10,000 Hours Of Practice?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he postulates that to achieve mastery in any field requires 10,000 hours of practice.  If I were to take up golf at the age of 15, and practice for two hours, three times a week for nine months of the year, I would be an expert at the age of 61.  For sure, I have not practiced 10,000 hours of golf in my life but right now I play to a five handicap and would guess that my skill level is higher than 95% of the world’s playing public.  But do I feel like an expert?  Certainly not, and more like a bumbling malcontent on my bad days.  Golf is truly humbling and regardless of how I define “expert”, I’d still like to improve my game and am wondering if my approach to practice is correct.  Conventional thinking is that given limited time, dedicate 75% to your short game.  I’ve taken that approach and it paid dividends, but I’m in a routine where I spend most of my practice on short game and feel the strategy is second nature.  Last year, on a suggestion from Vet4golfing51, I spent more time playing than practicing which also helped.  But I’d like to think more about efficient practice which requires answering a key question:

Given limited practice time, do you work to further develop your strengths, or improve your weaknesses?

We all like to practice our strengths because it’s easier.  Oddly enough, I can say with certainty that to become a better individual in the work place, I’ve tried both approaches and learned that focusing on developing your strengths is the superior strategy.  If you continually build on what you’re good at, job satisfaction, attitude, and drive are peaked.  You focus on weaknesses and you’ll generally max out at mediocre.

Conversely, on the PGA Tour, players have thousands of hours of time to practice and you hear countless stories of their dedicating time to fix weaknesses.  The best players address their deficiencies head on and solve because if they don’t, they pay a dear price.   It seems the two strategies are at loggerheads.

For us guys with a desk job, what do you think the right strategy is for practice; focusing on developing strengths or fixing weaknesses?

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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12 Responses to 10,000 Hours Of Practice?

  1. Without meaning to come off as a waffler, I think the answer is…it depends. I think it depends on how strong one’s strengths and how bad one’s weaknesses are, and I can see both sides. For me, my short game is average to pretty good. The difference between a good and bad round for me is generally dictated by how I get off the tee. My driving is erratic at best, so I feel like I get more bang for my buck working on my full swing and long game, because a little bit of improvement on that weakness has a big payoff on my scores. Really grinding out practice on the putting green or short game area (my strengths) may save me one or two shots a round, turning pars into birdies, whereas consistently better tee shots may save me from putting up the REALLY big numbers and give me more overall scoring chances. So, I guess put me down for the fix the weaknesses column.

  2. I think the most valuable practice is right after the round if you can do it, when a problem is fresh. On Twittter it was asked, what would it take to make you practice your short game more. My reply: Naked women on the putting green.

  3. Golf Performance Coaches says:

    Hi Brian

    Nice post again – I agree that working on strengths seems to be the superior option –
    With my players I urge them to make their weaknesses “decent” and then spend the majority of their energy developing their “superpower(s)”.
    There’s something about the joy and excitement they feel with their strengths which I feel as a coach needs to be nurtured.
    Our golfing lives don’t need to be spent thinking everything is broken…
    Thanks for your thoughts,

    Jon

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jon, I’ve come to the opinion that you need to work on whatever gives you the most enjoyment from the game. As previously stated, I was focusing on my short game because of poor ball striking. Last season, I decided to work the ball striking problem which was a tough nut to crack because I was coming up out of my spine angle on the downswing and had been for a long time. I focused on maintaining that spine angle and got to a decent place (not great) that allowed me to make more consistent contact more frequently, but improved my golf experience significantly. It’s a lovely conundrum isn’t it? Thanks for the comment! Brian

  4. While I fully understand that there is increased enjoyment from practicing your strengths and building them up I personally push myself to practice my weaknesses. I hate the feeling of fear over a shot and that comes from not being prepared. For me that is my short game and chipping. I spent an entire off season working on the fundamentals of impact to get rid of this weakness. I’m still developing it, but I worked hard to turn that weakness into a strength. If I hadn’t addressed it and just spent time drilling my driver at the range I would not have made the progress I have this past year. I think there is a lot of value in looking at what your weaknesses are and addressing them.

    • Brian Penn says:

      Seems like reaction to this question is mixed across the board. I share your fear of failure for certain aspects of my game and think the dedicated practice time towards those weaknesses are justified. Where I’m going with this is say you try the Nine-Shot drill and can only hit a medium fade and a high fade consistently. Do you just play the fade or work to build a draw into your arsenal; or do you go bang 100 4 foot putts if you are already a confident putter and want to maintain your edge there. I think I would bang the 100 putts rather than try to develop a whole new ball flight, because the return is greater for the time I’d need to put into both activities. Good subject for discussion. Thanks!

      • Gonna agree with you here. I think it’s taking a look at how glaring the weaknesses are vs how much return you can get on locking down your strengths. Definitely a good discussion though.

  5. Brian

    To me the 10,000 hours is a metaphor for “Practice, Practice, Practice” By your own admission, you have practiced quite a bit and have a great deal of success. Like me, you are still trying to get better. Eventually, I may say the heck with it and only play….not ready to do that, but maybe someday. Also, I have an 80 / 20 approach to golf. 80% of my challenges if I address 20% of my weaknesses. Therefore, I spend 80% of my practice time fixing the 20%. It works for me and helps keep my focused. The other 20% of practice is to work on my strengths. Regardless of what anyone does – working on your golf game is always fun!

    Cheers
    Jim

  6. Brian Penn says:

    Jim,
    I think the 80-20 rule is that 20% of your practice should solve 80% of your problems, right? Kind of like Pareto’s pea pods. I think we’re saying the same thing -LOL! Thanks. Brian

  7. Pingback: March Question of the Month – What do you practice? | One Bearded Golfer

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