Any prosperous career can undoubtedly be traced back to a generous mentor who has directed an energized apprentice along the path to mastery. This is the circle of life for golf instructors. As a fortunate recipient of quality mentoring so far in my career, I’ve recently discovered that there might be an alternate and less attractive outcome to these relationships.
While one apprentice may flourish under the guidance of a particular mentor, another– under the exact same influence and counsel– may never manage to thrive on their own, never making it out of the mentor’s shadow. Therein lies the Disciple’s Dilemma. How do you differentiate yourself from the message and methods of your greatest influencers?
A trusted mentor recently advised me to create my own ‘Coaching Manual’. The purpose of this exercise would be two-fold- 1) produce a document that allows students to review my coaching concepts in greater detail. 2) Force me to clarify, in my mind, what it is that I teach and believe in.
As I began to create the document, I was hit with a scary realization. Many of my teaching tenets was near identical to those of this particular mentor. If I were to sit down and list all my technical preferences and most frequently prescribed drills, would they be a carbon copy of his? Instead of listing my own creative and original golf instruction ideas, I was regurgitating a lot of what I learned from this mentor. But that’s the predicament– I am a better coach for having gained this knowledge and I have enough experience with them to know they are effective! Do you re-invent the wheel for the sake of originality?
The abundance of certifications and coaching workshops exacerbates the conundrum. A lot of impressionable coaches will attend a certification that has a major impact on how they see golf instruction. It’s easy to become so intoxicated by the admiration and excitement of a new perspective– that they lose their individuality in the process. An army of newly indoctrinated disciples head back to their lesson tee to give identical golf lessons.
To avoid the potential pitfalls of mentorship, look no further than the person you are learning from. Their success and stature in the industry should indicate that they were able to successfully navigate apprenticeship and avoid the hazards of falling in too deep. Here are a few steps they most likely took to overcome the Disciple’s Dilemma.
Broaden your Scope.
Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” Luckily, in our current ‘Connection Economy’, we aren’t limited to 5 people anymore. Twitter and Facebook can expose teachers to a multitude of influences and new ideas. I’d say, I’m the average of the 20 coaches I follow most online. Not only do these vast resources allow me to dig deeper into the material that resonates with me, but it’s impossible to avoid the people who directly oppose some of those ideas. This is great! I am exposed to people that are attempting to ‘break’ some of the information that I swear by. Hearing both sides of the argument will either deepen your convictions or plant enough doubt to propel you towards new answers.
Advance the Idea.
Once you’ve actively experimented and utilized the knowledge provided by your mentor– you have an obligation to advance the concepts. You do your mentor a great disservice, if once you’ve gained confidence in your new skills, you never do anything to creatively evolve to the next step. That’s how this whole cycle of information works. Your mentor took old ideas and refined them, now it’s your turn.
Research your Influencer’s Influencers.
The realization that your mentors didn’t come up with all those great ideas on their own is liberating. Writer Chuck Palahniuk confesses that, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.” Not only does this reinforce the notion to broaden your horizons, but it proves that no one has accomplished great things entirely on their own. The coaches you admire weren’t born that way. They worked hard, sought out a collection of influencers, and hand-picked elements that matched their particular style. If you look back to the work of your mentor’s greatest influencers, you’ll undoubtedly see how some ideas have been altered and synthesized into their current state. It not only offers some relief, but yet another model to follow from a valued teacher.
Steal and Synthesize.
In the impressionable early years of coaching development, I think it’s advisable to steal ideas. Steal them from every source you can and find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Forget the connotation of ‘stealing’ ideas and do it. I promise your mentors did. Golf Digest and Golf Magazine collectively have printed over 1000 tip filled editions of their magazine. That’s a lot of tips. To come up with a completely original idea in the world of golf instruction is not likely. What’s more likely is that over time, through experimentation and synthesizing, layers are added to concepts and they are presented in a way that seems novel or fresh. Often times, producing a more effective iteration of the original. Make the idea better then when you found it by synthesizing it through your particular lens of experience, preference, and style.
Build your Coaching Tree.
If there is any action to come from reading this post– this is it. Your challenge is to build a Coaching Tree. Think of this as your coaching genealogy. Start with the 5 coaches and instructors you hold in highest regard. From there, create branches from each of them which contain their greatest influencers and mentors. Once you have your Coaching Tree, begin to consider the ideas, methods, and techniques you value most from each coaching ‘ancestor’.
You can start to see yourself as a 5-headed monster, possessing the most effective traits, tricks, and skills of your greatest influencers. Maybe more important than ‘WHAT’ they teach, take a hard look at ‘HOW’ they teach. How do they deliver their information? How do they organize their sessions? What processes distinguish them from their peers? Ironically, a list of these ingredients that you borrow from others is where the creativity and originality begins. Actively engaging with all of these systems together is where you start to separate yourself from your mentors. Keep adding layers, hand-picking items from each branch that fit your personality, specialties, and inclinations.
Ultimately, the ‘Coaching Manual’ exercise taught me that I’m not quite ready to develop it yet. I need a closer examination of my Coaching Tree to determine exactly what my ‘Manual’ will look like. But, like my own coaching style, it’s evolving as I adapt my mentors’ ideas to fit my unique circumstances. With all of the available information and perspectives available to coaches, there is no excuse to be a cheap knock-off of one coach or style that you like the most. This is the age of the mash-up. We will distinguish ourselves be becoming the sum of our influences– our primary directive is to begin collecting all the good ideas with a critical eye.
Start with your Coaching Tree.
To inspire others to participate, pay homage to the mentors that have impacted you by mentioning them on twitter with the #coachingtree.