A post by Jonah Lehrer about thinking under pressure links deliberate practice with another of my favorite concepts, relaxed concentration. For novice golfers, thinking more about a putt increases their chances of making it. But for experts, thinking about the mechanics of the putt in the same way makes it less likely that they’ll sink it.
Rather than think about the mechanical details of their swing, [expert] golfers should focus on general aspects of their intended movement, or what psychologists call a “holistic cue word”. For instance, instead of contemplating things like the precise position of the wrist or elbow, they should focus on descriptive adjectives like “smooth” or “balanced”. An experimental trial demonstrated that professional golfers who used these “holistic cues” did far better than golfers who consciously tried to control their stroke.
Related: a reader recommended George Leonard’s Mastery as a good read about deliberate practice. (thx, jd)
Update: Another recommendation: Inner Tennis. kottke.org reader Stuart says:
Reading this book a couple of years ago quite honestly transformed my tennis game: I am good at deliberate practice, which had allowed me to become technically very sound, but until then I was completely unable to consciously enter a state of relaxed concentration and execute in a match situation: I was a classic “over thinker”. Gallwey’s book treats relaxed concentration as a skill to be deliberately practiced, and gives an approach to do so. Highly recommended, and fascinating for any (thoughtful) sportsman.