In fact my two passions at the moment, Golf and Table Tennis both fit that description.
Both of these activities ritually humiliate and frustrate me.
Golf is well known for being a difficult and frustrating sport. To master it is difficult as it’s a very technical game and a lot of the movements necessary to perform a really good golf swing consistently are a little counter-intuitive compared to the movements we are used to making in our everyday lives.
I won’t go into details here as this is not meant to be an article about golf (though will be a very useful article nevertheless for any golfers out there as you will see shortly) but rather about the quest for improvement, especially when that quest is up against a really big challenge.
I also won’t be writing much about Table Tennis here aside from saying – take a second look – it really is an amazing sport, nothing like what I thought it was, when you start to look at the game properly – ‘proper’ table tennis as opposed to holiday table tennis. Perhaps a subject for another article one day.
Systems make your practice disciplined and repeatable, and give you something you can fine tune and improve (your system) which will lead to even further efficiency in your quest to improve in your training.
The Only Two Trend That Matter acknowledges that you won’t always improve in a straight line. There will be ups and downs. The important thing to remember here is that as long as overall you are moving forward, then overall you are moving in the right direction – i.e. you are improving. The other way of looking at a complex endeavour is to break it down into small pieces. It may be that whilst you are improving in one aspect of something, other aspects are getting worse. This could be fine as long as your focus is one the one thing you are working on. Once you have perfected that (or gotten as far as you wanted to) then you can move on to address something else. Eventually everything should come together and the ability to break things down and focus in on one piece at a time can often be a good way to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
What Does it Take to Really Improve at Something?
10,000 hours of practice? There is that theory out there and after reading ‘Bounce‘, ‘The Talent Code‘ and a few other books on the subject, I do think that practice and dedication to that practice (as well as making sure it is both focused practice and the right kind of practice) is really key.
But something else which I think is important is being able to get and work with feedback from your practice sessions and keep on moving forward. This is essentially a combination of creating a system, possibly a system that gamifies your practice to add focus and ideally put something at stake (therefore also practicing ‘match’ or pressure situations in case that is relevant) and then as part of that system to have some way of interpreting the feedback you get from the session. If that feedback is the results of your efforts, then ideally find a way of quantifying those results.
Quick Example – Making Your Training/Practice More Focused
OK, I did say I wasn’t going to mention Table Tennis but I am going to give you a quick example from my Table Tennis training. Practicing serve. Let’s say I want to practice a particular serve (A short Pendulum Serve with backspin). Instead of just practicing that serve for a period of time, I could challenge myself to take a set number of serves, say 20 and then to count how many of those serves I can get to meet certain criteria I set to define success, say for these serves to bounce 3 times or more on the opponents side of the table (which would indicate in this case a decent short serve with enough backspin to bounce 3 times before reaching the end of the table). This way, I have created some data which I can use to improve upon (i.e. how many serves out of 20 I can make that meet my success criteria). This is the difference between focused practice (taking it seriously, giving myself a target or challenge) and just practice. With such data I can then track my improvement and either try and increase my ‘score’ or increase the difficulty of the exercise. Continuing down this path with discipline should see measurable improvement in the skills.
What Gets Measured Gets Improved
So you kind of got the point here, what gets measured gets improved. By ‘gamifying’ the practice (of anything – it could just as well be learning a new language as practicing a sport) we create not only measurable feedback which can help track and further improvement but we should also be increasing the focus of our practice and making it more enjoyable.
Back to the title of the article. In the game of golf there are a few things we can track automatically thanks to technology. You can employ a launch monitor which will tell you how far you have hit the ball, what spin you have imparted on the ball and therefore what the flight path of the ball will be, the launch angle of the ball and a number of other similar statistics. Launch monitors are excellent pieces of kit but the best ones can be quite expensive.
Here is where the great tip for golfers comes in…
What’s not really very expensive at all (at least in golfing terms) is a little device called Zepp. It is pretty amazing. You put it on the back of your glove and it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how you are swinging the golf club. You then also get free training videos with short drills telling you how to correct any swing faults. You also get a record over time of how you are doing – i.e. all of your swings are tracked, therefore making it easier to work on improvements.
Getting Obsessed With Stats
- The danger here with these kind of systems & devices (whether self-created or a piece of technology like the launch monitor or Zepp device) is that we can become obsessed with the stats. This can have 2 negative outcomes:
We become so obsessed with improving a given measurement that we will do anything to improve that measurement. When this starts to go outside the realms of normality for that endeavour (e.g. in the game of golf an obviously incorrect swing but one that gives you the result you are looking for for a given statistic) – then we’re not improving, we’re just ‘gaming the system’
- We look at the stats without understanding what they are really telling us. The data is just a means to an end – it is an enabler which is there to give you clues as to what is happening with your progress. In some cases the data may be directly related to the improvement you are looking for (e.g. number of new vocab words learned whilst trying to learn a new language) but in some more complex scenarios, the data has a more indirect relationship to the improvement you are looking for and in these cases it’s important to understand what exactly that data is telling you in order to get the right kind of focused practice
If you really want to improve at something, then you need to practice. You need to practice a lot. You need to keep motivated in this practice and to recognise that, particularly for anything complex it will get frustrating at times and your improvement is highly unlikely to progress in a straight line.
Your practice needs to be focused. Careless, unfocused practice will have a fraction of the impact on your improvement than decent, focused practice will have, so the more focus you have in your practice the better.
The more focus you have in your practice, the more you will notice and be able to benefit from feedback, whether in terms of the outcomes and results of your practice or actual data you can measure.
You can create measurable data for your practice yourself by gamifying your training or by using technology to provide you with the data.
Recording data (including video and/or audio data which is very easy these days and a great way to analyse your progress in anything that lends itself to being recorded in either format) and comparing the changes in that data over time is a great way to track your improvement, but make sure that you are interpreting the data correctly and focusing on the improvements you are looking for with the help of the data rather than simply becoming obsessed with the data.
With such a system and the discipline to follow it then you simple can’t fail to improve!