Specific Preparation

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Preparing Specifically

Looking at the preparation phase of our “Yearly Training Plans”

I have yet to meet a motivated athlete who was not intent on getting better and developing their skills. At this time of year, we spend considerable attention determining just who our athletes want to become and what habits they would like to adopt. We wanted to write this piece to support our athletes in this exciting phase of the year where we can work diligently on establishing new habits and lay the foundation for the growth we’ll experience in future months.

Depending on how one uses their time, it is possible to grow towards exactly what we want to become. Skills will evolve with every repetition, habits change (or stay the same!) with every action. A person at the end of a good year of training should be quite different from the one who started the year.

At the same time, this constant changing is tempered by a person’s essence – those innate traits and characteristics which make you “you” and which never really change. Player development is really about supporting a player’s evolution while acknowledging their essence.

In order to help an athlete develop into the person they want to become, it helps so much to set out a good plan with their coaches and support team – a plan which outlines who they want to become. The next step is that they will have to exhibit behaviors and actions that make these changes happen. It’s a simple process, but it is often overlooked or avoided because it takes time and effort.

In our sessions we refer to this plan for each athlete as the “Yearly Training Plan”. We have just spent a few months doing the research, measurements and reflections that go into formulating the plan, and now it’s time to take action.

When planning the Yearly Training Plan (YTP), we divide the work into phases – and each phase has its own type of effort on the part of the athlete and his team.

Here’s a list of the phases in a way which is generally accepted, but of course there are variations necessitated by different climates, ages, skill level, etc…

  1. “General Preparatory” – November and December
  2. Specific Preparatory“– January, February and March
  3. “Pre Competitive” – April, May, and early June
  4. “Main Competitive” – Late June, July and August
  5. “Transition Phase” – Late August and September
  6. “Reflection Phase” – October

( Source: PGA of Canada – “CDC reference material”)

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The phase upon us now is called the “Specific Preparation” (SP) Phase, and we thought we should publish this post to support our athletes who are embarking on these next months of focused, deliberate, work.

What is this phase all about?

Within the context of a full year of planning, the actions that make up this phase are unique. More like the work of a carpenter, the work at this phase of the year is extremely deliberate and purposeful. Careful attention is paid to getting movements and positions just right, and repeating this so as to condition new movement patterns that will take these skills to new horizons.

The concept of conditioning is central to this time of year – extremely conscious work focused on achieving new sensations or repeating trusted ones. As Dan Coyle would put it, this is the time to build “Myelin“– a process of reinforcing the circuitry in our nervous system to allow movements to move from conscious control to automatic function.

This is a phase filled with drills and exercises which, to an outsider, may seem boring and repetitive.   “How much fun can it be to repeat the same movements over and over for hours” these onlookers ask.  But what they don’t see is the fun that comes from this type of work months later, when skills are established and can be executed subconsciously.  To athletes devoted to mastery, these months of drills and workouts are recognized for their important role in cementing their swing style into the realm of subconscious execution. The effortless swings of the competitive phase in July will be built from the efforts in the preparation phase of the winter months.

This is a time of year where athletes can make great shifts in terms of shaping their swings and shaping their bodies.  The best use of your time over these 9-12 weeks is to focus all of your energy into as few thoughts as possible. Your work should include one or two moments in your swing, one or two goals in the gym, and a few actions geared towards developing your mindset. Focus all your energy on one “pool” and work to dive as deeply into them as you can

Regardless of the content of the work, the goal is the same – to get countless repetitions of good movements so as to be able to rely on these movements under the stress of competition.

 

Suggestions to guide you in this phase of development:

Dive Deeply Into Small Pools

During this early phase of the year, you will surely need to resist the urge to move on to new things. It’s inevitable after a few practice sessions that you’ll begin to seek out new things to master. “I think I’m ready to work on the next thing now” -we’ll be tempted to say. But don’t let a few sessions fool you into believing that you’re ready for new challenges. Instead of moving on, dive deeper into the same pool.

The end result of this very mindful process is an honest mastery of specific skills, an “ownership” of the desired movements that enables us to perform them subconsciously when we’re competing in our competitive phases. Over a process of many years, there should be no rush to move onto new challenges. Mastery is only possible when you have spent long hours of deep practice fixated on fundamental skills.

Blocked and Internally Focused

The indoor preparation phase is perfectly suited so that athletes can focus internally on their movements in ways that are complicated by the outdoor, playing, phases. In this indoor phase, athletes can open up the hood of their car and tinker with the engines without fear, because their cars won’t be racing anytime soon.

Blocked practice refers to a style of training with a high volume of repetitions done in a consistent manner. Unlike random training, there is very little switching of variables when we block train. You might use the same club, with a big pile of balls, same target, same swing thought, over and over.

Internal practice refers to the fact that your mind is aware of the internal functioning of your body rather than obsessed with external concepts like targets, club positions, or the elements. Internal training is where an athlete is completely absorbed in the movements they are developing and they can feel their body doing them.

Slow, Mindful, Practice Gets You There Faster

As we work to master new movements it’s important to go slowly and get it right as often as you can. The quality of repetition will far outweigh the quantity of ball contacts. Work in slow motion, close your eyes, wear earplugs, and take your time between repetitions. Work to coordinate the thoughts in your mind with the movements in your body. Work to keep your attention on one concept, and be mindful of the things that interfere with this process.

While it is tempting to swing as many times as possible in the hopes of maximizing your output, the truth is that slow moving and mindful practice will always trump rapid-fire practice sessions. The reason is that fast moving practice has no relevance to golf skills, largely because it doesn’t allow us the time to coordinate both body and mind for each shot. In general, move slower and with clear intentions for every shot.

Organize Your Time.

Experiment with different types of training journal or ways of reflecting on your practice time. Figure out ways to get repetitions of high quality as often as you can, and this is eased when you learn to manage your time with efficiency and direction.

This phase comes in a time of year where planning and organizing are crucial. With a well thought out Yearly Training Plan, athletes can ensure that their “ball contacts” are of the utmost efficiency. This phase includes looking into competitive calendars, adhering to our YTP plan of actions, and various management skills to organize the practice time. Critical to this time of year is the existence of and adherence to weekly training logs – a means to monitoring our actions on a consistent and ongoing basis.

Conclusion

We can all be optimistic in these winter months that this coming year will be one filled with performances commensurate with our potential.   But now is the time to start turning your ideas into actions. If personal bests and peak performance is on your horizon, the path is unquestionable paved through mindful, deep, practice and strategic effort. With the help of a good coaching team and a clearly laid out plan, all that remains for the athlete is the hard work.

A year in the life of an athlete is all about growth.  The key is to grow towards something, with intentionality.  Once the intention is established, all that remains is to marry our attention to that direction…

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