The vast majority of golf coaches are extremely competent in coaching how to swing a club so that the outcome is to their pupil’s liking. However, how much attention do they give to how they are coaching their client? How often do they assess the effectiveness of their coaching style and ask themselves whether they could be even more effective than they already are?
It is in an attempt to provide answers to these questions that the ‘performance criteria for coaches’ in this article is offered for consideration.
Thirteen questions are posed and all are based on an analysis of effective coaching. In other words, if a golf coach could honestly tick ‘Yes’ to the four questions that require either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer and tick the ‘Always/ Every Opportunity’ box for each of the remaining nine questions then he/she can lay claim to being a very effective coach.
The first two questions relate to the way coaches present themselves and their knowledge to their pupils in advance of a coaching session. Unfortunately, so many coaches take a booking from their pupils without discussing with them what they want to improve. Thus, the coach is now in the unfortunate position of having to ask the pupil to ‘play a few shots’ before they can begin the coaching session.
Now there is nothing wrong with this, except for the fact that the coach is left to identify a starting point for the session and thereby has no time to set a main aim and how the session is to be developed. Can you imagine a Football Coach or an Athletics Coach working in this way?
‘Preparation is the key to success’
The third question identifies a formal term, ‘Distributed Practice’, that has been proved to improve performance in every sport. Basically, it means that the Main Aim is pursued in no more than three equal chunks of time during the coaching session.
So, after a warm-up (10% of the time available) the coach would pursue a practice, or a series of related practices, with the player for the next 20% of the time available. The coach would then insist on a short break (10%) during which they would ask the player to do something entirely unrelated to what was pursued in the first 20%. But, after the break, the coach would ask the pupil to return to the practice undertaken in the first 20% part of the session and repeat it exactly as before.
Once completed, the pupil would be asked again do something (10%) that is unrelated to the first and second 20% parts of the session overall. Finally, the coach would ask the pupil to repeat for a second time (third 20% part session in total) what was asked for earlier in the session and, for the final 10% of the session the pupil would be invited to practise ‘what he/she likes doing best’; to end in this manner represents what is known as ‘the recency effect’ – that which is practised last is best remembered.
Question 4 is about how a practice is developed and ‘Successive Approximation’ is the term given to the process by which the coach moves a practice on to the next level of difficulty.
If the coach thinks of a ladder with ten rungs then whichever rung the player is on in terms of their development as a golfer (a judgment made by the coach and pupil together), the coach should move up one rung at a time and never more. To jump two rungs in one go is to raise the probability of failure.
Question 5 is straightforward in that if a practice represents something that is NOT required in a competitive round of golf then it is nothing more than a ‘time-filler’. It is the coach’s role to explain precisely how and when the practice being undertaken is a behaviour that has to be demonstrated by the pupil at least occasionally when playing golf.
Questions 6 and 7 are related in that they need to be asked and answered before the player begins the first practice because they focus attention on precisely what is required and why.
Question 8 reflects the old adage, ‘A picture paints a thousand words’. It means that the coach should be able to physically demonstrate the coaching points being made and those that he/she wants the player to replicate.
If the coach cannot do this, then they need to find a golfer who can and ask the pupil to watch this golfer execute precisely what is wanted. If such a golfer is not available then a video recording of the desired technical points being executed to a high standard is the next best method and should be shown as soon as possible.
Questions 9 to 12 are self-explanatory but often abused. The recommendation here is that the coach should allow the pupil to play at least three shots before offering any feedback and, initially, should begin this interchange by asking the pupil what they thought of their own efforts before offering feedback. This gives the player an opportunity to think about what was achieved and, more importantly, why it was achieved.
The final question may be self-explanatory but it is extremely important that the coach is able to tick the ‘Yes’ box after the session. This is because the pupil must go away with a clear understanding of what they believe they achieved, what is needed to be worked on and what can be expected in the next coaching session.