Thursday, August 20, 2015

High School Coaches Clinic

On Saturday, I will have the opportunity to talk to a large group of Texas high school golf coaches.  I'm very excited about this and my mind has been turning about what the subject should be.  Keep in mind that these folks work with players who just picked up a club and players who will be heading off to play college golf in a year.  In such a diverse group of students, what one topic would help the coaches prepare for their season and their role as leaders, teachers and motivators?

What I came up with is this question:  What tools do you offer to your players to improve their skills?

This seems like an obvious thing; that you need to teach the skills needed to get better at the game, but it often doesn't happen within programs.  Often, coaches turn the players loose to practice and play, expect improvement and get upset when it doesn't occur.  This happens at every level of the game, including college programs.  As high school coaches, your goals should be to have an improvement plan for each player and for your team, too.

This sounds like a lot of work, but it can be standardized and tracked pretty easily.  Here is a way to set it up for your team this season.

The Tools You Will Use
1.  Goals

  • Set individual goals.  This will allow your players to each work toward what will be right for him or her.
    • Make it simple.  Ask for two goals each for long game, short game, putting, mental game and being a good team member.  Here is what it might look like:
      • Long game goals:  I want to learn to keep my driver in play.  I want to hit at least 9 greens per round.  
      • If these two goals were your player's long game goals, your question would be, HOW?  They then could tell you how they will practice with a fairway in mind on the range, learning to take a smaller/smoother swing, aiming at the middle of the greens, spending 30 minutes each day using a specific target on the range, etc.
      • Your job is to get them to write down their plan to reach their goal and then have some conversation about it daily to hold them accountable.  I know this sounds like a lot, but it can be a simple question as you walk past them, such as "have you done your 30 minutes yet?
      • Make sure they have a way to keep track and hold them accountable for that, too.  Have them keep a practice journal and turn it in weekly.  Have them keep stats after each round.  Have them partner up with a mentor player if they are young and keep each other accountable for their goals.  
  • Set team goals.  This will keep your team moving the right direction and teach them to hold each other accountable.
2.  Preparataion
  • Have a practice plan, just as you were coaching any other sport.
    • Account for the players' time.  Have team culture points.  
      • At SMU, we always start on the putting green.  That is one way we emphasize the importance of our putting as a key to our team's success.
      • We control at least half of every practice with structure, competition and play.
      • We use stats to focus the players on their needs.
      • We keep it fun, moving and varied with time limits. 
    • If possible, get them on the golf course as much as possible.
    • Notice hard work, focus and grit and reward it.
  • Have a strategic plan for the courses you play, including your home course.
    • Note the widest parts of the fairways, the best targets on the greens and the angles needed to be in position to score.
    • Allow players to use their strengths and work to offset weaknesses.
    • Have team pride in hitting a fairway or team push ups for hitting it into a dumb bunker.  In other words, make strategy fun with consequences. 
  • Have your players have an attitude goal or a mental game goal with each round and hold them accountable to it.  Examples are:  I will walk with my head up and carry my club in my hand when I hit a good shot and gently place it in the bag if I hit a bad shot.  That would be an example of an attitude goal for a player who gets angry or lost in the past.  Putting the club away is significant.  Allow them to come up with their own attitude goal.  A mental game goal might be, I will visualize the shot before I hit it and commit completely to what I see.  With young, inexperienced players, simply using a pre-shot routine might be a goal.  
3.  Play
  • Your goal as coaches is to get your players to stay in the moment, fight for each shot and compete for a score to help your team.  
    • If coaching, make sure to stay in the moment with them.  
    • Cue their mental game goal.
    • Cue body language and pace.
    • Lighten the mood between shots and cue focus over the shot.
  • Every round is a learning opportunity, but you must give the player some time to cool down emotionally if you want to use the experience as a talking point. 
  • Ask questions, don't assume.  
    • Reward the mental game goal or attitude goal even when the shot's results fail.  
    • Trust the answers.  Even if the player is being defensive, he or she is giving you an answer.  If you refute them or argue, you will pave the way for more defensiveness in the future.  When the player figures out you are being constructive and not just critical, you will start getting better answers.  If they have hyper-critical parents, this might take awhile.  I've had it take an entire year and a lot of patience.
    • Use their experiences to give them one or two learning points from each round.  Build on the positives.  An example might be:  You had three pars in a row today.  What did you do well on those holes?  
  • Your goal for play is to get them to play with a quiet mind, with trust and with a simplistic goal for each shot.  No matter what the level, that is your goal.  New players shouldn't think more.  They should play with the same quiet mind as experienced players.  That is rarely the case.  
Good luck to you and have a great season.  At the end of the year, only one team and one individual will win your state championship.  However, many more players will improve, learn to love the game, use the game's lessons to improve other areas of life and benefit from your leadership.  You are important in their lives!

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