Vicarious Experience – the fertiliser for Player Growth

Mon, Sep 6th, 2021
Nicolai Hojgaard Nicolai Hojgaard

With Nicolai winning the Italian Open, and Rasmus the Omega Masters the previous week, the Hojgaard twins have become the first ever brothers to win in successive weeks on the European Tour. Having two talented players from one family, is this just coincidence? That they both were born with a huge amount of natural talent?

As a failed player myself, it intrigued me to understand better the ‘Critical Success Factors for Tour Success’.  I dd a research project on the Tour 15 years ago, interviewing 50 players including 7 former World No 1s.  What I learned from this research amazed me and it was the birth of the now 7 books I have written on Elite Performance. In the latest workbook, ‘Pathway to the Tour - a success manual for elite players’, I outline one of the findings from this research which was the ‘Four Quadrants of Player Development’. One of the quadrants was ‘Environment’, and this also very much refers to psychological environment. An environment that is challenging and where ‘Vicarious Experience’ is very much present. ‘Vicarious Experience’ is a term cited by Sports Psychologists which in essence means ‘if you can do it so I can I’.


So, for example when Nicolai finished 2nd on an invitation as an 18 year old in 2019 in the Dutch Open, this gave Rasmus the confidence that so could he do it, as of course he had beaten his brother on many occasions both in practice and in tournaments. So, what happens, he then ‘trumps’ Nicolai’s incredible achievement by later that year winning the Mauritius Open as a rookie! Their coach once relayed to me that they were trying to beat the hell out of each other since the age of 12 years old, and this ‘vicarious experience’ concept has been at play ever since they started golf. Now of course not everyone has a ‘twin brother’ who they can use as an accelerator to develop their game.

In the book ‘The Talent Code’, author and researcher Daniel Coyle wanted to understand why there were ‘talent hotspots’ in different sports that created a multitude of champions that defied the demographics. For instance, why do Brazil consistently produce the best and most skilled football players? Why do the East European and Balkan countries have so much success in tennis? One of his findings was that these hotspots created an intense environment, essentially a superior cooking pot, which accelerated the athlete’s skill development to instil an edge over their international competition. Vicarious Experience – if you can do it so can I – was an ever present.

So how can this help you?

Since learning this research, I stopped doing ‘1 hour instructional lessons’. We created player programs whereby these 4 quadrants could be optimised. If you are a Coach, build player groups, even at the most basic level – a Whatsapp group is a first start - that assist players link and feed off each other’s success. This can be at any level – it applies equally whether it’s a beginner or an elite player group. If you are a player, join a club or network whereby you can play and practice with players that challenge and stretch you, but not so much that you never win sometimes. Immerse yourself in a culture of success.

All our programs at ECGA are shaped in a way that looks to optimise vicarious experience … because after all, if elite player coaching is about assisting players score lower, all the  Four Quadrants are the Coach’s responsibility.

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