Blocked Vs. Random Practice For Golf

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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 with your practice. 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 your recent performance, as you feel like you are not learning anything from your practice.

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

Well… not to be harsh… but… what you have been doing to improve your performance through your practice has not been working. What should you do next?

Maybe the answer to improving your performance 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 Learning?

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 the training practice.

So in a practice setting, the driving range is a constant as you will have a flat lie for every shot. A player gets a full swing drill to improve their performance 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.

So… This must be the best way for you to practice… right?

Well… If a player’s practice drills enable them to quickly improve performance, it is human nature to think that they are improving, making progress or actually learning something.

However, this leads to a culture of practice or 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 blocked 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” or improve performance 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) or improve their current performance, 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, because your game did not go from the practice range to the course with you.

Although one of the newer buzz-words or phrases in the golf performance coaching world is random practice, blocked practice is an important part of learning when first learning a new skill.

You cannot simply forget blocked practice and not take the time to do it in your practice sessions.

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 A Blocked Session Should Look Like

If you have spent any time at all on a driving range, you have seen blocked practice. You may or may not have known tht it was blocked practice but, trust me… You have seen some major blocked practice by juniors and adults. haha

A player walks out onto the driving range and pulls out their driver to practice. They then stay in the exact same spot and swing at the exact same target attempting to create the same swing over and over again FOR THE ENTIRE PRACTICE SESSION.

Many of these players are trying to “get a feeling” or change their actual swing. They are trying to acquire a certain position in the backswing with their driver or iron.

When you are on the practice tee, you will notice this activity more now as they are the golfers that will take a slow practice swing, stop at the top of their swing and then continue back to impact… multiple times.

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

This is a needed part of your regular practice but may not be how it works on the course for you.

What Is Random Practice?

A simple explanation of random practice is when a player performs a skill and a variable or variables change(s) with each swing.

The practice variables include but are not limited to the club being used, trajectories, distances, training aids, shot shapes and your lie.

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 learning with 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 in random practice, forces the learner to generate the solution again on the task’s next trial, which is beneficial to learning.

A Random Session To Improve Performance

I can hear you now… “Great! So… What does this mean random practice should look like?”

It means that when in random practice, every shot should have a different variable(s) happening.

Example 1 – Many players will “play the course” for random practice. They will swing the club that they would choose off of each teeing ground. They then take the club that they would expect to swing into the green and continue  “around the course.”

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 shot only three-quarters of the usual distance.

On the second swing, use the full training aid set up and hit it a full distance for you.

On the third attempt, make a full swing with no training aid.

Example 3 – One of my favorite ways to have my students practice is to take a three wood, six iron and pitching wedge out of their bag and make swings 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 this very random.

For a better player’s practice, I may 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 a shot to all eight of the holes. Once completed, do it again with a different club. Figure out with the loft on your club how you are going to get it close to the hole.

Example 5 – For putting practice, 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 stops at the tee and one ball rolls just past the tee.

So… If you feel like you are spending the time to improve and are not seeing the results, maybe you need to look at how you are practicing, quantify if  learning is taking place and not just repeating the same old sessions.

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 on the course.

I would love to hear about how you are going to change your practice to improve your learning. Send me your practice details in an email at [email protected].

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