Practicing Practice

I’ve never been good at practicing. Anything. Not only do I hate practicing, it never seems to help me. Now, I admit that I’ve probably always expected immediate results, which I know is unrealistic. But that’s too bad.

There is one exception to this, and that is if I can practice by actually participating in the activity. I have no issue with this at all. In fact, I can sometimes even manage to practice alone by competing against myself, if possible. But I know that this is simply not the same as routine practice, such as specific skill drills.

As I’ve apparently only rarely mentioned, I participate in a pool league once a week. We play both 8-ball and 9-ball and I’m a fairly decent player. Even though I have a pool table at my house, I never practice. It used to be that I would at least play some 9-ball by myself, but that was mostly a waste of time as I wouldn’t really focus. I certainly would never do any of the drills that are often suggested.

I hate the driving range. Hate. Hate. Hate. Practicing chips and putts is not quite so bad, but I’d rather just play a few holes. Or 18. Though the obvious decline in my game over the last several years argues that this “improve through play” system is no longer working for me.

OK, I guess I technically practice photography in as much as I often just take pictures of random things to experiment with techniques and settings. However, even then I’m always looking for interesting subjects for my photo blog. Certainly if I’m going to be taken some portraits I try to take some test shots before hand. I suppose this comes as close to practice as anything I do. Perhaps this is just an indication that I take photography more seriously than my other endeavors?

While I do make sure to log a reasonable amount of time in these activities before a scheduled event, it’s more about simply participating in the activity than about training for the event.

I’m not even sure how I would go about practicing racquetball. I would like to play twice a week instead of my current once a week, though.

I haven’t really played bridge since we moved back to Austin over ten years ago. I miss it. This is something I actually did practice, though practicing was usually in the form of casual play. But sometimes I would create contrived hands to practice bidding, with my more experienced partner critiquing my choices.

Of course, this is last example is mental practice rather than physical practice, which makes it distinctly different from the other examples (except photography, perhaps). That naturally brings up the parallel of studying in school as a form of practice. And that was another thing I generally avoided. It worked out fine, and I don’t certainly have no regrets with my current status in life, but I do occasionally wonder what might have happened had I had the wherewithal to really apply myself. Perhaps that’s a topic for another time.


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  1. #1 by kapgar on April 9, 2009 - 1:58 pm

    I’m just the opposite regarding golf. I prefer the driving range to playing a few holes or an entire round of golf. Weird, eh?


    • #2 by Ren on April 11, 2009 - 8:40 pm

      kapgar – That’s crazy talk! Booked my first tee time of the year for next Wednesday. Looking forward to it.


  2. #3 by Suzi on April 10, 2009 - 1:23 pm

    Brigde?!? Ren plays bridge?! I love bridge. Although arguably, I haven’t played since before the kids came along. Funny, that’s just about the last time that I golfed also. But I don’t LOVE golf.


    • #4 by Ren on April 11, 2009 - 8:41 pm

      Suzi – Really? Well, then, perhaps we need to find a couple of other people with similar interest and get together. Bridge, that is, not complaining about golf. šŸ™‚


  3. #5 by kilax on April 10, 2009 - 11:25 pm

    Yeah, this is kind of unrelated… but I really miss playing racquetball!

    I was awful at practicing the violin when I played! Like you though, I get it done if I practice by playing, like with our fencing classes.


    • #6 by Ren on April 11, 2009 - 8:43 pm

      kilax – My daughter is taking the violin at school (5th grade). It seems like she only practices about five minutes a day, and I’m almost certain that isn’t anywhere near enough….


      • #7 by kilax on April 12, 2009 - 7:47 am

        Hee hee. Probably. I think they said 30 minutes a day when I was in school! šŸ˜‰


  4. #8 by whall on April 11, 2009 - 2:37 pm

    I like practicing just everything I do that I want to get better at. I find it fun to try to find creative ways to practice.

    Take this comment for example. Result of years of practice comments. See?


    • #9 by Ren on April 11, 2009 - 8:47 pm

      whall – Hmm… how should I say this? Years? Don’t give up your day job in favor of a paid commenting gig, OK?



  5. #10 by martymankins on April 13, 2009 - 11:13 am

    As an avid golfer, I’d like to say that for over 10 years now, I’ve practiced a lot. And I can also tell you that the driving range hasn’t helped my game get any better. Playing a round of 9 holes does much better for my game.


    • #11 by Ren on April 17, 2009 - 9:25 am

      martymankins – I think what I’d really like to do would be to play about three holes right before I play a round of 18.


  6. #12 by Toben on April 13, 2009 - 1:45 pm

    The point about the lack of effectiveness of “improve through play” and the resulting “…obvious decline in my [golf] game over the last several years…” assumes that either:

    a) “improve through play” was what contributed to your better play before the decline; or
    b) you did some form of practicing outside the scope of play before the decline which, while miserable for you, was the cause of your better play.

    I don’t think either is true, though, because you’ve always done about the same amount of range practice and I don’t think your ability to practice during play has been any different over the years. More likely is that you’re even most results oriented now than before due to experience. Meaning, you know more clearly what you’re capable of and what needs to be done on a particular shot, so you’re more impatient with the execution. As a result, you act more quickly over the ball, leading to poorer average results than if you deliberated more because you were interested in trying to come to a conclusion about what to do. So knowledge is not bliss…

    As for bridge, lately I’ve been wanting to play myself, so I’m game for some matches if you need an opponent (might be able to scrounge an old partner up) or a partner. As for practicing, I used to read the Times bridge column in college to see if I could guess correct bidding and leadoff strategy, which was fun enough to do habitually. It used to come out three times a week, not sure anymore….


    • #13 by Ben on April 13, 2009 - 9:19 pm

      That was a pretty amazing description of what I think actually happens during a round to Ren. He definitely seems less patient on the course these days (which is no mean feat, since he’s always been quick around the course — as long as he doesn’t lose his ball). But I think that that’s a symptom of his own conviction that he’s not getting better and forsees no way of getting better since he hates practice. Even more subtle pressure is brought to bear by the fact that you, Toben, do seem to be getting better — and apparently, without practice — (and even I, in one shining moment, seemed to exhibit unexpected possibilities). I think this is affecting Ren’s game exactly how it affected mine last year when I felt basically the same way (until I started practicing :-). It’s depressing to feel like this.

      But I will also say now that Ren will almost certainly disagree with my hypothesis.

      My punchline: the only way out is either good practicing (and learning to like it) or not caring. I don’t think we are capable of not caring.

      Good practicing requires access to some resource (online, in person or otherwise) that gives you useful corrections and feedback to how you’re swinging.

      But I apologize for my very serious post.


      • #14 by Toben on April 13, 2009 - 10:08 pm

        Yes indeed, WAY too serious to be the real Ben! Did you write a script to auto-compose less sarcasm laden replies for you? And did I hear a feint “Ahem, 76, cough, cough, 76!” in there somewhere? šŸ™‚

        I very much agree with you that for Ren the only path to the golf nirvana of yore is through one of the extremes: complete apathy or renewed passion. The paradox is that renewed passion for Ren can only come through a pattern of success. He needs a few of those old monster rounds (read: very low 80s) to galvanize him enough to care about the process again and thus to work systematically on improving his game. Apathy, as you said, is just not an option for us–the fact that we’re out there nearly every week belies any outward showing of apathy.

        I’ve got a lot more to say, but my private golf instructor just reminded me that I scheduled a two hour fairway bunker session from 11 PM to 1 AM so I need stretch and meditate to prepare… ba-dum ching! šŸ˜›


      • #15 by Ren on April 17, 2009 - 9:29 am

        Toben, Ben – words, words, words….

        I will say that the biggest difference I’m aware of between now and when I was playing well is that I’m much less confident of my ability now. Of course, that’s more likely a result of the decline than a cause.

        I’ll stick with my theory that playing at Avery Ranch all the time is just bad for my game. Or, perhaps that course just requires more frequent play than I have done.


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