Golf is challenging sport. At some point all of us have needed some advice on how to improve or correct an error that has developed. There is a wealth of knowledge now available online, and nearly all avid golfers will have at some point tried out a tip they have seen online or heard from a friend. Despite all this advice available at our fingertips, the best way to improve at golf is with a dedicated coach to help you as an individual.
As coaches we see golfers at varying stages of their development and difficulties when they come to see us. There are the golfers that have come for lessons to begin their learning journey very early on in their development, students that have had continual lessons throughout their golfing lives, students that have tried advise from friends and online before deciding they need a lesson, and there are students that are established, competent golfers that don’t usually take lessons but have developed a shot they are unable to fix or fully understand. It does not matter what type of student you are; the coach will be there to help you with your specific needs and understand you as an individual. Which brings us to the question: what can you do to get the most from your lessons?
Be honest and specific with your needs
We are all very different from one another. Coming in to see a coach at any time, but specifically the first time you see a coach, it is important to be very clear with what you are looking to achieve from the lessons. You should be specific, and as detailed as possible with what it is that you want to improve. Think of a timeframe for which you would like to make the improvements/progress you are desiring. The coach will work with you to understand these needs and help explain the process involved to reach your desired goals. If you have data you can provide to the coach this will also help greatly, and this can be as simple as explaining your average scores, best rounds and worst rounds. Other statistical data can be useful too, especially if it relates to the areas you wish to improve. The coach will be there to work with you and come to a joint agreement on the process of your lessons, but you should always be honest and specific with what you are looking to achieve.
Provide an accurate background of yourself
The next thing to aid in you getting the best lessons possible is to provide a history of you the golfer. Let the coach know how long you’ve been playing, when you were at your best, and your strengths and weaknesses. This is the time to speak confidently on who you are as a golfer and express to the coach how you feel about your game based on your history of playing. It would also be the time to talk about previous lessons, when did you last take a lesson and what things had you been working through. This will help the coach a great deal in understanding the journey you’ve taken, and how to continue on from this point.
It would be at this point you should also explain how often you play and practice. Going back to the first point, it is important to be completely honest here! If you never go to the driving range, but instead play each weekend with your friends, explain this. We will encounter many different types of golfers, and the vast majority will not practice for countless hours to hone their skills. The coach will be able to work around what your normal activities are, whether that is one round of golf a week and one range session, one round of golf a month with more range sessions, or multiple rounds of golf a week and no range sessions. The important part here is to explain your normal golfing activities, and then based around your goals the coach can help you understand what may be required to reach your targets in the desired timeframe. This will allow you to work together to set realistic goals based around the desired timeframe and amount of time you will be dedicating to your improvement.
If it is your first lesson with a new coach it can be a little nerve-wracking hitting shots in front of them for the first time. Don’t worry, we are used to seeing many students and know this can be difficult as you both get to know each other. The coach will be there to support you and help get you settled. What you should try to do is what you would normally do if you were on your own, practice as if the coach is not there so that they can see how you would normally perform. If there’s shots that you believe are your best shots, tell the coach and be proud of them, and conversely if you’re hitting shots that you’re not happy with, tell the coach and explain where they are on a scale of your usual performance. All this will aid the coach getting to know your expectations quicker and provide better advice and support to you as a student.
Take your time to listen to the coach and ask any questions you have. Communication is vital.
This tip could be applied to almost any situation in life where you are working on a solution to a problem as a partnership/team. It is extremely important that you can understand what the coach is explaining and be able to visualize the improvements they are talking about. Take your time with letting the coach get through the full explanation, and then ask as many questions as you need. At this point it is vital to understand that no question you have is a stupid question, if you are uncertain about anything you should ask. This process will allow you to get a clearer understanding at the outset and make improvements in a much shorter period of time. By the end of any lesson you should be able to clearly state back to the coach what it is that you will be working on, which leads on to the next point….
Leave every lesson with a plan of action
At the end of every lesson you should walk away with a clear picture of what you are looking to achieve/improve during your practice. This should provide you with clear objective information on what the plan is before your next lesson or game. You should confirm this with the coach before leaving the lesson, allowing you to remain accountable for the development plan and making sure the coach is in agreement with the plan you have in place. This really is important to allow both yourself and the coach to be very specific and clear on what the focus should be, and really should only be a few points. It would be great to know everything at once, but that would overwhelm almost all students and cause you to forget important aspects you should work on. Think of it as a little like learning a new language, at first you would only learn the most basic elements, such as greetings and numbers, before moving on to complex conversations and sentence structure. Developing your golf is very similar, where you should be learning the most important foundational pieces first of all, and then building on each learning experience once you have become competent at the previous phase. The difference between the language analogy and golf is that actioning your learning in golf takes physical skills too, and you will need time to improve those physical movements. Think of your plan of action as your homework before you return for your next lesson, this should help you progress quicker towards your goal as well as providing accountability for both yourself and the coach.
Always provide feedback on development
Once you have a plan of action it is much easier to provide feedback on how the developments are going. This can either be done at the start of the next lesson, or through videos to your coach between lessons. I certainly like it when a student sends me videos of their practice with short feedback relating to the plan of action and what results they are seeing. This allows the coach to get a great picture of what the practice is like and helps the preparation for the next lesson or provide short feedback in between lessons to support students or keep the processes on track.
When you come in for the following lesson it’s great to start with the feedback relating specifically to your plan of action, how it has developed through practice on the range and transferred to the course. Try to think of what has challenged you the most, and what you have found to be the most effective methods in your practice and play. This allows very specific feedback and will allow the coach to have a better understanding how you are developing and performing. This feedback linked with the plan of action agreed with the coach keeps both parties accountable for the how the process is going. As the student if you are following the plan of action accurately you should see positive results.
If you are serious about your development, consider keeping a golfing journal
One of the most useful things that elite golfers will do is keep a golf journal from their lessons. This allows a student to keep a clear track of they have worked on, can have written agreements with the coach after each lesson about the plan of action, and can record what aspects they have had great success with and other areas they have found challenging. The journal provides a reminder of exactly what you are doing and helps everyone’s memory. I am sure you can all think back to a time when you have left a classroom or business meeting thinking about all the important points to take away with you, only to forget half of them a few days later, or potentially worse, misremember them and get yourself confused. A lesson journal can really help reduce these errors, and it really doesn’t take long to write down, saving valuable time later on when recalling exactly what you need to practice.
There is a lot of information for you take away here. Many students may hope that by paying for golf lessons they can have someone provide priceless pieces of information that change their golf game with minimal effort. As coaches we would all love for that to be the case too, and on a rare occasion we have students who can achieve their goals in a single lesson which is absolutely great. However, for almost everyone your golf development is a constant journey where you hold many keys to success. Your coach will be there to support you all the way, providing clear structure on how to achieve whatever your goals may be and helping you reach your destination much sooner than if you are going it alone. The tools discussed that you can develop will also speed up the process, keep you and the coach accountable for the development, and ultimately provide you with a much more rewarding structure to your learning and golfing experience.
Look out for part 2 on this subject, discussing what the coach will be doing to support your learning and making sure you are getting the most from your lessons.