There’s a saying about practice… you know the one – and it explains why athletes dedicate their lives to it. Come the real thing, and with all those hours put in, they have a greater chance of success. Practice makes perfect, right?
That’s the theory, but this famous saying makes a pretty big assumption: that the practice has been productive. Thrashing away at a bucket of balls hitting drive after drive, for example, is not productive. Nor is playing the same shot to the same target over and over again.
To help you nail the perfect practice session, RSNG spoke to Performance Coach Steve Robinson. With these five top tips you can start to make those hours down the range really count…
1. Set A Goal
It sounds so simple, yet can you honestly say every time you hit the range you set yourself a target? Amateur golfers often spend an entire session just hitting balls aimlessly, which is fine if you’re just looking to let off a bit of steam on your lunch break, but this is not going to be effective if you have designs on lowering your handicap.’
‘It’s not about how often you use the range, but how productive you are when you’re there,’ says Steve Robinson, England Women’s National Performance Coach, who also coaches England star Matt Fitzpatrick, a five-time winner on the European Tour.
‘The first thing you’ve got to do is set a goal for the range session. However small or large that goal is, you’ve got to have them.’
‘It gives you a focus, otherwise what’s the point? Think about the little goals you need to hit in order to hit your bigger goals and make a note of them. Make them achievable, too, so it’s not just pie in the sky.’
‘Golfers of all levels should take the time to plan their practice’
2. Structure Your Session
As one might expect from a coach charged with getting the best out of England’s most talented young golfers, Robinson is big on planning; practice sessions must have structure.
Golfers of all levels should take the time to plan their practice, although this needn’t be an exhaustive process. In fact, Robinson suggests breaking your sessions down into their distinct parts, in order to help you get the most out of your time at the range. ‘Structure your time so you start with the basics; calibrate the basics,’ says Robinson.
‘Then, it’s about working on your skill or the technique that your professional has set you. Finally, at the end, you want to finish off your session with some kind of stress test [more on that below, ED].’
Now you’re ready to go… well, almost. Robinson suggests warming up with some light stretching and/ or cardio, and here’s a tip for you – keep a skipping rope in your golf bag; it’s a popular warm-up amongst his students and means you don’t have to do a circuit of the driving range – which could be dangerous!
3. Deliberate Versus Block Practice
The legendary Ben Hogan was renowned for his love of practice and would often spend 12 hours a day working on his game. He was also a stickler for deliberate practice and would have a clear focus on what he was working on.
However, Robinson is keen to bust a common myth when it comes to block practice – the one that says it’s just not recommended. Although hitting 50 drives to the same target all the time is generally considered pointless, there are exceptions where ‘doing some blocky’ has its advantages.
‘Block practice isn’t always bad. If you’re trying to groove in a swing move, for example, a little bit of block practice is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be,’ Robinson explains. ‘It can help, but then it’s important you finish off with some deliberate practice at the end.’
4. Stress Test Your Practice
Don’t panic, it’s not as bad as it sounds; it’s merely about ending the session with some kind of meaningful test, one that will give you some feedback as to how you’re doing in respect of your session goals.
It also helps put you under a bit of pressure – and we all want to be able to perform when it matters most, don’t we?
Robinson adds: ‘Is your practice actually making you make a decision around the club that you pick up and try to hit to a fixed target? There’s very little decision making involved on a range but you’ve got to try to create that environment where you do make decisions, because that’s the game of golf.’
Robinson suggests hitting a maximum of ten balls at the end of the session. To help create pressure, there’s also a game you can play – playing the first six holes of your course, or the course you’re going to play.
‘Try hitting into an imaginary fairway and then hit the second club with the shot that you think you would hit, and then hit to an imaginary green,’ Robinson says.
‘That’s also great for visualisation. It means changing the targets and the directions, and you’re changing clubs. All the while, you’re still trying to make the swing that you’ve been working on throughout your technical session.’
‘There’s very little decision making on a range but try to create an environment where you do make decisions’
** 5. Take Notes And Reflect**
A stress test at the end, note taking, asking yourself questions… well, if you’re serious about playing better golf, you’ll do whatever it takes. These are the important details most amateur golfers overlook.
‘Use a notebook and pencil,’ says Robinson. ‘It’s the best way to record your progress and keep a track. It helps you to keep challenging yourself. You have to take time to reflect, too. Did you move towards achieving your goal?’
‘What have I done today that’s going to make me a better player? If the answer is, ‘I don’t know’, that’s no good; it can’t have been a very good session.’
Armed with a few new ideas for your practice sessions, it’s time to get to work. But before you do, Robinson offers one more tip for those golfers guilty of only practising with their favourite clubs.
‘Say it’s the 20th, go to the range with your even clubs. If it’s an odd day, take your odd clubs. As well as getting you used to hitting every club in your bag, you’re not going to wear the face out on one particular club, or the grips.’
WHAT NEXT? ‘Doing the right type of practice and not just practising for the sake of it has really worked out well for me’. Read our fascinating exclusive with world number seven Patrick Cantlay, who had to relearn golf from scratch after a back injury.
- Steve Robinson works with England Golf as Women’s National Performance Coach. He’s Matt Fitzpatrick’s Performance Coach and he runs the Steve Robinson Golf Academy at Sandburn Hall in York.*
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.