Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thoughts on Coaching

As many of you know, I am laid up for at least 30 days.  I have a lot of time to think about things and to be inspired about ideas.  I hope that my inspiration will lead to some good, solid writing about golf and coaching.  I am also taking a lot of pain killers right now, so I would suspect that there will be a lot of editing in the future when I "sober" up.  I am not going to make any goals about writing, because my one and only goal right now is to do what Dr G. tells me and heal as well as possible.  I am 3 days in and what needs to happen is that my calf muscle (gastrocnemius) will reattach to my femur where I ripped it off when I hyperextended.  That is where my visualization and mental powers and prayers are going right now.

Enough of that, because I got online today to write about coaching.

Golf coaches are teachers, but their primary role is often that of a manager.  If you are coaching golf at the high school or college level, your player generally has a teacher.  Sometimes your player has a strength coach, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist or a parent who does all of these things.  Most golfers reach the highest levels of competition because they have an incredible support staff who understand and see to their needs. 

As a coach or manager of a player who wants success, how can you help her achieve that success? That is the question that I would love to explore.

As a youngster or in the beginning stages, the process is to build.  A successful athlete must have highly tuned technique, great confidence, a strong mental state of mind, a fit body and a routine or life style that keeps all these things going forward.  I didn't mention talent, athleticism, heart or other intangibles.  These things can't be measured or produced and while we would all love to say our student is a marvelous athlete or plays with a lot of heart, the building of skills and the things listed above is our focus as coaches.  As we build, we teach.  If skills were learned incorrectly, they must be learned in a new way.  Be wary of a coach who wants to "fix" a player.  That coach is using a model of perfection and mechanics.  Instead, remember that a player is never broken, but that foundations need to be strong.  If a player who is working toward high, long-term goals has shaky technique or fitness, the coach's job is to help the player build the technique that will allow success.  Nothing is built from the top down or the outside in, including a successful golfer.

As a player progresses and matures, it will be important for her to know as much as possible about herself, her game, her swing, her body and her approach.  This flies in the face of the huge support team we talked about earlier, who up until now have seen it as their role to know all they could about the player.  Golfers, like many young athletes, have been coaxed to the top of their game through many well meaning and caring individuals.  The golfers' love of the game, the competition, the repetition and the pursuit of excellence is the basis for building success, but the team that is around the player is important, too. That is how it works in most sports and also in music and any pursuit that is tough and competitive.  However, there comes a time though, that the young person has to step through that shell of helpers and take responsibility for herself.  This can be a painful time for parents, teachers and coaches.  However, it is an important step for the athlete herself.

Any player focused on reaching for success needs to understand that success isn't a holy grail.  It isn't something that you search for all your life and hope to one day find.  Instead, success is achieved at every level and built upon.  Success can even be achieved outside the realm of competition at times when an athlete overcomes obstacles, such as injuries or setbacks.  Success is as much a part of the process as failure is and neither is an end point.  If success isn't recognized along the way, the game will become a chore and there won't be enough joy to sustain the efforts needed.  How an athlete makes and evaluates goals is important to seeing success in the process and not as an end point.  There will always be a higher plateau to reach and if a player measures herself against what she doesn't achieve, she will not be building the confidence needed to get to the highest levels of the sport.

As we build technique, confidence, a mental game, fitness and routines, it is the golfers role to understand the process and even lead it when they reach a maturity level that allows them to know themselves well enough.  That process is never ending and is the key to reaching long-term goals.  When a player earns her tour card, she will then want to win on tour.  When she wins, she will want to win majors.  With a few majors will come the desire to be on the Solheim Cup.  The desire for more goals is usually present in driven athletes and the understanding that the skills needed are built over a life time is an important concept to develop if these goals will be reached.  As a coach, it is very important to allow a player to be comfortable at a level reached before pushing them to the next level.  This is a hugely important factor in coaching that is often overlooked.

If a golfer is to develop confidence, she needs to get to a level of competition that is uncomfortable for her and work her way to the top of that level.  There will be successes and failures as she works her way through the competition, but the lessons learned are crucial.  For example, a golfer is the #1 player on her high school team.  She dominates her teammates.  That is a step.  Now, she needs to figure out how to dominate local high school competition.  There will be "big dogs" to knock off and there will be some unpleasantness along the way.  Learning to play without intimidation at every level is a process that must be experienced by the player.  It is sometimes easier for younger players, because they are simply clueless to what they are doing and who they are beating.  Regardless, it is an important step to success.

Once a player dominates at the local level, she can move to the state level.  This process is really never ending.  There is always someone, somewhere, who can outplay you.  Without that idea, the struggle for improvement isn't important. 

Tomorrow we will talk about the building process.

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