This is Lesson #3 in a three-part series about key lessons I have learned while practicing the sport of golf. Be sure to read Lesson #1 – Results Matter and Lesson #2 – New Tech, Old Tech, Effective Tech if you haven’t already.
“Practice makes perfect.”
We’ve all heard the adage about the importance of practicing. Many of us have read Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in The Tipping Point about it taking 10,000 hours of experience to master a skill. It’s a tenet of learning theory that repetition of an activity leads to improving the ability to do that activity. We get it; practice is important.
But often we don’t think about the kind of practice we do and how it affects our results. I once had a coach who ranted on a weekly basis that we had to be cognizant of how we practice, not just focused on the amount of time we spend doing it. His version of the adage was “practice makes consistency” – in many cases, bad practice habits would lead to bad results.
Golf, like most sports, cannot be done well without a substantial amount of practice. Each shot on the course is different. Two shots may share the same yardage, but wind speed, tree branch length, and grass height can drastically change the way you approach the ball.
As an amateur golfer, I frequently find myself facing challenging shots that I have never experienced. For example, a tree in front of me might offer only a small clearing to shoot through, or large sand traps could be guarding the green ahead. Golf rarely gives you an easy shot, especially when you aren’t good enough to consistently keep the ball in the center of the course.
A professional golfer would have no trouble hitting his or her ball through the clearing or over the bunkers onto the green. The pros know exactly what their balls are going to do when they hit them, and as a result are able to change their swing speed, power, and form to resolve tricky situations. How can they do this? Because they have practiced those exact shots hundreds to thousands of times. Pro golfers practice intently on improving their ability to make difficult shots, so that they can consistently and confidently deal with problems when facing them on the actual course.
How do I practice golf? Well, I go to the driving range and hit the ball as hard as I can off the tee with my driver. I do this about 50-60 times, and then I leave. It should be no surprise, then, that I have problems hitting shots that aren’t on a tee and don’t use a driver. My practice does not address my actual gameplay needs. It is true that if I go to the driving range three times a week, then I am practicing, but it doesn’t matter if I am not practicing the right things.
Training and development professionals understand the importance of practice. We practice our presentations multiple times before sessions, we practice using our technology (e.g. ensuring our slides move correctly and the animations work), and we practice transitioning through the general structure of our trainings programs. This helps us feel more confident about our training sessions and certainly improves our ability as learning leaders.
However, there are many training leadership skills we do not practice, and instead rely on actual in-the-classroom experience to (hopefully) develop. These are components that we can practice outside of the real thing as part of our preparation checklists:
- Where and how we stand in the room (e.g. avoiding projectors)
- Other physical attributes of training leadership (facial expressions, how to hold your hands/arms, etc.)
- How to fix technological problems in the middle of a presentation
- How to fill time when we’ve gone through the content too quickly
- How to address interruptions in our training sessions (including safety preparation)
- What to do when nobody wants to participate in our activities
- How to deal with low participant turnout or too many attendees
These are examples of skills that we are not developing during our routines of reciting our presentation ten times or clicking through slides. We can practice these things and allow ourselves to be more prepared for anything that can happen. Consider expanding your thoughts on practice and preparation, and create even more confidence in your skills as a training leader.
Just like we can’t expect to hit a golf ball consistently without practicing that specific shot, we shouldn’t expect to execute our trainings and presentations at peak effectiveness without a targeted approach to our practice strategies.