Our Top 10 Coaching Tips for the Beginner GolferBy: Charlene Bendt and Tasha Bohlig, PGA
One of the most magical aspects of teaching a new golfer is the opportunity to help a student find a new source of enjoyment and maybe fall in love with the game of golf! It is a privilege to share our sport and the joy that it has brought to our lives with others. With that being said, beginners can be challenging to teach. New golfers come in all ages, body types and backgrounds and no matter who is in front of us, we are tasked with helping them become as proficient as possible. After working with numerous beginning golfers, we have put together our top ten tips for helping this special and very important niche of students. By offering a comfortable environment they are more likely to become active participants in the game for many years to come.
- Preempt the Nerves – Whether they admit it or not most golfers are nervous taking a lesson, especially beginners. While some anxiety may be related to their anticipation of hitting golf balls, there are many peripheral parts when taking a golf lesson that may make people feel uncomfortable. They may wonder: “Where should I go?”, “What are the rules?”, “Will I embarrass myself?”. Prior to the lesson consider addressing some of these possible concerns. Send them a message with a brief introduction, directions, dress code and/or club policies, and even a picture of you. You can also outline how the lesson may be structured – interview, physical screening, fundamentals, etc. By contacting them in advance you begin to develop a rapport with the student and make their arrival at the course as seamless as possible.
- Set Reasonable Expectations – We believe it is our responsibility to be open about the ups and downs beginners will face. This can be done in a candid and neutral way and is an essential part of building trust in this budding relationship. Explain the dichotomy in performance in which well-struck shots will keep getting better, the misses will improve, but there will forever be a range of outcomes. Surprisingly, this can be especially relevant with putting since it often appears easier than other parts of the game. Share some of the tour make percentages from various distances. When the student learns that the world’s best golfers only make 8-foot putts 50% of the time, it is always very eye-opening! Often this realization enables the player to relax expectations and feel satisfied with their progress.
- Get to Know the Person and Not Just as a Golfer – An interview allows for us to understand the new golfer’s expectations and goals along with crucial information like injuries, physical limitations, sports background, golf experience, lesson history, time restraints, career, learning style and much more. Our mission is to match a lesson plan and a skill development process with their schedule, goals, and physical abilities. If you know a person’s occupation, hobbies, and other interests, it also becomes easier to make more relevant and useful analogies when teaching.
- Offer and Recommend Lightweight, Forgiving Equipment – Many brand-new golfers will come to a lesson with their parent’s clubs or an old set from the garage. This is a great opportunity for you to make the game as accessible as possible by providing more forgiving clubs for the student to use. Moreover, you may create new sales opportunities for you and your facility.
- Help Overcome the Fear of Hitting the Ground – New golfers often seem to have an inherent fear of contacting the ground. Whether they are reticent to hurt themselves or just do not understand that taking divots is acceptable, it is helpful to have some strategies to address this common concern. We also find that when a new golfer has been given the cue to “hit the ground”, he/she will swing steeply and most likely with hands and arms only. Sometimes you can correct or prevent common swing faults like this by just explaining the function of a golf club’s loft, the purpose of grooves and the dynamics of striking the golf ball correctly. For example, hit two shots for them – one sweeping the ground with the putter and the other with an 8 iron. This will provide a great visual on how the same motion can produce two different looking shots (one stays on the ground and one goes in the air), just by changing to a more lofted club.
- Provide a Feedback System – Beginners need feedback more than any other type of golfer. Since they are just starting to make those all-important neural connections, they need to be able to decipher a good skill from an improper one. Give them targeted exercises that help them self-correct. Often their motion can vary a lot from one swing to the next. Rather than analyzing each swing individually, stick with a few keys and keep reminding them what “to do” rather than what “not to do”. And most importantly, provide a lot of encouragement and positive feedback. Comment on the process, rather than the result. If they swing and miss but the motion looked good, tell them! Even a swing that misses can be followed up by a great shot, especially if the student has reason to believe it might.
- Structure, Structure, Structure – As the Coach, it is our job to provide structure for players of all skill levels. Stress the importance of quality, goal specific practice. Assign drills, discuss a schedule, and address expectations. Encourage them to keep notes and take photos to review prior to lessons and practice sessions. Provide home-oriented drills as well because some beginning golfers find the range a daunting place to practice. Some golfers may also be intimidated to practice because they fear reinforcing bad habits if they are not swinging exactly as taught. In our experience even if the golfer is not doing something spot on, they are still developing important proprioception, body awareness and coordination. At the the next lesson it is often easier to adjust what the player has been doing rather than repeating the previous lesson due to lack of practice.
- Include Golf Course Time – While beginners are certainly not ready for playing in the traditional sense, it is important to get them out on a golf course as soon as possible. Being on course gives them an opportunity to connect with the language learned at the lesson, see the flow of the game and why each part of the game is relevant (putting, chipping, using different clubs) and the context needed to help them group cues together. Most importantly, being on the course is often more fun than hitting balls at the range and will help get them excited about playing golf!
- Give Permission to Break the “Rules”– Remember that playing on the golf course does not have to look like what the rule book describes. Allow beginners to “break the rules” by playing shorter length holes (possibly even creating your own teeing ground or starting at a specific yardage based on ability level), utilizing a golf tee on any or all shots, playing a scramble with a partner and playing as few or as many holes as they like. We have had the most success in retaining golfers and providing them with an enjoyable experience by starting close to the hole. Shorter holes provide a more manageable introduction to the course and removes any pressure related to distance and pace of play. Having early success getting the ball in the hole will give them confidence to seamlessly progress to longer and more challenging shots. The goal should be to make their time on the course as positive, relaxed, and enjoyable as possible so they will be encouraged to keep playing.
- Use a Process-Oriented Approach – Regardless of the student’s age we are teaching a process. Golf is much more than a swing and we want to instill the “marathon versus sprint” mentality. Many who take up golf later in life will find it challenging to create new motor patterns, especially if they were not active in other sports growing up. It is often illuminating to ask adults “When was the last time you learned a new physical skill”? Juniors are actively learning new physical skills throughout their childhood. For adults it may have been years since their brain was challenged in this unique way. If the golfer loves to learn they will respect the process and embrace the inevitable ups and downs. With this approach you subtly begin weaving in the mental side of golf at the very first lesson.
Teaching new golfers is very exciting and rewarding. There is nothing like seeing the look on a student’s face when they sense the proper strike of the golf ball and smile as they watch their shot soar through the air. By investing extra time and consideration, we can help ensure our student has a great first impression of the game and a memorable introduction to golf. Hopefully the return on our investment is that we will have more golfers playing and enjoying our wonderful sport for years to come!