September 1, 2019

The Changing World of Golf Instruction

Are You a Coach or a Teacher?


There’s an adage that states, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still.” This statement applies in golf as much as it does in life. PGA Professionals are often measured by how effectively they’re “growing the game.” To secure the future of the sport, it is widely understood that this means improving the skills of our students, because golfers who perform better have more fun and play more rounds. They participate in club events, take more lessons and support their local golf shops.

The key to improving the skills of golfers lies within player development and coaching programs, as well as private instruction offered at golf facilities across the country. As the rest of the game has changed, so too has the world of golf instruction, and this begs the question: “Are you a coach or a teacher?” Is there a difference, and if so, what is it? The answer seems to be a matter of opinion.

According to 2017 Middle Atlantic PGA Teacher of the Year, Trillium Rose, the PGA Director of Instruction at Woodmont Country Club, in Rockville, Maryland, there is no “agreed upon” difference between teaching and coaching. In her opinion, |it’s about improving performance. She says coaching covers a bigger spectrum of topics, whereas teaching is essentially delivering information in a short period of time.

Coaches are fully invested, both in season and offseason – they wear a full tool belt of drills, analysis, planning and follow up. They promote long-term development. Effective coaches don’t just build athletes; they build better people. However, Rose adds, “To be a good coach, you have to be a good teacher.” She facilitates small group sessions targeted to various demographics, but predominantly coaches her students on a one-on-one basis.

James Sieckmann, the PGA Director of Instruction at The Golf Academy at Shadow Ridge Country Club, in Omaha, Nebraska, and 2018 PGA Teacher of the Year, lectures on this topic. Sieckmann agrees with Rose when he reiterates that it’s about performance. He highlights the notion that coaches consider physical limitations, analyze the student’s full game, prescribe drills and follow up, all in the name of total game improvement.

“One-off lessons are ineffective,” Sieckmann says. He says that knowing is not necessarily doing, and an effective training program is the path to long-term improvement. Most of his lessons are three to four hours in length, which all him to dive deeper than traditional methods previously afforded. “Everything is written down,” Sieckmann adds. His students leave with documentation of their session, what’s being addressed and why, placing accountability on the student for his or her continued progress. “There is no quick fix. Students need to buy into it,” Sieckmann adds.

In ensuring that your coaching program renders continuous student improvement, communication becomes the most important aspect of the endeavor. Most coaches utilize some form of email or text to provide feedback and answer questions, analyze video and offer tips for effective practice.

Spencer Dennis wanted more. He followed a successful collegiate and mini tour playing career with a stint as Director of Instruction at a facility in California. While teaching his highly-skilled students, he recognized the need for a greater method of communication – Edufii was developed to create the right learning environment whether he was present or not. After rebranding Edufii as CoachNow, an athlete relationship-management platform, Dennis is creating an effective learning environment beyond just in-person time, where students can further develop their skills.

Coaches across the industry can utilize platforms like his, as well as PGA.Coach, a PGA of America endeavor that incorporates the American Development Model (ADM), to maximize that communication and further develop the vital relationship that enhances the instruction. Rose uses CoachNow and says “it’s been a game changer for a lot of (her) students who needed to hear things again and see themselves afterwards.” She has over 300 users on the platform.

According to the PGA.Coach website, ADM “was designed by sports scientists to help support a lifetime affinity to sports, and to develop athletes to their greatest potential. These principles align physical and psychological development to stages, delivering appropriate skills and exercise at the appropriate time.” ADM incorporates seven stages of development ranging from young children just starting the game to adults who can play for a lifetime.

After recently completing ADM Level 1 training, Cameron Milton (pictured, above), the PGA Head Golf Professional at Polson Bay Golf Course, in Polson, Montana and 2018 PGA Youth Player Development Award recipient, “has revamped his complete coaching program,” promoting a coaching environment over the traditional one-up lessons. He says that any smart instructor will remove “teacher” from his or her lexicon, replacing it with “coach.”

Predominantly used via a smartphone application, technology such as these enable coaches to provide lesson recaps, offer tips and drills, and analyze swing videos provided by students, all within a private space dedicated to the student.

Dennis feels that with so much of the student’s progress taking place during their practice, on their own, these platforms “bridge the gap” between lesson time and practice time. It provides a collaborative journal where lesson information can be documented, leading to an enhanced coach-athlete relationship, a key difference between coaching and teaching.

To achieve the goals created by coach and student, improve skills, and truly grow the game, addressing the mental aspect of learning and competition has become of greater importance than ever before. Dr. Alison Curdt (clinical psychology) is a PGA and LPGA Master Professional and the PGA Director of Instruction at Wood Ranch Golf Club, in Simi Valley, California. She works with golf students at the course, within her practice, and even on Skype for out-oftown clients.

Curdt says that many students come to her for a skill set not available with all player development programs. She segments students in three ways: 1) Mental game-specific students; 2) Long-term students desiring overall game improvement, including the mental aspects; 3) Students who come to her to play better golf, and do not realize they need mental game help.

Like any other skill, improving one’s mental game is a step-by-step process. She recreates course conditions on the practice range to invoke the anxiety emotion, so when faced with such a mental state on the course, the student can regulate those emotions to enable maximum performance.

She addresses the mental game with every student, a task that cannot be achieved via the traditional golf lesson. It affects the student’s learning capabilities, effectiveness of practice and on-course performance. Curdt does say that the mental game should only be addressed with an adequate level of instructor education, like that provided by PGA Education (not necessarily to the level that she has attained), or students should be referred to coaches adept in the topic.

With golf instruction changing at a rapid pace, technology, mental game, nutrition, fitness and long-term game improvement are the keys to creating better golfers. PGA Professionals are growing the game by developing effective coaching programs to help students achieve their goals of playing better golf and having more fun, and that’s the first step in ensuring a bright, collaborative future in the game.