10-Minute Ways to Unleash Your Inner Athlete

The basic premise that "practice makes perfect" holds true. Just getting out there made a big difference (far from perfect, but at least moving in the right direction).
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How much can you improve in a sport in just 10 minutes a day? Every month I pick a different goal and spend 10 minutes a day on it. The goal is almost always motivated by frustration -- a perpetually messy house inspired Declutter Month. Not having a handle on our finances led to Money Month.

A lackluster golf game was my motivation for September...

I had just had too many embarrassing mornings at the par-3 course. Most people who play the par-3 are not uber-competitive and are just out to have fun. The problem was, I wasn't having fun. Playing six or seven times a year meant I wasn't getting any better, and each shot was a mystery -- why did one ball go left, another right and what was the magic behind the one that went straight down the fairway?

So I declared September my month to see what I could do about it. I decided that at the end of the month I'd improve and decide to continue playing, or not improve and decide to quit, or not improve and decide to just keep playing for the fun of it (unlikely, since very little fun was being had).

I set out to spend 10 minute a day trying to improve, or at least getting to know, my game. There are limits to what you can do in a 10-minute window. You can't play a course, but you can...
  • Hit 20 balls at the driving range.
  • Watch a video or two on driving/pitching/putting, etc.
  • Practice putting at the public course's practice green.
  • Practice my grip on the car steering wheel (sadly, I can do that for far more than 10 minutes a day while stuck in L.A. traffic).

The point was to get my head in the game for a few minutes a day -- slowly understanding my game better, getting a little more consistent, visualizing how it's supposed to look and praying that it all comes together.

While my 10 minute examples are a bit golf-specific, the spirit of them translates to other sports -- visualizing, reading or watching proper technique, practicing a swing or a toss. There are so many videos (usually 10 minutes or less) on throwing a baseball, improving your tennis swing, exercises to strengthen your throwing arm, proper running form, etc. All this helps get your mind and body in the game. And after building a little confidence, it can translate into a social activity that you actually want to do.

My hope was that my score would improve, but also that I'd have other residual benefits, too. As it turns out, I was happily surprised on a few fronts...

  • A new kind of family time: For me to find 10 minutes, one day I told my son we'd need to stop at the driving range after school. He is not a golfer, so I thought there'd be a little whining. Instead, he asked if he could get a bucket of balls, too, and hit some himself. Well, he hit a whole bucket and asked to come back the next day, too. We've been a few times and I may have a new recruit. It never would have happened had I not been doing my 10 minutes of golf.
  • Familiarity: just doing something golf-related regularly kept it fresh so there wasn't that fear of getting back to it. It felt like I was building momentum. I know this is true in the rest of my life as well -- dabbling regularly in our home finances makes it less daunting than if I only look at it when desperate.
  • Confidence: Dedicating just a little time a day, I felt more prepared and capable. When I did go out to the par-3 at the end of the month, I felt a little surer that I knew what I was doing.
  • A new kind of "friend" time: Now that my game is a little more respectable, I'm more likely to suggest a round at the par-3 as a place to get together. Rather than lunch or coffee, golf can be a way to catch up with friends and do something sporty, too.
  • Control: I used to have a feeling like, "Who knows what's going to happen out there today?" Bad shots were a mystery -- I had no idea how they happened or what to do about them. After the month, I began to understand my game a little better.
  • Indulged: If only for 10 minutes a day. It was nice to take a break from the have-tos of the day and do something just for me.
And finally, drum roll please...
  • Accomplished: I got better! Before September, I was hitting around 40 (sometimes as high as 45) on the par-3 course (that's about five shots per hole). At my September 29 round, I shot a 35. I had a birdie (one under par) and a par during that round -- my average went to less than four strokes per hole!
  • While I don't think I can (or want to) sustain 10 minutes a day on golf, I do think I can work into my schedule to play the par-3 more regularly -- I even have a golf date set up for this week. It took the "intense" month to get me up to speed but now I think I can make little improvements over time.

    The month of daily (or nearly daily) practice also showed me there is truth to the "10,000 hours" theory that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers (the theory that with 10,000 hours of practice one can become an expert or a phenom). The basic premise that "practice makes perfect" holds true. Just getting out there made a big difference (far from perfect, but at least moving in the right direction).

    Whatever your sport, I hope you can eek out a few minutes a day for it. And please let me know how it goes...

    For more by Laura Brady Saade, click here.

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