Zach Allen, the 2013 Southern California PGA Section Teacher of the Year, is PGA director of instruction at the De Bell Golf Course in Burbank, California.
Put Yourself in Your Students’ Shoes
Zach Allen on the importance of putting yourself in your students’ shoes:
I think teachers can sometimes forget that we are in the top one percent of all golfers. Our students, conversely, make up the 99 percent, grinding away with whatever leisure time they have to become as good at this game as they possibly can. Over the years, I’ve observed that the desire to get our students as good we can sometimes leads to frustrating experiences for all parties involved. Sixteen years after getting into the business, I was frustrated and needed a healthy hobby to relieve the stresses of everyday life as a PGA Professional. That’s when I remembered my past: guitar and voice lessons. I had first started taking lessons in college, but pushed it aside when I began my teaching career. A few years ago I started back up with it, and the fact that I was an absolute beginner reminded me what it was like for so many of my students. It’s a grind, and a frustrating road to any semblance of confidence and comfort. In addition, on the golf side of things, I began playing one round a month left-handed with a fellow PGA Professional, and that experience also reminded me what it’s like to suddenly feel like a beginner again. I’ve never been the same teacher since, using the knowledge of what it’s like to be a novice to help become better at what I do. I’ve tried to listen to my students more, creating action plans that lead to incremental, reasonable and attainable goals instead of instantly trying to achieve a player’s long-term aspirations. We focus on what’s reasonable, and show how that can improve their overall golf experience.
Zach Allen on the business impact of putting yourself in your students’ shoes:
Prior to changing my technique for beginners, my lesson rolls were only 75-80 percent full. Now they’re 100 percent full. In addition, I had a three-to-five percent student attrition rate prior to my changes. Now my retention rate is almost 100 percent, and the experience for both teacher and student is that much more satisfactory. I’m also getting half of my new students via referrals, which speaks to that positive learning environment. One of the keys that I realized is that no student will be perfect, and no matter how hard I work with them, no one will ever be the perfect reflection of me. Just like my guitar and voice teacher did with me, I must adapt to their personality, style and schedule. That’s how I make them the best possible player: By addressing their needs in a manner that best fits them and leaves them knowing they’ll be a better player, if not perfect, by the time their session with me ends.