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3 Reasons Why Most Beginning Golfers Are Set up to Fail: Michael Hebron6 min read

Golf Science LabAuthor: Golf Science Lab

Posted on: 7th Dec 2016

The Golf Science Lab and Michael Hebron (PGA of America) explain how the traditional structured, deliberate, and effortful training and practice that beginners normally go through may in fact affect their overall development and enjoyment of golf…


It is a given that enhancing sports performance requires a commitment to training and practice. But what should the nature of training and practice be during development?

The three stages of development are:

  • Early or sampling
  • Middle or specializing
  • Late or investment

Alfred North Whitehead called the three stages the romance stage, precision stage and generalization stage. Studies show any emphasis on structured, deliberate, effortful training and practice during the first or early stages of development is now associated with great costs.

In most cases deliberate practice is not associated with great levels of sports proficiency when compared with diversified, enjoyable, playful training.

In 2002, Cote and Hay researchers said:

1. During the early sampling years there should be low frequency of structured deliberate practice and lots of “play” activity.

2. During the specializing years there should be equal amounts of deliberate practice and deliberate “play “activities.

3. During the investment years there can be more deliberate practice than deliberate “play “when training (the skills have already been learned).

One other key component during the sampling years it is important to sample several different sporting activities, instead of specializing in one sport.

An athlete’s cognitive system (brain) during training is being re-organized to meet the needs of the tasks at hand. Researchers have now assessed what they believe to be the optimal amount of structured, deliberate practice and the optimal amounts of deliberate “play “activities that best support the three stages of development.

At each of these stages there are different amounts of time devoted to deliberate practice and deliberate “play.” An athletes involvement with other activities beyond their main sport will also influence their development.

This Developmental Model of Sports Performance (DMSP) is consistent with general theories of child development (Paget, 1962 Vigotsky, 1978) that support the building blocks for physical, cognitive and emotional development.

When it comes to sports participation there are three natural outcomes, people either become…

  1. Recreational participants
  2. Elite participants
  3. Those who drop out

It has been shown that which one of these three outcomes individuals will experience is influenced heavily by the type of activities and contexts they experience during their three stages of development: sampling, specializing and investment (Cote et all, 2003 Cote & Hay, 2002)

This model (SMDP) has allowed researchers to asses what appears to be the optimal amount of deliberate practice and deliberate “play “at each stage of development. Simple repetition is insufficient, training activities must increase to a complexity just beyond current developmental stages.

Negative Consequences of Early Specialization

Early specialization is associated with dropping out in sports, while staying involved is supported by early diversification.

“A lack of enjoyment was the most common reason for withdrawal from sports altogether…”

When elite Russian swimmers were studied it was found that 9 and 10 year olds who began specialized training spent less time on their national team then the athlete who waited to begin specialized training until 13 or 14. These 9 and 10 year olds who specialized early also ended their sports careers earlier than athletes who started to specialize later in life (Bompa 2000).

A single focus on tennis at an early age contributed to withdrawal from the sport (Lochr, 1996).

Parents of hockey players, both active players and ones that dropped out (ages 6-13), found the players who dropped out spent more time in deliberate, specialized practice and training “off ice” (low enjoyment), than the expert athletes who experienced more “play “(Hodges and Deakin, 1998).

A lack of enjoyment was the most common reason for withdrawal from sports altogether (Ewing and Seefeldt, 1996).

The Value of “Play” During Early Development

Respected research has demonstrated that a significant component of the early sport experience of current elite athletes was a wide spread involvement in a range of both organized sports and deliberate “play “activities.

Researchers Cote and Hay defined deliberate “play “as an activity designed to maximize inherent personal enjoyment. Deliberate “play” activities are normally regulated by flexible rules, adapted from standardized sports rules, and they are normally set up by the participants involved in the activity.

John Brandsford, editor of How People Learn pointed out that “play” activities should promote “interest” over focusing on trying to make play fun. When “play “is interesting, individuals stay interested during their unwanted outcomes.

When involved with deliberate “play” there is less concern with the outcome of behavior than with the enjoyment of the behavior.

Deliberate “play “behavior in sport can have immediate value in terms of motivation to stay involved in sports and it also has benefits related to the ability to process information in various sporting situations.

Motivation based on self regulation (Ryan and Deci, 2000) supports the idea that early “intrinsically ” motivating behaviors (deliberate play) have a positive effect on staying motivated, becoming more self determined and being committed in future sport participation.

From a skill acquisition perspective, deliberate “play “serves as a way for athletes to explore their physical capacities in various contexts. This was found to be true for elite hockey players who spent more time in deliberate play than deliberate practice activities before the age of 20.

These findings also hold true for elite and recreational baseball players (Gilbert et all, 2002). The elite players were involved in more deliberate “play “than recreational players from ages 6 to 12.

When investigating 17 Australian rules football players who were elite players, classified as expert decision makers and 15 elite players classified as non-expert decision makers, the results showed that expert decision makers have invested a significant greater time in varied deliberate “play “activities playing basketball, football, hockey, all within a space of two years (Berry & Apernethy, 2003).

Deliberate “play “in various contexts will ultimately provide a broad foundation of skills that will help to overcome the physical and cognitive challenges of various sports as well as their main sport (DeKnop, Engstrom, Skistad, 1996).

Schmidt and Wrisberg (2000) suggested that transferable elements could be categorized into movement skills, perceptual skills and conceptual thinking skills.

  • Movements – biomechanical and anatomical actions.
  • Perceptual – environmental information that individuals are interpreting emotionally.
  • Conceptual – strategies, guidelines, rules.
  • Sports skills demands include:
  • Physical demands such as power.
  • Movement demands such as precision and esthetics.
  • Cognitive demands such as perception memory, or strategic capabilities.

These demands are developed more efficiently through deliberate “play” than structured deliberate practice


 – Highly respected throughout the international golf community, Michael consults on golf instruction to PGA America, Switzerland, Italy, France, Finland, Canada, Japan, Sweden, India, Australia, Chile, Costa Rica, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Czech Republic, Spain, and Denmark.
He has given instruction clinics at 30 PGA of America sections. Through his dedication Michael earned the honored status of becoming the 23rd PGA of America Master Professional. His book, See and Feel the Inside Move the Outside, was the first golf instruction book accepted as a PGA Master’s thesis.
Since then, he has written hundreds of articles for leading golf magazines and authored 4 other books and 3 DVDs. Golf Magazine and Golf Digest have consistently named Hebron as a member (since their first listings) of America’s Top 50 Instructors.

Golf Science LabAuthor: Golf Science Lab

There is far to much “mythology” involved in golf.
Most of it has no validity based on research or what’s ACTUALLY going on.

The Golf Science Lab is going to document the truth about golf and bring you the research directly from the scientists and researchers.

We’re talking about all aspects of golf science.

#1 – So you can learn what’s really going on in an entertaining way

#2 – So you can get better results in your game by going to the source.

That’s why we’re talking with academics and researchers and having that be the core of what we do. And then bring in coaches and instructors that understand how to practically apply the research to every day life.

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