After a few hours with a new game on a smartphone, your fingers can learn to rapidly perform complex series of motions without much thought and near perfect accuracy. Part of the reason is that human brains like figuring out patterns, solving puzzles, and receiving a reward for it. This simple use of positive feedback can be used to train yourself for anything from daily learning goals to improving your golf performance in a healthy and uplifting way. You can gamify your own golf playing by gathering metrics, setting goals, and rewarding yourself for the effort.
Gamers use metrics and repetition to refine their gameplay. Good game designers use those metrics to adjust the game to be the right mix of challenge and reward. If you’re trying to gamify your golf, you’ll need to do both.
One way to get your metrics gathered is hitting your favorite golf course or shooting range to get your performance in a real world setting. If you’re an avid golfer, you probably already do this to a degree by saving your scorecards. To get a better picture from the same effort, take a map of the course and plot out the ball landing locations with the stroke count and distance.
Another way is to use launch monitors to assess the minute details of your swing. You might find these at an indoor golfing location, but there are versions that are semi-affordable for serious golfers aspiring to be professionals. There are companies that make a range of great personal launch monitors that can track everything from the angle of your club when it hits to the spin of the ball as it flies.
Set Up Goals and Rewards
Once you know how to gather the metrics you care about, the next step is setting up the carrots that lead you forward. Goals should be a mix of habit-forming goals, short-term checkpoints, and long-term milestones. One simple example is starting with a round every other week as a habit-forming goal, taking one stroke off of your best score on your home course as a short-term goal, while making your best score 3 strokes lower could be the long-term goal.
More veteran golfers can narrow down their goals to pinpoint their efforts. If putting is your weak point, you can spend a couple hours on golf days completing putting practice, recording metrics like the position of your putts and how many putts it takes you to send the ball home. The habit-forming goal would be completing the practice as scheduled, a short-term goal could be making a putt from a certain distance, while a long-term goal could be reducing the number of putts it takes you to sink the ball from a specific test position.
The rewards you choose are just as important as the goals. As you might expect, the value of each reward should be scaled to the type of goal. A golfer looking to practice every weekend might have a nice dinner at their favorite restaurant afterwards as a reward. When they reach a long-term goal like a dramatic improvement in their short game, the reward could be a new putter. There is no wrong or right goal, as long as it motivates you to complete the task, does not make you feel too bad if you miss it, and makes you feel good when you get it.
Practice and Track
With a plan in place, it’s time to get your head in the game. Record the relevant metrics each time you practice, and don’t be afraid to mark down any missed trips to the course or lower than normal performance. While those can feel like they’ll make reaching your goal harder, seeing where your performance dips is just as important as watching it rise. You might have made a switch to your swing that is actually hindering you, or you may be overdoing the practice and unintentionally setting yourself up for failure.
Keep a smart device or notepad in your golf kit specifically for the purpose of tracking your metrics. It can help to have a more permanent data storage location, like a spreadsheet in a Cloud drive. If you use a personal launch monitor, you will likely be able to review past swings, though the number of stored swings and how long the data remains will vary with the model. The important thing is to make recording the metrics during practice a minor hiccup instead of an inconvenience that becomes tiresome.
Compare and Revise
With your data in hand, you can begin to compare your performance to the goals you set earlier. First look to see if you met your goals, and give yourself that well-deserved reward if you have. If you see yourself struggling to meet a goal, you can decide if it’s something that needs more effort or if it should be adjusted to something more attainable.
Gamers who dedicate themselves to metrics and practice can quickly burn out. Gamification is a great tool, but don’t use it to the detriment of your enjoyment while you play the game. Remember that fun is the real goal, and one more birdie on a Sunday is not worth sacrificing that joy.