The Role of Deliberate Practice in Developing Adolescent Golfing Excellence

Hayman, Rick (2012) The Role of Deliberate Practice in Developing Adolescent Golfing Excellence. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The acquisition of expert performance has been studied for decades across a range of human performance domains. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed a theoretical framework termed the theory of deliberate practice to account for the characteristics and developmental experiences of individuals who acquire exceptional levels of performance in any discipline. This theory proposes that acquiring expertise across any domain is the result of undertaking an extensive acquisition period of approximately ten years involving the accumulation of thousands of hours of physically and mentally demanding practice regimes whilst overcoming effort, motivational and resource constraints that serve as barriers to the attainment of elite performance. Therefore, this thesis aimed to contribute to the under researched area of golf development systems by examining the applicability of deliberate practice theory in acquiring elite male adolescent golfer status.

The first study, of four, utilised self-report diary logs to reveal the durations, types and intensities of golf activities undertaken by nine aspiring elite adolescent golfers over a nine month period and compared actual and retrospective accounts. In total, 62 percent of all golf activities were classified as either golf competitions or competitive practice rounds undertaken with high amounts of physical and mental effort and fun. This approach to development was beneficial for lowering the golf handicaps of several participants. Results reveal the performance improvements which aspiring elite adolescent golfers experienced whilst engaging with regular golf competitions and practice rounds instead of deliberate practice specific activities. However, such improvements did plateau once performers reached a handicap approaching two. Retrospective recall was also revealed as an accurate method to determine volumes and conditions of golf activities undertaken over a nine month period. Non-significant differences were revealed between actual and recalled data (training volumes p = 0.94, physical effort p = 0.83, mental effort p = 0.44, and fun p = 0.13) and effect sizes were small ranging (d = 0.03 – 0.31)

The second study retrospectively examined the sports participation and practice trends of current elite adolescent male English golfers. It was found how these individuals tended not to participate within golf specific deliberate practice regimes until the mid-teenage years and instead encountered a diversified introduction to several sports, which included golf, within a playful, fun, non-competitive environment that resembled key tenets of deliberate play theory (Côté, 1999). A change in emphasis towards on-going golf development occurred around the age of 16 when exposure with golf specific deliberate practice became more evident once participants had gained selection for county and English Golf Union representative golf teams.

The third study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to explore the experiences of golfers who had all successfully travelled the path from novice to elite adolescent golfer status. Four super-ordinate themes emerged from participants accounts which revealed how elite adolescent golfers experienced supportive parents and a diversified enjoyable introduction to a range of sports. This was followed by a self-determined commitment to golf in the mid teenage years and a strategic approach to developing excellence which recognised the important role that psychology may play post 16 years of age.

The forth study aimed to discover if the introduction of a golf specific deliberate practice intervention would improve putting performance and influence future practice behaviours of five aspiring elite adolescent golfers who had no prior experience of specialised golf training protocols. Participants completed a 13 week AB single-subject multiple-baseline design, social validation measures and five month follow up interviews. Mean putting performance was significantly higher (t4 = 6.94, p = .002, d = 3.12) in the intervention phase (M = 6.20, SD = 0.51) than the baseline phase (M = 4.64, SD = 0.57). All participants enjoyed undertaking deliberate practice, experienced a range of psychological and technical improvements, adapted current training schedules to mirror deliberate practice and committed long term to activities of this nature.

In conclusion, the findings of the four empirical studies within this thesis suggest long term deliberate practice is not a pre-requisite throughout childhood and the early teenage years for securing selection within international adolescent golf squads. However, engagement in deliberate practice post 16 years of age was found to be an important training strategy for the continued performance development of emerging and elite level adolescent golfers. The pathway to elite adolescent status more closely resembled Côté’s (1999) deliberate play theory with sampling during early childhood, specialising during early teenage years, and investment in later teenage years. The collective findings of this thesis may provide players, coaches, applied sport psychologists and policy makers involved within golf talent development systems with clearer insights into conditions of participation and practice that appear optimal for achieving adolescent golfing excellence.

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