As you know, I keep a bit of an eye on ‘The Dan Plan’, the guy who is trying to become a professional golfer by doing 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. My initial post on the topic was related to putting, putting practice and specificity. Sometime after that, our hero Dan posted twice on his blog (here and here) about in follow up to the initial theme.
The short version of the idea is that learning is more effective when there are consequences during practice. The theory goes that consequences illicit emotions and emotion is important in processing memory. Hence, if you do something in practice that you hasn’t triggered an emotion, you are less likely to remember it and therefore less likely to be able to recall the necessary response under pressure. As Dan goes on in the second of the posts, practice is then conducted with ‘consequences’.
This obviously sounds like something we know well, the use of penalties for losing drills. Until now I have heard of two reasons for using penalties in drills. One is that ‘consequences’, both negative and positive make a drill more gamelike, and hence create better (ie more specific) learning conditions. And two, ‘consequences’ increase motivation and therefore learning readiness in practice. Even the simple act of having competition in practice is provides consequences as you identify a winner and a loser, although for these purposes perhaps the penalty provides a greater emotional reaction.
It is certainly my experience that players who are emotionally invested in practice perform better. Perhaps this is the reason. Either way, it is food for thought.