Simple coaching is the best

The boy was playing footy with his Dad. It’s a scene that repeats itself all over the world and I was interested to see how the little play session turned out.

The boy kicked the ball. It was a clumsy attempt, the little boy obviously new to kicking objects.

Dad: Not like that. You need to hold the ball this way and then kick it with your foot pointed like that.

The father then reached it and tried to force the kid into the correct position. The boy tried again. But this time his body threw a mutant attempt into the equation – his system reacted to the instruction and instead of kicking with his right foot, his left leg came forward. This time he missed the ball and nearly fell over.

Dad came rushing in and gave further instructions. You could tell the boy just wanted to kick the ball – he wasn’t liking the talking. He wanted to play. He wanted to try again. The more instruction fed to the boy the less interested he became. He was confused. In a moment of defiance he ran away to go play with his siblings (who were collecting shells in the sand). Dad shrugged his shoulders and sat down.

In my mind this was an opportunity lost. Dad should have let the boy kick the ball. This was not the time for any instruction – Dad should have been chief ball collector and occasional motivator. His role shouldn’t have been to control the situation by feeding so much technical instruction. And I’m sure their footy time would have continued much longer.

“Kick the ball son”. “Kick it again”. This simple instruction was all that was needed.

When the boy was finished collecting shells he came running back to his parents. The footy had come to rest not far from where the kids were playing – the young boy bent over and picked up the ball in full stride and let rip with another kick. This time there were no instructions running through his head. There was no pressure to please Dad. The boy’s objective was to kick the ball and this is what he did. The ball sailed into the air, probably his best kick yet.

Our learning system is far smarter than our conscious mind. It also knows a lot more than Dad.

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  • Lukey

    Reply Reply March 27, 2014

    Hooray spot on the money Cam too often we think we are helping but in actual fact we are a hindrance.
    Cheers Lukey

  • Grayden Provis

    Reply Reply March 29, 2014

    We see this in basically every teaching / learning situation. Its time for a revolution in this area. One of the best bits of advice I read is from a guy who taught Japanese bamboo flute of all things. He said the main thing he tells his students is that when they’re practicing they shouldn’t be “trying to get somewhere”. He tells them to be happy just “being where they are” in their practice and the improvement will come via the natural learning system in its own time. “Striving” just hinders the process.

    I find the key to achieving this non-trying – regardless of whether its hitting a golf ball, playing a musical instrument or drawing a straight line on a piece of paper – is focussing only on my breath while I’m doing the activity. You might think this will mean you don’t actually achieve anything. How can it if I’m focussing on my breathing and not the task? The answer is that your sub-conscious learning system takes over and is far more adept at the job than your own clenched jaw, tension-filled effort.

    The kid would have figured out the ball kicking just fine in time. Probably not on that particular day but he would have gone away and watched players on TV or at school and gradually, by imitation, he would be kicking just fine. As Cameron says, the problem with Dad’s approach is it dents the kid’s interest and its that interest that keeps you learning – naturally.

  • Adam

    Reply Reply March 30, 2014

    People are usually made to believe that more information helps the student learn, when in actuality generally it makes you frustrated if things don’t go as planned. The human brain is only meant to process one piece of information at a time, so giving many different instructions is a waste of time. Give the student one thing to think about. Working on the swing is fine, as long as you think about only one thing ON THE RANGE, while on the course you are focused on smacking the ball towards the hole.
    Generally, learning happens best when you are self taught. You’re able to make mistakes and fix them without someone telling you what to do. When you teach yourself, there’s no one telling you how to perform, and there’s more time for self discovery and over time you will get better. People nowadays are focused too much on getting everything down NOW, NOW, NOW, that they forget that it takes time to develop skills. When you were a toddler, could you walk? No, so what did you do? you tried to walk. Parents teaching a child how to walk is the kind of coaching we need in golf. It takes effort after effort and try after try to get it, and the more you do it, the better you get. Once you walked, you could then run, then jump, then run and jump. but it took years to do. So think about this:

    What if coaching was like parents teaching a child how to walk? Encourage them to figure it out, yet guide them in the right direction. Did a parent, when teaching you how to walk, put you in all sorts of positions? No not at all! They picked you up, and let you figure it out, and even though they did guide you, you learned it on your own.

    That’s something to think about (what if golf coaching and other coaching similar to a parent teaching a child how to walk?)

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