Coaching vs. Teaching

As the world of golf instruction has evolved over the last few decades, a divide has emerged between teachers and coaches. To the average golfer, this is nothing more than semantics. However, to the experienced player, this is a very important distinction.

In case you haven’t noticed to this point, I use a lot of analogies to help illustrate concepts. It’s just how my mind works. This post will be no different.

Let’s compare the world of golf instruction to learning how to drive a car. You’ve just turned 16, and enroll in drivers education. Your instructor will teach you what the rules of the road are, what the pedals and steering wheel do, and how to maneuver the car in a series of different scenarios.

This is just like taking a golf lesson. Your teacher will explain the different rules of the game, what the different clubs do, and how to move them with your body to achieve different results. This is strictly “how to” instruction, which is important for every developing golfer.

Now when the driving lesson is over, you have your license, and your new freedom. But where to go? How do I get there? This is where the GPS or the road map comes in. In the case of golf instruction, this is where you need a coach.

When an experienced golfer comes to me with a goal, it is my job to act as a road map. The process isn’t complicated, but each step needs to be addressed in order to make sure you reach your destination. If you miss an exit, you have to make a detour.

The first part of the process is the planning – where are we going? Whether it’s the PGA Tour, or trying to break 90, there are markers that we need to set to know that we are making progress. Statistics will be tracked with benchmarks that compare to the level the player is seeking to reach. A schedule needs to be made, which would be like deciding how many hours in a day you are going to drive. Do too little, and you will get discouraged when your destination isn’t getting closer. Do too many, and you will burn out and have to pull over.

The second part of the process is ensuring your vehicle will get you there. Is the swing producing the result you want? Is it causing you injury? Is it comparable to the level of competition you are striving for?

Below are the LPGA Tour Trackman averages for 2017, and a screenshot from a Flightscope session I had with a female mini tour player I work with. This particular shot was hit with a 7-iron. When assessing performance, I am comparing a number of different parameters. Her club speed on this shot was 75.3 mph, which is .7 below the tour average, and her carry distance was 142.6 yards, 1.6 longer than the tour average. This is only one shot, but over the course of the season, we will track these parameters, among others, to ensure we are trending in the right direction.

LPGA Trackman AveragesAimee 7-iron

The next to last step is called benchmarking, which is the setting of markers that will indicate how effective the changes are. If I’m driving from Orlando to Boston, I should start seeing signs for Boston when I get in to Connecticut. This would tell me I’m on the right track. If I see “Cleveland – 100 miles”, I know I took a wrong turn. If you are working to improve your Greens in Regulation (GIR) per round, and the number is getting worse, then you need to go back to the vehicle and find out why it’s not performing. What gets measured, gets improved.

Summer Stats Pic

Above is a snippet of a statistics worksheet we use to track the performance of the areas of the game. Every 3 months I sit down with my competitive players and a) review the previous quarter, b) set the schedule of events for the next quarter, and c) set goals for performance and establish habits that will make those possible. Below is the document created after the goals are set for the quarter.

Training Program pic

The document establishes the benchmarks we are looking to improve, gives a measured value for what is acceptable, and lays out a plan for how to make it happen. These are the turn-by-turn directions for how to reach your destination. The player’s job is to be fully focused on the current task, whereas the coach needs to see the entire map, knowing where to turn and for how long. Agreeing on the destination and communicating on the progress regularly is the secret behind a great coach-player relationship.

If you were just trying to drive from your house to a mall you hadn’t been to, you wouldn’t need to consult a map, you would just need a few pointers from the attendant at the gas station. This is like a player trying to break 100, or wanting to stop hitting behind the ball. A golf teacher can identify some simple issues, and give you a drill to help correct the fault.

When you drive from Miami, FL to Portland, OR, this needs planning and preparation. A player who wants to take their game to the highest level can’t afford to make unnecessary changes, and spend time in areas that aren’t important. My job as a coach is to help identify the fastest route with the fewest speed bumps.

If you are looking to take your game to the next level, spend the time to research the professionals in the area, and identify what their approach is. The journey to the top is a long one, and you want to make sure the person you’re riding with has a knowledge of the route and has the tools to make sure you get there. Most importantly, they need to be in it for the long haul.

With the advent of our remote work environment in the last year, people around the world are finding ways to have access to people and information from the comfort of their own homes. I offer remote coaching through the Skillest app, to help anyone reach their goals from anywhere in the world. In my article Why Remote Coaching is the Way Forward, I go through this revolution in depth.

Having a coach that is fully invested in your development and success will make all the difference between reaching your destination, and sitting at the side of the road with a flat tire.

Leave a Reply