Teaching versus coaching

Here at GolfGooRoo Global headquarters I bang on a lot about teaching versus coaching.

For starters, I like coaching. Don’t care much for teaching. Why?

Because teachers just tell us what to do.

“stand this way”
“don’t do that”
“swing slower”
(insert instruction here)

You get the idea. In my mind, teaching is outdated. It has had it’s place and it dates back to the industrial age where the factory owners needed to find a way to control the masses. The workers were trained NOT to think for themselves. In fact, any sort of thinking or bucking the status quo was deeply frowned upon because it would make life harder for the owners of the factories. The owners wanted good workers who would do exactly as they were told.

Sadly, this “don’t buck the status quo” has remained in place for much of the education system. Teachers are still called teachers and it’s common practice for the instructor to stand at the front of class and regurgitate the day’s lesson. And the golf world is no different – and it could be worse!

At some point in my development I started to go off teaching. It just didn’t sit well with me. When I first started playing golf it was just me and a local paddock. I’d go back and forth, hitting balls at targets and get lost in the way my swing felt and trying lots of different things. I didn’t know it at the time but this has been some of the best golf practice I’ve done. I was self-coaching myself and learning quickly.

When I ventured out onto the golf course I was able to beat most of my friends (and their Dads) despite having not played for too long. I didn’t have any special talent but because I was learning in a way my system thrived, I was improving quickly.

At some point my play attracted the attention of the local golf coach. He was a well meaning guy who couldn’t believe I had never taken a lesson. “If you get some coaching you’ll be on the PGA Tour in no time”, was one of his first comments. So then began my first foray into teaching.

Shanks, slices and inconsistency were soon to follow. I struggled to apply what I was being told. And the harder I worked the worse I became. It just wasn’t that easy for me to apply a verbal instruction (like cock your wrists more) and still hit the ball. This went on for a few years and golf lost some of its magic to me. I developed a type of swing yips and I thought about quitting golf and playing another sport. It was too hard.

In hindsight, what I needed was a mentor. Someone who understood natural learning and could have encouraged me to continue on the first path I was on. Things like,

Can you hit the ball over that tree?
Can you curve the ball around the tree?
Can you hit that 5 iron 100 metres?
Now can you hit it 200 metres?

I needed someone to encourage me to get out and play the golf course and not become obsessed with moving parts inside the driving range.

You see, there’s no exact formula for the perfect golf swing. And you certainly can’t find any decent swing by mucking about with your grip, pivot, take away or backswing plane. Your golf swing must find you.

And this is what a coach understands. Too much of modern instruction is hell-bent on just telling us what we’re doing wrong and building the “perfect” swing. It’s almost like the swing is a puzzle and we try and assemble it one step at a time. If you’ve ever tried this you’ll know how much of a clusterfuck this can be.

A real coach understands that the student has the answers inside him and explicit instructions slow down the process. So there’s less instruction and lots of questions. The coach guides the player and lets them do the work. It’s time the golfer is put back in charge and is encouraged to think/explore himself. Learning can’t be a one way street.

A better option

There’s a better way and for many it will seem counter-intuitive, but when you learn to hit different shots, forget about your golf technique and spend more time actually playing the game your swing naturally improves and you’ll shoot better scores. A teacher will try and say as many things as possible in a 30 minute lesson while a coach will say the bare minimum. A teacher fits perfectly into the quick-fix mindset while a coach thinks long term. A teacher sees the golf swing as the most important aspect (good golf swing = good golfer) while the coach sees the big picture, the golf swing is only ONE part of the entire game and learning process.

Teaching versus coaching? I know which one I’d choose…

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