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Occasional Teaching vs. Coaching

Occasional Teaching vs. Coaching

A debate has grown in recent years, the debate of which is better for golfers between occasional teaching and extensive coaching of players.  In past times, not long ago, almost all golf instruction was applied through the occasional teaching principle. In fact, the majority of golf instruction today is still undertaken through this type of structure.  Within recent years another type of golf instruction structure has risen to the surface, the format of extensive coaching of players.  The rise of this type of “coaching instruction” has created this debate I am going to explain.

In recent years some noted teachers and sports psychologists have heavily promoted the coaching model of golf instruction.  In the coaching model, a long term supervised instruction plan is implemented.  For example, instead of a student coming in every other week for an hour of private instruction, the student might obtain one private lesson followed by frequent supervised practice sessions between lessons.  Many teachers who use the coaching model have students come to supervised practice sessions in a group format, allowing the teachers to briefly oversee each student and ensure they are practicing properly.  The group format of supervised practice allows students to pay a lower fee compared to one-on-one instruction, while still allowing teachers to make time profitable.  If a golfer looks around the region they reside, they will likely find many teachers who are implementing this type of coaching model.  Many teachers implement the coaching model through charging students a monthly fee for the entire program, or reduced rates for supervised practice sessions.

An example of an in-depth coaching program for juniors would be one of the full-time junior academies found in the southern United States.  Examples include the IMG David Leadbetter Junior Golf Academy, The Gary Gilgrest Junior Golf Academy, and the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy.  Concerning the golf instruction, much of the instruction time becomes supervised practice, giving the program an in-depth coaching element.  Tuitions at these programs commonly range between $40,000-$70,000 annually, which includes lodging, food, schooling, and athletic and fitness program instruction.

On the other side of the coin, and in the occasional teaching model, golfers undertake the vast majority of practice and playing time on their own.  A golfer may come to a teacher for an occasional lesson, but after the lesson, they are one hundred percent reliant upon themselves to put in time and properly create improvement through practice and play.  The majority of golf instruction today is still found in this type of format.

Now that I have briefly described each of these types of instruction models, which of these models creates the better golfers?  This is the question which leads to heated debates from advocates for each.  Advocates of the coaching model commonly blame the occasional teaching model for the reason why the majority of golfers do not see improvement in play.   Yes, handicap averages for the majority of golfers have not improved for sometime in the game, there is no denying this fact.  This is true, but I want to point out another element which greatly contributes to this fact.  This element is the majority of golfers are recreational amateurs who play and practice on an infrequent basis, and in my opinion, this is the main reason why handicap averages do not change, no matter which instruction model is used.   To improve at golf and become a better player, a great deal of time needs to be dedicated to the game and improving, and unless a player can do this, it will be impossible to compare each of these teaching models for players.

This being said, let’s assume we have a player who does dedicate a significant amount of time towards playing and practicing, which model is best for these players?   In my opinion, it would be the occasional teaching model.  I know this may surprise many people reading this, but I honestly believe in what I just said.  I feel for people who dedicate a significant amount of time towards the game, and especially for better players, the occasional teaching model creates better players who shoot lower scores under tournament pressure.   I came to this conclusion from studying the best players in the history of the game.  I know the coaching model is relatively new to the game of golf, but it has existed long enough to witness a large number of its results.  I do know players who have came from coaching programs and have made it onto top professional male and female tours.  This being said, the vast majority still come from the occasional teaching model.  Also, almost all of the best through the history of the game played using the occasional teaching model.  Jack Nicklaus used to receive golf instruction very rarely from his long time teacher Jack Grout, Nicklaus used to visit Grout only about once or twice a season to go over very simple fundamentals.  Tiger has had a few different teachers through his career, and with all of them, has followed the occasional teaching model.  If you looked at the very best in the games history, you will find almost all of them came from the occasional teaching model.  Also think about this fact, there have been great players in this game long before there have been great teachers.

I am a strong believer in the occasional teaching model because I feel a key element to becoming a successful golfer at the highest levels is owning your technique and movements.  This means developing confidence and belief in your technique and yourself to a degree which only can be only achieved by doing most of the work on your own.   Some help is good at times in the process of improving, but independence is needed to become an expert, independence helping to instill an undying level of trust and belief.   I believe in this because golf is an individual, not a team sport.  When a golfer is placed under pressure, faith and belief in one self is just as important, if not more important, then technique used.   This has been mentioned from Jack Nicklaus himself when describing elements which aided him in becoming one of the most successful golfers of all time.  When Jack got under the heaviest pressure in a major championship, he knew where the golf ball was going to go, he knew so through belief developed in himself through independent practice and play.   This is one element I feel the coaching model greatly lacks.  With a coaching model, a golfer can easily become too reliant upon the coach, to a level where belief and trust isn’t developed as high as someone undertaking an independent practice and playing structure.    The coaching model often helps golfers improve in terms of technique development at faster rates than the occasional teaching model, but repeatability of motion combined with trust is better seen in the occasional teaching model, that is only when golfers dedicate a substantial amount of time towards playing and practicing.

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