By Kirk Alderink, May 2015
There are golf teachers and coaches every couple of miles down the road these days. However, this may be a big problem for the players and parents of young players.
Who should you trust with your golf game?
In this article, I would like to explore some traits and give you a guide to find a great coach/teacher near you.
In the golf world, coaches/teachers don’t need any qualification or certification to teach—here lies the problem. Anybody can setup a space, hang a shingle, and claim to be a golf instructor. There are many people out there that think teaching golf is an easy trait, just look at the average Saturday morning foursome. There is always someone in that group trying to instruct their buddies. Please understand that because someone may be a decent player, it does not qualify them to teach players of different body types, flexibility, learning style, etc. There is an art to coaching. Look at all the other sports as well and how some succeed and some do not.
I coach many elite players whose future I have in my hands. I work hard to learn and be the best at my craft because that is only fair to those who trust me with their games. I would not be able to sleep at night if I knew I possibly did anything to jeopardize their chances at the best possible future. I do get a little irritated when I see so many unqualified people give unsolicited advice without care of the consequence. I believe that is one major key to any great coach, they put their players above anything else. Great coaches always make sure they are doing the best thing for their student—not themselves.
Let’s dive in a little deeper and explore a few things to look for, and what to watch out for.
What to Look for in a Coach
Here are five things to look for when selecting a golf teacher, coach, or instructor:
#1 Someone who cares about his or her players with whom they work with.
Great coaches have a love, actually a passion, for what they do and the people they are privileged to be able to help. You can actually see this love visually in all sports. Just watch when a team wins a championship and how they all hug the coach. More importantly the coach hugs his or her players.
Jimmy Valvano was, and is a big inspiration to me. When North Carolina State won the National Championship in men’s basketball, he hugged all of his players and told them “I love you” to each one individually. The relationship with your golf instructor does not need to be that personal but it is important to work with someone who cares. Great coaches will follow up with you between lessons to check on progress.
#2 Someone who is known for helping players.
Get referrals from people that have worked with the coach you are considering. Ask them if they have improved, what they thought of the process, and if there has been progress in your game. There are many instances where a player may like their coach personally but are not getting better. Because they don’t want to hurt their coach’s feelings, they don’t explore other options. This is a very tough situation and I get it, but it is your future and life. A split does not mean you cannot remain friends.
#3 Someone who is busy.
It can be frustrating at some times to call and not get in with your coach right away but there is a reason they are busy, they are great at what they do! Just make sure to anticipate when you may want to get in and schedule in advance. So many times if you need emergency help, a great coach will stay longer to help you or find a time outside of their schedule.
#4 Someone who listens.
One major falsity is that great teachers give great, long winded speeches. This is not true at all; great coaches listen to you and what you need. Great coaches will then speak in a clear, short, and meaningful direction.
There are so many teachers that I hear constantly talking. If you all remember the “Let Kids Learn” article, we need to think for ourselves and process the information given. If the teacher is always talking and always telling you to do something different, that may be a sign to look elsewhere. Also, be very wary of someone who tries to sound smart. The objective is to find the simplest and most effective route to improvement. If you are hearing about physics and biomechanics (which most golf instructors are not qualified to discuss anyway), you should be very wary.
#5 Someone who has qualifications and certifications.
As mentioned in the opening, there are no requirements to teach golf. It is a shame really because we are dealing with human movement and performance. There are many qualifications and certifications that great coaches earn and great coaches are always learning. Great coaches never feel that they are good enough so they are always working to get better.
Those are some traits of great teachers. I could write so much more as there is a colossal gap between great coaches/teachers and the person teaching a few lessons here and there. Now here are a few things to look for as a clear sign to pocket your wallet and look elsewhere.
What to Watch Out When Selecting a Coach
Here are five things to watch out for for when selecting a golf teacher, coach, or instructor:
#1 Someone who always looks at their watch.
This is a sign of someone who doesn’t care to be there. They are just counting the minutes to be done with the lesson and collect money. This is someone who does not care or is worried about something rather than your golf game. Run!
#2 Someone who does not teach much.
This could just be a sign of someone starting off as a teacher but the teachers that get results have a busy schedule. Great teachers are usually always full because people like working with them and they are getting results.
#3 Someone who uses too much technology.
There was a big buzz a few years ago over all the technology available, but in my opinion it hurts players more than helps. I have seen some horrific lessons when teachers are using a Trackman or something along those lines.
I am in no way saying Trackman is bad, but its use sometimes hurts players. Players should always learn cause and effect from their swings. You can not carry around a Trackman on the golf course. Impact is a result of the overall motion a player makes. A tour professional may be able to make a small adjustment and make impact perfect but most players cannot. If a teacher only uses a launch monitor and watches that more than they watch you, get out of there. Find someone who can explain your cause and effect and how that effects the ball flight.
#4 Someone who is always on the driving range working on swing.
If you want to score better, you NEED to work on the game holistically. You should work a healthy dose on putting, chipping, pitching, bunker, mental game, etc.
Imagine a basketball team just shooting every practice, it does not make sense. Many teachers approach golf this way, they stand on the range and teach only swing mechanics. Look for someone who is taking players to the short game area, putting green, and golf course.
#5 Someone who teaches a method.
How people are still doing this is unreal to me. If you come across someone that teaches a method or style, run for the hills. There is a reason there are so many swing methods out there and all of them have minimal success. They all apply to someone but usually a small crowd. Just look at the PGA and LPGA Tour’s and watch all of the unique swings, putting styles, etc. They all do what their bodies can do and it is repeatable. If anybody ever tried to put Jim Furyk into a swing style we would never have heard of him. We saw some big names fade fast after changing, Mike Weir going to Stack and Tilt is a great example.
If Tiger would have stayed on what he did when he was younger, he most likely would be well beyond the record. He changed to a style, got hurt and it set him back a long way. He is getting back to what he did when he was younger and I still believe he will be in the winner circle again soon.
Please understand that you are all unique. We all have different body types: arm span, forearm length, muscle tone, leg length, and on and on. We cannot all swing the same way.
In summary, you want to find a coach that has a history of helping players score better. You want someone that cares greatly about how you do and will always be there for you. On the other hand, you must do your part to improve as well. Nobody can do it for you.
Good Luck in your golfing journey. It is a great one!