A short video look at the Master’s golf tournament. You know, the one where you get the green jacket for winning. No, not that one…the mini golf one.
True story: I have won a mini golf tournament. It was an 18-hole affair, a 4th of July tourney at a campground in northwestern Wisconsin. At 16, I was the youngest competitor in the adult competition and had never before (or since) shown any aptitude for the game of golf, mini or otherwise. Somehow I beat the defending champion on his home course by one stroke. I declined to turn pro and promptly retired from competition.
The article about Dan McLaughlin’s quest to go from zero-to-PGA Tour through 10,000 hours of deliberate practice got linked around a bunch yesterday. Several people who pointed to it made a typical mistake. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hours theory in his book, he did not come up with it. It is not “Gladwell’s theory” and McLaughlin is not “testing Gladwell”. The 10,000 hours theory was developed and popularized by Dr. Anders Ericsson (here for instance) — who you may have heard of from this Freakonomics piece in the NY Times Magazine — before it became a pop culture tidbit by Gladwell’s inclusion of Ericsson’s work in Outliers.
Dan McLaughlin read about the 10,000 hour theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers — basically that it takes someone 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become really good at something — and decided to try it for himself. He plans to practice playing golf for six hours a day, six days a week, for six years in order to have a shot at making the PGA Tour. He’s already a year in.
Here’s how they have Dan trying to learn golf: He couldn’t putt from 3 feet until he was good enough at putting from 1 foot. He couldn’t putt from 5 feet until he was good enough putting from 3 feet. He’s working away from the hole. He didn’t get off the green for five months. A putter was the only club in his bag.
Everybody asks him what he shoots for a round. He has no idea. His next drive will be his first.
In his month in Florida, he worked as far as 50 yards away from the hole. He might — might — have a full set of clubs a year from now.
The good stuff doesn’t get going until around 3:00. The running swing technique increased Harrington’s distance by an average of 30 yards but his accuracy suffered. The split-screen view of his stationary and running swings is amazing…it’s the same swing.
Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well — about an extra stroke per tournament — when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, “exempt” players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger’s presence doesn’t mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th-there’s not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger’s hot streaks, when his competitors’ prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors’ scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger’s well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors’ scores were unaffected by Tiger’s presence.
Double-blind peer review, in which neither author nor reviewer identity are revealed, is rarely practised in ecology or evolution journals. However, in 2001, double-blind review was introduced by the journal Behavioral Ecology. Following this policy change, there was a significant increase in female first-authored papers, a pattern not observed in a very similar journal that provides reviewers with author information. No negative effects could be identified, suggesting that double-blind review should be considered by other journals.
In the journal Animal Behaviour, biologist Michael Steele at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania examines squirrels’ caching of nuts. While the furry-tailed creatures made a show of digging a hole in the ground and covering it with dirt and leaves when watched, one time out of five they were faking and nothing was buried.
The squirrels’ deception increased after their nut caches were raided.
Tiger Woods is playing the best golf of his career (and possibly anyone’s career) and he’s not getting credit for it because he’s not winning huge against a vastly improved field. “Woods of the ’90s played against great talent hindered by a lack serious training; today, Woods plays against great talent enhanced by serious training. The slack is largely gone, as is the reasonable expectation of double-digit victory.” He’s also come back after slumps due to swing tinkering, marriage, and the death of his father.
Their work, compiled in the “Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,” a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of cliches that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular cliches just happen to be true.
Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task — playing a C-minor scale 100 times, for instance, or hitting tennis serves until your shoulder pops out of its socket. Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.
“Deliberate practice” reminds me of a video game a bunch of my friends are currently hooked on called Brain Age. Available for the handheld Nintendo DS, Brain Age is based on a Japanese brain training “game” developed by Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. The game measures the “age” of your brain based on your performance of simple tasks like memorizing a list of words or addition of small numbers. As you practice (deliberately), you get faster and more skilled at solving these mini-games and your brain age approaches that of a smarty-pants, twitchy-fingered teenager.
Speaking of talented teenagers, this week’s New Yorker contains an article (not online) on Ivan Lendl’s golfing daughters. In it, Lendl agrees that talent is created, not born:
“Can you create athletes, or do they just happen?” [Lendl] asked me not long ago. “I think you can create them, and I think that Tiger Woods’s father proved that. People will sometimes ask me, ‘How much talent did you have in tennis?’ I say, ‘Well, how do you measure talent?’ Yeah, sure, McEnroe had more feel for the ball. But I knew how to work, and I worked harder than he did. Is that a talent in itself? I think it is.”
Translation: there’s more than one way to be good at something. There’s something very encouraging and American about it, this idea that through hard work, you can become proficient and talented at pretty much anything.