve this by using training aids that keep their bodies in certain positions throughout a motion.

What Is Random Practice For Golf?

A simple explanation of random golf practice is when a player performs a skill and a variable or variables change(s) with each swing. The variables include but are not limited to the club being used, trajectories, distances, training aids, shot shapes and the lie of the golf ball.

The results of the Shea and Morgan experiment surprised many scientists in the field by showing that, even though random conditions result in much less skilled performance than blocked conditions in acquisition, random-practice conditions produce more learning. This became truer when retention tests were given at later times.

Current thoughts on benefits of random practice include:

  • Random practice forces the learner to become more actively engaged in the learning process by preventing simple repetitions of actions.
  • Random practice gives the learner more meaningful and distinguishable memories of the various tasks, increasing memory strength and decreasing confusion among tasks.
  • Random practice causes the learner to forget the short-term solutions (from working memory) to the movement problem after each task change.
  • Forgetting the short-term solution forces the learner to generate the solution again on the task’s next trial, which is beneficial to learning.

What Your Random Golf Practice Should Look Like

I can hear you now… “Great! So what does this mean random practice should look like?” To me it means that when in random practice, every shot should have a different variable(s) happening.

Example 1 – Many players will “play the course.” They will hit the club that they would hit off of each teeing ground and then the club that they would expect to hit the green.

Example 2 – If you have been stuck in block practice using a training aid, hit a ball using full training aid setup but swing slow and hit the ball only three-quarters of the usual distance. On the next swing, use the full training aid set up and hit it a full distance for you. On the third ball, make a full swing with no training aid.

Example 3 – Take your three wood, six iron and pitching wedge out of your golf bag. Hit shots without hitting the same club twice in a row. In addition, do not just go up and down the ladder meaning do not keep using the same order. Make it random. For better players, add not hitting the same trajectory or shape twice in a row.

Example 4 – Take eight practice balls to the chipping/pitching green. Pick a hole on the green and place four balls off the green in a line two big steps apart going away from the hole. Take the other four balls and do the same thing two or three big steps to the right or left of the original balls. You should have some railroad tracks. Now pick a club and play all eight to the hole. Once completed, do it again with a different club. Figure out with the loft in your hand how you are going to get the ball close.

Example 5 – Take three balls to the putting green. Place a tee in an empty part of the putting green. Stroke putts so that one ball stops short of the tee, one ball stops at the tee and one ball rolls just past the tee.

So… Maybe you need to look at how you are practicing and not just what you are practicing. With where you are in the learning process, blocked practice vs. random practice will help you determine your best plan of attack to improve your game.

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