A problem with golf coaching
Lisa is a friend of Clare’s (the way better half) and was staying with us over the weekend. Clare was showing Lisa some of my new golf training aids and Lisa, being a sporty type, was interested in having a go.
Lisa had never picked up a golf club before, a complete newbie, but already had some preconceived ideas about golf;
“I don’t know how to stand”
“I don’t know how to hold the club”
“Golf is really hard”
“I’m nervous. I don’t know what to do”.
Her comments took me a bit by surprise. She has played hockey for years and is a good athlete. But although interested in golf, she was apprehensive about it. She was scared of making any sort of mistake and doing something wrong. And this is a huge problem with learning. If you’re fearful of making mistakes then you really won’t get out of first gear – you’ll be tight, over controlling and won’t find golf fun.
Lisa posed a challenge I’m up for. I’m convinced that traditional golf coaching has gotten out of hand, and there’s easier and better ways of making a difference. Below is a rundown of an impromptu golf lesson I gave Lisa in the lounge room. Just so you know, I used some Almost Golf Balls and we kept things to a basic chip shot. Here’s the lesson.
Me: Lisa, we’re going to hit some chip shots. These are a small shot that get airborne for a short distance and then run towards the flag. (I demonstrated by throwing a ball underhanded towards the coffee table).
Lisa: How do I stand? I don’t know how to stand…
Me: It doesn’t really matter how you stand. Stand in a way that’s comfortable.
Lisa: But how do I hold the club? Isn’t there some special grip I need to use?
Me: No, your grip is not that important just yet. Hold the club in anyway that feels good to you and allows you to swing back and forwards with enough power to hit the ball a short distance.
Lisa: Ok. (She made a few practice swings without a ball)
Me: Good. You’re doing find. There’s nothing too it. Just swing back and forth.
Lisa: But my grip is wrong!
Me: No it’s not. There’s no right and wrong. We’re just learning here and having some fun.
Lisa: Ok. But tell me if I’m doing anything wrong…
Me: Righto Lisa, I’m going to push you a little harder now. To help golfers learn to improve their chipping more quickly I’ve designed the ChipMaster Pro. It’s a simple device that teaches you to hit the ball cleanly. Many golfers don’t understand they need to strike the ball first. (I demonstrated the difference between a clean strike and a “fat” shot).
Lisa: Ok. That looks easy enough.
Me: So your objective here is to chip the ball off the mat. If you hit the ball “fat” you’ll strike the lip. If you get the ball thin your club won’t hit the mat in front of the ball (the ChipMaster Pro has a red “impact area” in front of the ball which is a guide where the bottom of the club should strike the ground”). Why don’t you give it a go?
Lisa: But I don’t know how to swing!
Me: It doesn’t matter right now. There’s no right and wrong. We’re just having some fun and learning. Mistakes are good anyway, they speed up the learning process.
Lisa relaxed a little and stepped up to the shot. She hit the ball fat…
Me: How did that feel?
Lisa: I hit the lip thing and the ball didn’t go anywhere.
Me: Correct. That’s what happened. You’ve got good awareness on what’s happening. Why don’t you have another go…
Lisa tried a few more times and got a mixture of fat and thinned shots. This was not overly surprising because she has never played before – many long term golfers do the same on a regular basis.
Me: Lisa, one of the key things with chipping is to strike the ball first. And to make this easier to do you can place the ball further back in your stance, in your case this is off of your right foot. When you chip from this position it becomes a million times easier to make clean contact with the ball.
Lisa: But what about my grip?
Me: Lisa, it really doesn’t matter. Stop worrying about your grip and stance, we’ll cover that later.
I moved the ChipMaster Pro so the ball was positioned off of her back foot. Her hands went forward (naturally) and she made another attempt. This time she made good contact. The ball sailed off of her club, hit my knee and went into the side wall. There were some power issues but she had made a good shot.
Lisa: That one felt nice. Sorry about hitting you in the knee.
Me: Good work Lisa and don’t worry about the knee. Remember, there’s no right and wrong here, we’re just having some fun. Let’s try again.
We went back and forwards, hitting some shots and chatting away. After a few minutes, Lisa really started to get it. She wasn’t hitting perfectly, but was getting enough good shots to keep her interested. After a thinned shot she said, “Arrgghh. I thinned that one. I didn’t strike the ground in front of the ball”.
Me: Correct. Can you show me a different version please?
Lisa made some practice swings and brushed the ground in front of the ball.
Me: Great work. Now let’s hit a ball.
Lisa hit three nice shots in a row. She had reduced the power and the balls flew a few metres and bumped into the coffee table. She was learning how to chip and it wasn’t taking too long.
Lisa: But is my stance ok? I’m really worried about my stance.
Me: Can you stand on one leg? I want you to make some chips standing on your right leg
This wasn’t even a challenge for her. Because she new the basic concept of chipping (hit the ball first and then the ground) it wasn’t too hard for her. She made two perfect shots in a row standing on one leg.
Me: See? Your stance isn’t important. As long as you can strike the ball first, it doesn’t really matter about your stance. There’s no right and wrong.
Lisa: Yes. I see. It really is simple. I thought golf was going to be really difficult.
Me: It can be. I teach a little differently than most. I don’t bombard you with lots of rules – just enough for you to achieve the objective. I let you learning system do the hard yards and work out the finer detail itself. In time, when you play more, your technique will change. But this will happen gradually and naturally – there’s no point in trying to do this all at once.
Lisa: Thanks, this is fun.
We finished off with Lisa hitting chip shots off one leg and with one hand. By now she wasn’t worried about her stance or swing and was focused on hitting the ball. The smile on her face as she hit another perfect shot told me that we’d both done well.
Golf coaching needs to be made simple. It’s a worry that novices are scared of the game – and fearful of doing something wrong. The focus really needs to be on hitting the ball and allowing the subconscious to do the heavy lifting. Too much technique and information hinders development and can’t be much fun. Coaching isn’t about how much advice the coach can impart onto the student (this is a traditional mindset) but rather how little. If coaches were forced to halve the amount of words spoken improvement would skyrocket – enjoyment would increase and more would play the game.