As I meet more and more coaches, I have begun to notice a common denominator among a certain group – junior golf coaches. All the best ones seem to be relentlessly cheerful while radiating their passion for growing the game and working with young athletes. Why are they so positive and upbeat all the time?!
Mull it over for a second. Think about the best junior golf coach that you know and test my theory. I’m pretty confident it holds up.
Is it a requisite or just a coincidence that those seemingly naturally happy coaches gravitate towards junior golf? Or perhaps it’s a result, a natural by-product of the positive work they do making a meaningful impact on the lives of young people. These coaches do work that matters.
Everyday they connect with an impressionable student at a critical time of their development as people and golfers. Subsequently, it seems that these expert junior coaches adopt an approach far different than what is common from their adult instructing counterparts.
Because the typical adult student seeks instruction with very specific directives concerning a fix or a flaw, the attention and efforts are focused there– say, fixing a slice. But a junior golf coach is tasked with much more than fixing.
Their curriculum extends beyond ‘How to Golf’ and encompasses a far richer set of topics:
- How to learn
- How to deal with adversity
- How to win
- How to fail and it’s impact on the learning process
- How to interact with others and it’s impact on performance, enjoyment, and learning
- How to practice
- How to play by the rules and value sportsmanship
- How to play, not just on the course, but to deepen learning and increase enjoyment
The list goes on, an expert junior coach could expand upon that list for days. And that’s not to say that some coaches don’t implement similar curriculum in all their lessons, its just that these types of lessons are especially expected in developing young golfers.
About half of my coaching time is spent with young athletes. While I love coaching all golfers, my time with the juniors is certainly the most gratifying. I feel like I’m making a difference and living up to every coach’s most paramount mission: enriching lives. So as I’ve pondered the fundamental differences in coaching these two groups, I have begun to ask myself a question — ‘If it’s so gratifying, why have I not been approaching EVERY golf lesson with the same mindset?!’
As soon as I leave the juniors and begin a lesson with an adult golfer, my mindset shifts drastically. Instead of striving to serve as LIFE ENRICH-ER, I too often become ‘INFORMATION TRANSFERRER’. Not quite the same ring to it.
Can a lesson in which the teacher acts exclusively as a transferrer of information ever really matter? The slice or the hook might disappear, but the precious opportunity to make an impact on another human may be lost. If all we do is spout our vast knowledge of the golf swing and its various subtopics, is it possible to really make an impact? Does your time spent coaching really matter?
Maybe the shift in mindset occurs because expectations from our adult students are so different. Both coach and student have many years of indoctrination of what a lesson should look like. But while the pupils may come with different life experience and expectations, what would a typical lesson look like if the ‘Junior Golf Mindset’ was applied?
What if the goal was always to enrich a life, not just fix a slice?
Here are a few concepts that allow a great junior coach to make a lasting impact on students. To me, they represent cornerstones of what I see as an effective Junior Golf Mindset. As you read through the various elements, ask yourself if you approach things the same way in every lesson or if it changes depending on the age of your student.
If you visit your favorite junior golf coach on the lesson tee, you might have to lower your eye level. They know that getting down on the same level as the junior golfer is an effective way to connect and communicate. While the adult golfer may not require the same kneel down manoeuvre, too many coaches fail to make an authentic connection. Connection can be sacrificed for credibility. With kids, your authority is assumed, it comes with the title. So for some, with an adult it’s more important to be seen as the authority than to make the authentic connection that creates trust and acceptance within the learning environment.
Discovery and Empowerment.
Because nothing will bore a group of 10 year-olds quite like an hour-long lecture on ball flight laws, we are forced to get creative with young athletes. Instead of telling them, we show them. We have them experiment and explore. Their shorter attention span forces us to allow students to experience new concepts, not just be told about them. This experience lends itself to a deeper understanding that empowers them to self-coach.
Failures and judgement.
When a fragile young ego is on the lesson tee, we approach failure far different than we do with adults. We frame failure as a positive part of the learning process. They’re young; we expect them to mess up as they go. Yet for adults, failures can sometime seem unacceptable. Our interactions lack the same compassion that seems so much easier to exhibit for our younger students. We don’t deal with failures as delicately, yet adults are just as affected by the judgement and disappointment accompanied by a perceived failure. Too much emphasis is placed on immediate results without respecting or embracing the role of failure in the developmental process.
Fun and Games.
I end every one of our junior sessions with a game. For the juniors, it’s a light and fun way to apply the lessons of the day. But it’s also an essential step in bridging the gap between understanding and performance. The benefits of implementing challenges and an opportunity for ‘play’ in all lessons are abundant: maximize the enjoyment factor, increase the likelihood that students transfer new skills to the course, and introduce effective practice habits.
Long Term Learning.
Obviously we approach juniors with a more long-term approach. After all, we have more time, right? The sky is the limit and skill and ability seems so malleable at that early phase of growth. We focus on establishing a solid foundation of fundamentals from which our juniors can develop skills. Emphasis is placed on educating the golfer about an effective learning process, not on urgent solutions that are often unsustainable for golfers who seek a quick fix. What if we approached every student with the same sense of possibility and hope?
With a 6 year old, you don’t have many options when it comes to demonstrating a new motor skill. Every concept has to be distilled down the most fundamental idea. Instructions have to be succinct but vivid. The possibility of overwhelming students with a litany complex instruction and information disappears simply because it’s no longer an option.
Think back to that happy-go-lucky junior golf coach. Maybe they’re so happy because they approach each lesson with the fascination and creativity that is inherent in working with young people.
After examining these ideas, it’s easy to see that those coaches are on to something. While they leave it to the rest of us to argue and trivially debate the finer technical points of the golf swing, they go out and make a difference everyday. And the very same mindset that allows them to enrich lives, makes them more effective coaches!
If the same attitude is applied to coaching students of all ages, more effective lessons are inevitable. And it’s more fun to boot! Instead of just spewing information, each day is approached with creativity and passion.
Every lesson would matter.
Maybe the concepts above are unique to my own experience. I’m anxious to hear thoughts from others on the subject, I have a feeling that I’m not alone. Please feel free to leave comments describing your own experience. I look forward to exploring the topic more.
– COREY LUNDBERG & MATT WILSON