Monday, September 19, 2011

Silence is Golden in Coaching

Question:  If you are a parent, teacher or a coach, can you watch your golfer make a mistake and not correct it?  Try it and see if perhaps the golfer makes the proper adjustment on her own.

As coaches, we can often get caught up in the error correction cycle of watching a player, seeing mistakes and making immediate corrections.  There are two things wrong with this cycle.  First, it takes you away from your main task of teaching.  Teaching is a skill that starts with an end point in mind and proceeds to that end point.  Error correction can take you many directions and often they don't point toward the original goal.  Second, good athletes can learn on their own.  If you see a mistake, you will learn more as a coach by seeing what adjustment your golfer makes instead of offering correction.  The act of digesting the mistake, thinking through what is needed and doing something different on the next swing is an important part of the development of a golfer.  If you are constantly chirping in the golfer's ear, you will take away the autonomy of the golfer and slow the development toward greatness.

And you thought you were helping, didn't you?  There are times when you do need to help by offering corrections or instruction.  However, most kids are over taught and miss out on learning on their own.  When your child was learning to walk, there were those tense moments when you stopped yourself from helping her and let her take a few steps all on her own.  She struggled with balance, figuring out what her feet were for and how momentum took her places.  No matter how much you wanted to help her or protect her, ultimately, she learned to walk on her own.  Golf is much the same.

Parents, teachers and coaches need to allow players to make mistakes.  Mistakes are what we learn from.  Yes, there are a small percentage of players who don't learn from their mistakes and as I often say, greatness isn't meant for everyone.  The vast majority of young golfers will make mistakes and figure out how they are hurting them.  This happens on the driving range, on the practice green and on the golf course.  Our goal as coaches should be to provide guidance, support and confirmation instead of constant error correction.

As I said before, teaching starts with an end point in mind.  Course management is a great example.  Young players often see the flag as the only target and see no trouble on the course.  Their one-mindedness is unbelievable.  This is a great trait for a great player and one we don't want to completely change or "coach out" of a player.  Instead, we want to temper the focus somewhat and introduce the player to recognition of trouble and continued focus on chosen targets.  If we want a young player to have good course management, we probably need to allow some big mistakes at important times.  The pain of the mistake will be the best teacher and the desire to win or bring home a great score will offset the desire to ignore trouble and see only the flag.  However, if we don't allow those big, painful mistakes, learning won't take place and the player will mature as a poor manager of the golf course.


On a smaller scale, the next time you see a student or your daughter make a bad swing with a glaring problem, don't say anything and see what adjustment she makes.  If it was glaring to you, it probably felt big to her, too.  She will most likely make a good adjustment and learn from it.  Remember, the job at hand is to produce a great player, not prove that you know what you are doing on the lesson tee.  Silence is often golden when you are coaching and teaching.  Allow players to learn, adjust, experiment and create on their own and you will be fostering greatness.  Save your error correction for times when it is needed and make it clear, concise and supportive of your overall goals in teaching. 

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