Category Archives: Improvement Plan

Making Better New Year’s Resolutions for Golf

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution?  Of course, everyone has.  I try to make resolutions every year.  Have you ever failed at your resolution before February?  Don’t worry, I have too.  Depending on the researcher you choose, 80-88% of New Year’s resolutions fail each year.  Let’s choose to be in the 10-12%.

Resolutions fail for a couple reasons.  The key is to not fall victim to the same mistakes everyone else makes.  I help students every semester focus on the right goals because setting a good goal can improve success chances.  Creating mastery goals with incremental steps will improve the likelihood of success.

New Year’s resolutions fail because they are result based goals.  Result goals focus on what the end will look like.  Resolutions about weight loss, quitting smoking, or getting healthy are great examples.  They look at the end result.  Desiring those ends aren’t inherently bad, but without more, those resolutions fail the vast majority of the time.

Mastery goals are significantly better.  Mastery focuses on performing a movement or task extremely well.  For learning, I could set the goal to understand and be able to recite areas of law.  Someone who wants to lose weight could set a mastery goal to only eat 1,600 calories each day or a specific calorie goal for each meal.  In the end, weight loss will occur but the reason is the resolution is based on an action each day.

This year, make a mastery golf resolution.  Everyone wants a lower score.  I aspire to be a single-digit handicap.  For many years, I said I would practice more and get there, but I never did.  I made the same golf mistakes.  All my goals now focus on what I will do each week and movements I want to master.  I resolve to work my plan as well as possible.  My off-season focus is exercise while also making swings each week.  So far, I am working on my game much more than before.  However, I still don’t get all the days in each week.  It is difficult to get through 4-5 days of work each week.

The second key is to make small incremental changes.  Trying to change everything at once makes failure likely.  Individuals trying to run a marathon start with significantly shorter distances.  No one starts with 26 miles.  Start with running one mile and work up to 26.

Golf is the same way.  Trying to make 4 swing changes at once won’t happen.  Work on 1 change throughout your set.  Be very specific, like changing the swing plane.  I focused on nothing but weight shift during the first part of the summer.  After about a month, I worked on swing plane.  My focus is limited to ensure the changes have lasting affects.  Slow incremental changes can have the biggest impact on long-term scores.

Now is the time to set the resolutions for the upcoming year.  My resolution is to follow my weekly plan I set out for the offseason.  Small changes will hopefully setup for a great beginning to the spring season.  Enjoy the holiday!

 

Tweeking My Mindset to Improve My Score

Do you ever think you are inherently good or bad at something? You then perform the task and reaffirm your original suspicions. Most of us fall into that trap daily. Unfortunately, the fixed mindset trap can create a cycle of non-improvement.

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford, researched mindsets to see who overcame obstacles and succeeded on subsequent assessments. She found that individuals who had a fixed mindset, one where ability is tied to a person’s character traits or is innate, struggled to overcome obstacles and improve. However, individuals with a Growth Mindset, a mindset that emphasizes the ability to improve and learn from mistakes, performed better over the long haul. The growth mindset individuals did not internalize failure and learned from it.

I notice this phenomenon on a daily basis in my profession. I help students with standardized tests for professional licensure, and I encounter students daily who say, “I am not good at standardized tests.” The statement alone illustrates the problems with a fixed mindset. If someone thinks they are bad at something, then motivation to work on it is low. Not only that, continued failure only reinforces the poor self-image. The mindset hampers the ability to learn and improve.

Dr. Dweck’s research is the foundation for understanding some of the early differences in performance of young girls and boys. Dr. Boucher from Indiana investigated the stereotype that girls are poor at math. Her results, along with others, illustrated that when someone is told they are bad at something, they perform worse. The negative stereotype or limitation forces a fixed mindset on students.

The psychological research impacts how many of us play golf. We all see it on our weekend round. A playing partner will miss a putt and say something like “I always miss 3 foot putts” or “I am a bad putter.” Think about the hole at your local club that you hate. The thought of “my ball always go right on #3” has the subconscious effect of causing the ball to go right. All of those statements are fixed mindset statements. They tend to create a fundamental feeling about the person instead of focusing on the attempted task. Living in a fixed mindset will stifle long term improvement when our statements form a negative self-identity.

The good news is we can all migrate to the growth mindset. I am still a 16 handicap golfer, but I believe improvement is possible. Not only that, I know that improvement is a long road that will not happen overnight (or even in 1 season). Looking through the stats and analyzing the information demonstrates areas to work on. Forcing ourselves to believe in the possibility of improvement is the first step to success.

The second thing we must do is talk better to ourselves on the course. I worked hard last summer to focus on the positive. The errant tee shot is a new situation to find a solution. A few slices did not mean the next shot would slice. Craig Sigl, sports psychologist, says to put the last hole behind you and say, I have 9 holes left (or however many you have) to have fun. It is the idea that I will get that 3 footer next time.

Changing mindsets is one of the hardest changes to make, but it can also have a huge impact. I am resolving to keep getting better and focusing on the next shot. I encourage everyone to find a technique that works for you to stay positive on a beautiful day on the course.

Stay warm.

Real Improvement Happens in the Offseason

We hear the clichés all the time. Champions are made in the offseason, or the best athlete is made during the offseason.  Every coach talks about the offseason being the foundation to success.  If all of that is true, and I believe it is, then why do many of us treat the offseason as a break from golf?

I usually always take a winter break from golf. I would play the few times the temperature rose enough to play while wearing a few base layers, but improvement plans slipped my mind.  This year, I will take a different approach to my offseason.  Since failing to plan is a problem, I created an offseason plan to improve my weak areas.

My offseason plan focuses on 2 areas for improvement, my swing and fitness. My swing needs the work to start the season more consistent.  However, fitness might be the biggest area I can improve during the break.  Here is my plan for the winter:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Day Off Full Swing Work Putting Work Day Off Workout Day #2 Chipping Work Simulated Practice on Optishot
  Walk on the Treadmill Workout Day #1   Walk on Treadmill to Finish Workout Day #3  

 

The plan seems like more work than during the season, which I had trouble reaching 5 days. However, I plan to adjust when I do some of the work.  I have kids, and one of the best ways to teach our kids is through modeling behavior.  Saving my fitness and workout for the evening while they are in bed doesn’t provide the extra benefit of teaching them fitness is important.  Since my kids are still young enough to find playing anything with me as fun, I plan to have the workout days with them.

Golf fitness is a little different than just lifting weights, so I designed 3 workouts that are 15-30 minutes that will help me become a better athlete and be fun with the kids. Here is the plan:

 

Workout Day #1:

Warmup

Squats with a Medicine Ball

Agility Drills on a Speed ladder

Jumping Hurdles (the progressively taller banana step hurdles)

Frog Jumping Race

 

Workout Day #2

Warmup

Medicine Ball Throws

-Squat Throw High

– Side Throw

Pushups

Crab Race

 

Workout Day #3

Warmup

Medicine Ball Spikes

Medicine Ball Jumps

Planks

Sit up throws with medicine ball

Plank Race

 

I know some of the activities sound silly, but making the workout fun helps motivate me to actually do it. Fun workouts will also get my kids involved and they will also encourage me to do the work.

The golf work will be similar to during the season. I will pick a specific area to work on, but will continue to focus on interleaved and variable practice with the testing effect to build my new motions.  I recently subscribed to Golf Science Lab, and they provide a ton of information on proper practice.  My next post will be my first thoughts about their product and how it will change my practice.

Post your thoughts or your own offseason plans. Utilize the offseason to have a great next season!

No Club, No Problem!! 2 Easy Techniques to Improve at Work

Is working getting in the way of golf? It always does for me, but paying the bills and feeding the kids makes abandoning a job impossible.  I am finding ways to be at work and still get in practice time, sometimes even the 30 minutes for the day.

Practice at work? How is that possible?  No, I don’t work at a golf course, nor do I work near a golf course.  My first inclination would be to hit a bucket during lunch, but I don’t have that option.  However, I found a couple techniques could help me improve at work without losing my job.

The first technique I like is mental reps. I know it sounds crazy, but numerous authors and researchers say mental reps, which is imagining every detail of playing, can improve a swing.  Craig Sigl in his product Break 80 Without Practice discusses mental reps.  He tells a story of a POW held overseas for a significant amount of time.  When the soldier came back, he played amazing golf.  When asked, he said he imagined himself playing rounds every day.  The intricate details of playing allowed his mind to ingrain his swing without actual practice.  His brain went to the same place and made the same swings when he put the clubs back in his hands.

We can all do mental reps. As a disclaimer, I am not saying to do these instead of working.  I do them during breaks, lunch, etc.  Spend time imagining every aspect of playing a round of golf.  Go through the pre-shot routine, the swing, watching the ball fly, and walking to the next shot.  The more detail in the mental rep, the better.  I have also done this right before going to sleep.

The second technique I use at work is swinging without a club. Dave Pelz discusses this approach in one of his books.  He tells the story of one of the instructors he knows having a group of students practice certain moves without a club, many times at work.  The instructor didn’t do it intentionally.  It was his suggestion for busy clients who couldn’t get to the range.  They could also do it during the winter.  He found students doing reps without clubs made swing changes quicker.

I try focusing on 1 move during a week. I spend 10-30 minutes during lunch doing the swing without a club.  I am deliberate and not going quickly.  Once I get to the range, I sometimes do the same move without the club during my warmup.  Feeling the movements can help transition to the club.

Most of us have to work, but we can use small breaks to make big improvements. Every little bit helps and can lower scores.  Share this on Facebook and Twitter to help others improve while working!

4 Easy Putting Drills to Save Strokes

The old saying is “Drive for show, Putt for dough.” While a few researchers disagree that short game is the most important part of golf, putting is clearly important because that is when the ball goes in the hole.  Yes, everyone needs to get closer to the green or closer to the hole on approaches, but golfers can make up for many mistakes with a great short game.

Improving the short game is a little more of a challenge at home. Most of us don’t have putting greens in our backyards.  My next DIY project is an artificial green, but until then, my 30 minutes of putting work is at home most weeks.  I have a 4 drills/tools I enjoy that helped me improve the last couple years to where I normally average less than 2 putts a round.

Dime Drill

Putts roll in the hole if they are on the right line and are the right speed. While speed is extremely important, carpets at most homes prevent speed work.  Reading through different magazines over the years helped me develop a drill for putting line using a dime.

My goal is to start the putt on my intended line and keep it on the correct line to the hole. To focus on the line, I grab a dime.  I put the dime on the ground about 1 ft. in front of my ball.  I line the ball up to roll over the dime and stroke the putt.  If I strike the putt correctly, the ball will roll over the middle of the dime.  I practice soft and hard putts over the dime about 4-6 times.  I then move back to 2 feet and try to roll it over the dime.  I will keep moving back until I get to 8-10 feet.  The idea is to keep the ball on line as long as possible.

I vary the 1 coin drill with a 2 coin drill. I will put the dime a foot in front of my ball and a nickel about 4-5 feet in front of the dime.  I try to stroke a putt over both coins.  The 2 coin drill forces me to line up correctly over both coins and keep the ball on line.  Adds to the difficulty.

Face Tape

Distance on the carpet won’t be the same as a golf course, but you can still work on distance at home. Consistent distance comes from hitting the ball in the same spot of the club with every stroke.  I use putter face tape to check my strikes.  I put on the face tape and hit a couple putts.  I check the tape to see if the strikes were consistent.  Even if you aren’t hitting in the middle, hitting consistently will make the distance consistent.  You can always play shots that are consistent.

 

Yard Stick

The putting sword training aid that many, including Michael Breed, advocate using can be replaced with a simple yard stick. The idea is the same as the coin drill.  Try to keep the ball rolling down the yard stick as long as possible.  You can also use the yard stick as a stroke and alignment check.  Place the stick on the ground.  Place the club with the toe just inside the stick.  Putt balls trying to keep the putter moving along the stick.  It promotes the straight back and straight through stroke.  It won’t help those who have an arc stroke as much.

 

Drills on the carpet are good for practice, but I know everyone loves hearing the ball fall in the cup. I bought the accelerator putting green below to putt the ball in the hole.  It isn’t perfect, but I find it forces me to hit a putt hard enough to roll about a foot past the hole.


Putting is definitely an art form. Many ignore putting because they think a green is necessary for improvement.  I think you can significantly improve by keeping the putt on the intended line for as long as possible.  You can do that in your house.  If you have a great drill you do at home, put it in the comments.  Cheers for less putts!

How to Follow Your Golf Improvement Plan While Traveling

I have a routine for every morning. The alarm goes off at the same time.  I hit snooze 3 times.  I proceed to shower and get ready the same way every day.  I like the routine.  It makes life easy.  The days where I need to get to work early or my son’s school does something different throws me completely off.  The day feels off.

Golf improvement is the same way. I want to follow the exact days on the schedule.  I know when everything will happen.  When the week is not normal, then planning is critical.  I know many people just want to go day by day, but only looking at one day makes it easy to keep putting off practice because the day is busy.  Pushing the practice back usually means it won’t happen.  To prevent missing practice,  I look at the week on Sunday night to see what is happening to get a sense of where to make adjustments.

I was out of town the last few days in NYC. Bethpage Black is on my bucket list, so my plan for months was to blog about an amazing experience on the Black.  I could also get in my round for the week that way.  Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work and I couldn’t play a round while here.  I didn’t want to get off track though, so I planned to still practice while there.

My week generally includes 2 days off. I was gone 3 days, so I could take 2 off and still be on track.  This week, I plan to take Tuesday and Thursday off since those are travel days.  I am not taking my golf clubs, so creative solutions are necessary.  I thought of a few.

Ideas to Stay on Track

My first idea is to practice turning without a club. One of my major problems is my upper body and lower body get out of sync.  When that happens, the club gets stuck behind me and under plane.  My shots will be blocks or hooks.  I could work on staying in sync and getting everything together.

I am a golf nerd who loves all gadgets and training aids. About 10 years ago, someone bought me a golf travel kit.  It has a putter, hole, and a couple balls.  Here it is on Amazon:

I used it multiple times on golf trips just for fun.  I know it isn’t the perfect putting aide, but I can definitely work on starting the ball on line.

A newer version has a telescoping putter.

Putting would be helpful, but I googled driving ranges in Manhattan to see if I could hit balls. I found Chelsea Piers Golf Club.  It is a 4 tier driving range with rental clubs.  Range time is even better than putting practice, so I decided to head out there.

I completely enjoyed the experience. I received a bay on the first floor.  I wish I was on one of the higher tiers, but I still enjoyed the bottom floor.  I purchased 128 balls, and the machine auto tees the ball.  Great way to be lazy and just hit balls.  The Hudson with Yachts in the background made great scenery for a driving range.

My only complaint is the rental clubs. Renting from the front desk is a mistake.  They provide old and beat up clubs.  They gave me what must have been an original Taylormade 9 iron, a 6 iron from the 80s, and a driver with the bottom caved in.  The NY Golf Shop attached had brand new clubs to rent for a higher price, but they closed at 8.  I didn’t finish until after 8, so that wouldn’t work.  In spite of the equipment, I hit the ball reasonably well.  I would definitely recommend the facility to keep up the practice.

Following the plan while out of town requires planning ahead.  Take a travel club or find a local driving range.  Make sure to not give yourself excuses to miss practice.  Looking at the week to know where problems will arise and where adjustments can be made makes success easier.  Success won’t magically happen.  Success requires constant planning and adjusting to make everything work.  Remember, the process is what matters.  Keep up the great progress.

Post in the comments your favorite secrets to staying on routine and practicing while traveling.

3 Techniques for Every Golf Practice Session

Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and pretty much every other professional golfer practices different than recreational golfers. They follow fundamental principles that most of us don’t imitate, but should.  We want their swings, but we don’t do the same thing to get there.  Now, I am changing my practice to take my range swing to the course.

“Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi knows a few things about improving athletic skills, so perfecting our practice habits should be a priority.  My practice has not been perfect.  I would put an alignment club on the ground and pick a flag for some of the shots.  I would hit close to 100 balls switching clubs after 3-5 shots.  My practice and range swings look like this:

DSCF0043

Nice balance, good finish. Swing of beauty.  However, somehow the real swings are more like this:

DSCF0045

Falling back, inconsistent, pretty ugly. I need more real swings like the top picture, so I will focus on 3 techniques to make that happen:

  1. Interleaving practice
  2. Spaced Repetition
  3. Game Simulation

 

Interleaving Practice

Interleaving practice is not a new concept, but a few authors began discussing it for golf recently. The idea is that continually practicing one specific skill for a long period of time (block practice) isn’t the most efficient way to learn the skill.  For golf, hitting 10 6 irons, 10 7 irons, 5 8 irons, 15 drivers, 20 wedges, and finishing with 15 hybrids is inefficient, and what most people do.  A recent article regarding research from UCLA states that practice should vary to create lasting improvement.  Each shot should be with a different club, to a different distance, with a different target.  The idea is the brain focuses on each task intently and continually learns from the experience.  New shot requires the brain to focus more, which leads to long term learning.  The researchers conclude less practice that is varied will produce better results than beating balls for hours.

Brad Brewer, top 100 golf instructor, recently wrote on his website about the same ideas. My practice now includes less time or shots with more switching clubs.  I have 2 full swing practices each week.  1 will be in my house without a ball similar to Haney’s advice.  I switch clubs, the direction I face, and my imaginary target each shot.  My other full swing session is normally on the range.  I only buy 2 tokens now and switch clubs and targets with each shot.  I have difficulty switching clubs after a bad shot, but the research says this is the best way to practice.

 

Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is another concept neuroscience says will make huge improvements for skill development. Spaced repetition is when you study or practice for shorter increments of time but over multiple days as opposed to spending long hours only on 1 day.  Cramming everything into 1 day, like cramming for college midterms, holds the information for that day, but the information is lost quickly.  Studying for the same amount of time over the previous few days permits the brain to process the information, create schema, and create long lasting knowledge.  Recent research says the same is true for athletic skills.  Spending 1 day a week at the range for 1.5 hours is less effective for long term development than 3 days of 30 minute practice.  I spend 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week practicing.  The consistent practice over more days will get the brain thinking about my swing for a longer period, which should lead to longer term improvement.

 

Game Simulation

How many times do you play golf holes on the driving range? All the great golfers simulate golf rounds while practicing, so we should to.  Before professionals go to the first tee, many of them play the first few holes on the range by imaging the hole and hitting the clubs they will use on that hole.  The idea is to simulate the pressure, shots, and experience before hitting a real shot.  Anything that puts pressure on shots improves the ability to repeat the shot on the course.  I play a rounds on the optishot at home and turn off all gimmies and mulligans to make it a real score.  Optishot is still a game, but I can try to beat previous scores and create pressure.  I finish range sessions with point games to see how many greens I can hit out of 10 shots or how many draws I can hit out of 10.  My putting practice includes games against my kids.  The idea that every shot counts makes improvement more likely.

 

We all want better pro-style swings, but many of us don’t follow the best practices to get there. Post comments below with great ideas for games or practice techniques following these principles.

My Plan to Work Full Time and Improve at Golf

Do you envy professionals because they can practice every day. I believe I could dramatically reduce my handicap practicing 8 hours a day, but my family may not be happy if I quit my job.  That dilemma is what most of us face.  You and I have full-time jobs, but we also want to keep improving.  Good news, I believe we can improve even with full-time jobs!

“If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” Most of us heard this quote from Ben Franklin, and most of us understand it.  However, have you created an improvement plan to decrease your handicap?  I hadn’t created one either.  I went to the range and tried to get better, but I didn’t have a clear idea what “get better” meant.  I also didn’t focus on the areas that would lead to the most improvement.  Now, I will follow step 2 of my improvement approach and build a quality plan.

30 minutes a day will change my handicap. It may not bring me to single-digits this summer, but I can easily get to 14.  I won’t cut back time with my wife or kids because they are too much fun, but I waste 30 minutes hitting snooze or playing on my iPhone.  I know I can commit to 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week.  Sounds too simple.  However, I remember watching Hank Haney tell Rush Limbaugh to make 100 swings a day, and Rush made significant improvement in a short amount of time.  100 swings take about 30 minutes.  I will employ even better learning theories from recent neuroscience research in my next blog to maximize my 30 minutes.

Planning to spend 30 minutes a day isn’t a detailed enough plan. I get 5 days a week, so I should break down what I will do on each of those days.  I intend for 1 day to be a round of golf on the course or on my optishot.  I need to split the other 4 among specific golf skills.  Here are my current stats to help determine where to spend time.

Time Period Fairways Greens in Regulation Scrambling Putting
May 2015-Present 42% 17% 10% 1.9 per hole

 

My stats show ok fairways and putting. I have the biggest opportunity for improvement in GIR and Scrambling.  Having that information, I won’t spend extra time with full swing drivers.  My plan will be:

 

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Break 30 Minutes on Full Swing 30 minutes putting Break 30 Minutes Chipping or Pitching Golf Round (optishot or course) or 30 minutes Full Swing 30 Minutes Full Swing or Golf Round

 

I now have a plan. I can follow a schedule and put in the time.  I believe the time can reduce my handicap to 14 by the end of the season.  The time is now to make improvements, and I encourage you to follow my progress.  Sign up below to join my mailing list to follow my progress.  You don’t want to miss my next post demonstrating how I will use those 30 minutes.



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Discover the Plan to Lowering My Golf Handicap this Season

Professionals make it look easy, but we all know golf is extremely difficult. Most amateurs want to get better, but USGA studies show handicaps are virtually the same now as they were 20 years ago.  Do you want to improve, maybe start writing down more 70s, than 80s or 90s?  I know I do, so I am creating a plan.  You can follow my progress to improvement or start a plan for yourself.  Now is the time for lower scores!

I teach students how to pass high stakes tests, so I have insights into building specific skills. The foundation to improvement in almost anything includes these 4 steps:

  1. Create a SMART Goal
  2. Build a Quality Plan
  3. Execute the Plan
  4. Assess our Execution and Edit Plan

Have you ever created a New Year’s Resolution and failed miserably? Me too.  The reason is New Year’s resolutions aren’t SMART goals.  Our first step is to create SMART goals to set ourselves up for lower scores.  SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.  Without goals, we won’t be able to create a plan and will continue to do the same thing over and over with the same scores, which of course is the definition of insanity.

My long-term goal is to reach single-digits. For me, breaking 80 would be awesome, but I want to do it more than once.  I want more 70s than 80s, so I want a single-digit handicap.  However, the goal I will write down won’t be single-digits.  As you see on the current handicap page (April 2016), my handicap is currently a 15.8.  Dropping 6 strokes will take significant time, which allows too many opportunities for demotivation, setbacks, etc.  I break all long-term goals into small pieces with shorter times, so you should as well.  Meeting small goals creates motivation to continue the journey and create more short-term goals.

2016 ball

My SMART Goal is for my Handicap to drop to 14 by November 1st, 2016.

I can easily focus on 2 strokes this season. Specific goals are ones that you can understand exactly what the end result requires.  I know exactly what a 14 handicap is, so my goal is specific.  Measurable requires being able to determine whether the goal is satisfied.  For better or worse, I will look at my handicap on November 1st and it will either be a 14 or not.  Attainable is a goal that is difficult enough to motivate you to work hard but still achievable.  Many people become demotivated if they can’t reach the goal.  This is another reason to focus on the short term.  Decreasing my handicap 2 strokes in 1 season doesn’t seem outrageous, and as my next post will illustrate, creating a plan to improve 2 strokes is straightforward.  Relevant is whether the goal is important to the long-term goal, and decreasing strokes will help me achieve single-digits.  Time-bound is straight forward.  Create a deadline, which for me is this season.

Now it is your turn. Create a SMART goal for this golf season and leave it in the comments below.  Don’t forget to sign up to get more tips and follow my journey to single-digits.