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Deliberate Practice

Thanks to a post two days ago Geoff Shackelford’s golf blog , I learned two days ago about Golfer in Training Dan McLaughlin and The Dan Plan. Shackelford linked to an article by Michael Kruse three weeks ago in the St. Petersburg Times. As Kruse explains:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”

The idea appealed to Dan. His 9-to-5 job as a commercial photographer had become unfulfilling. He didn’t want just to pay his bills. He wanted to make a change.

Could he stop being one thing and start being another? Could he, an average man, 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, become a pro golfer, just by trying? Dan’s not doing an experiment. He is the experiment.

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

Dan spent last month in St. Petersburg because winters are winters in the Pacific Northwest. “If I could become a professional golfer,” he said one afternoon, “the world is literally open to any options for anybody.”

According to Dan, “talent has little to do with success.” He elaborates at his website:

According to research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, “Elite performers engage in ‘deliberate practice’–an effortful activity designed to improve target performance.” Dr. Ericsson’s studies, made popular through Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, have found that in order to excel in a field, roughly 10,000 hours of “stretching yourself beyond what you can currently do” is required. “I think you’re the right astronaut for this mission,” Dr. Ericsson said about The Dan Plan.

I once enjoyed Gladwell’s articles in The New Yorker. He is, after all, such a talented writer. But I’ve tired more recently of his continuing quest to find explanations for assorted phenomena that are simultaneously novel and all-encompassing. I haven’t read Ericsson’s work, but I can’t imagine he intended for it to be applied, as Gladwell does, to explain Bill Gates’ success as resulting from the 10,000 hours he spent programming computers while in high school.

Nonetheless, I love the Dan Plan. Dan expects to “hit the 10,000 hour milestone by November of 2015. During this time, Dan plans to develop his skills through deliberate practice, eventually winning amateur events and obtaining his PGA Tour card through a successful appearance in the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School, or ‘Q-School’. I’ll be watching.

In the meantime, I have my own plan to attend to. This is blog post number 792. Just 9208 more before I hit my own 10,000 milestone and become a professional writer. Watch out, Malcolm. The New Yorker may not have room for both of us.

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Categories: Golf, Life, Writing
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