I’m fast approaching my 25th anniversary of teaching golf to players of varying levels and when I think back and ponder those early lessons that I gave I shudder somewhat. In reality, I suppose if my thinking wasn’t markedly different after a quarter of a century then it would indicate that I hadn’t progressed, either in my own knowledge or as a communicator. And, of course, I like to think I have! It seems to me now that the less skilled the coach the more complicated the message and the delivery thereof to the pupil. The better the coach the simpler the advice and the easier it should be for the pupil to grasp.
In the 1990s I did a great deal of my coaching using the latest video systems, drawing endless lines on the computer screen and pulling up slow motion swings of the top players in the world to set alongside the action of the hapless pupil. Who exactly was THAT helping?! Well, it was certainly helpful to a young coach who was not yet accustomed to looking at thousands and thousands of swings and whose eye was not yet quick enough to pick up what was going on in the swing without the aid of the slow motion replay. But did it really help Joe Bloggs to share a split screen with Tiger Woods and have it dissected frame by frame? It was intellectually interesting for me – and often for the pupil – but did Mr Bloggs really set off on his next round of golf feeling he was on the right track to becoming a better player? I suspect not, given that his inadequacies compared to the best player in the world must have been firmly in his mind. Empowering or what?!
Patricia was so horrified by her one and only video lesson that it took her weeks to recover and she’s never had another one since.
I rarely use technology with any of my pupils now for a number of reasons, the principal one being I don’t see it accelerating their improvement. Most golfers have no idea what they look like when they swing a golf club but they may watch golf on telly. When faced with a video of their own swing they are frequently distracted from the core information that will actually help them improve and that information may not necessarily be technical.
This sport we play is a physical, emotional and mental mix and lots of skills are relevant to us becoming better players of the game, including how we think, plan, strategise and encode emotion. Under no circumstances should you confuse a good striker of the ball with a good player. It simply means what it says on the tin – that person is a good striker of the ball, no more no less. In the professional ranks the practice grounds of this world are full of good strikers but they don’t make a bean because they lack all those other attributes required to be a PLAYER.
As the winter draws on it’s never too early to start your Christmas list. If you have any desire to improve your golf game, put the following slim volume at the top of that list:-
“BE A PLAYER” by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott.
It’s a treasure trove of information and fun exercises to carry out on the course, with development of our human skills at its forefront. If you want a join-the-dots description of the golf swing it’s not for you. If you want to be a better golfer, it is. Pia and Lynn are amongst the most innovative coaches in sport, never mind golf, and they are slowly but surely chipping away at the overly complicated approach to golf instruction by helping golfers of all standards improve their performance in new and enjoyable ways.
Finally, a word of advice for anyone seeking a coach either for themselves or a friend. Steer clear of highly technical teachers who pay scant attention to anything other than physically swinging a club and hitting the ball. Trust me, that is not the whole game. Search out a more rounded individual who spends time on the course with their pupils and views the game holistically. A good coach makes the game FUN with all sorts of challenges (sometimes seemingly unrelated to golf) thrown in the pupil’s path. He or she is developing the skills needed for that pupil to be a better golfer.
Ah, the things I wish I’d known 25 years ago!