Coaches Corner: Successful First Lesson StrategiesBy: Tasha Bohlig, PGA
Successful First Lesson Strategies- Investigate and P-R-O
Tasha Bohlig, PGA
First impressions matter. The initial encounter with a student is critically important to develop a long-term coaching relationship. The earlier we establish rapport with the golfer the sooner trust is built. Teaching Professionals are hopefully more than just swing coaches. We start as investigators and become friends, confidants, counselors, and much more. Beyond teaching sound golf methods, there are strategies you can apply at the first lesson that will develop a strong bond between you and your students and create repeat customers.
This article will group the skills needed for a successful first lesson into two categories – Investigator and P-R-O. These coaching tactics can be employed quickly to develop trust and will make a big difference in your ability to quickly understand the golfer.
Be an Investigator:
- Look for Clues – Good observation and communication are essential. Look for information about the person as well as the golfer. Conduct your pre-lesson interview, where you ask about golf and sports history, physical limitations, occupation, practice habits, goals, etc. As you do so, look for the golf cues. Analyze their equipment, wear patterns on clubs, gloves, and grips. How do they stand, walk, move, dress? Do they take practice swings? What’s the pre-shot routine? At the same time, try to relax them with the process. Now you have a better idea of the athlete in front of you, and the lesson can begin.
- Group Your Information – An effective lesson should be centered around targeted and clear information. The best way to keep things simple and customized is to be able to group material so the lesson topics are specific to their problems and the information feels digestible. For example, you have a lesson with a right-handed golfer who tells you that they are losing distance and directional control. You observe the ball going right, wear marks in the palm of their glove, open shoulder alignment, and incorrect ball position. Rather than fixing these errors at separate times during the lesson, combine all the corrections into an adjustment to their pre-shot routine. The grip, alignment, ball position, etc. are being addressed but it feels like only one change to the golfer. Looking for relevant clues, as in the earlier example, helps you group together information for the best fix for each student and keeps the information consumable.
- Solve the Case as a Team – Information retention is heightened when there is a joint approach to learning. Instead of the coach solely making the diagnosis and lesson plan, include the student in the corrections and the schematics. This partnership allows for the student to be an active participant and gives them more ownership in the process. A team approach combines active listening and joint feedback before, during, and at the end of each lesson with open communication lines in between meetings. It is imperative to keep adjusting the plan together as needed.
Be a P.R.O.:
P – Put the ball in their court
The goal for every coach/student relationship should be to create self-awareness and ownership, so the student is not solely reliant on the coach for diagnosis. We want to move the golfer out of “technique mode” and into “playing golf” mode. Asking questions like “Why do you think the ball went there?” or “What did that seem like to you?” are great ways to help the student take ownership and learn how to self-correct. You can also require a certain amount of practice time and progress before making further changes to provide motivation and ownership.
R – Reflect their personality and intensity initially in the lesson (like a mirror)
When matching your student’s style, they feel understood. Acting as a mirror is often a suggested negotiation tactic and even a parenting tip. The goal is for the other party to feel heard and understood and then you can slowly move them over to see your perspective. Regardless of your personality and style, you can create a deeper connection at the first lesson when you match styles, so they feel heard. If you are teaching a particularly quiet and reserved person, you may begin the lesson matching their reserved manner to help them feel comfortable, and then add your own style once trust and understanding is created. Repeat their concerns so they feel heard and trust can be cultivated. For example if they share that they often miss the ball thin, then throughout the lesson and especially when making your corrections, mention that this will fix their thin misses. When you combine mirroring and active listening, you create an environment filled with understanding, which ensures a repeat customer.
O – Open dialogue filled with Open-ended questions
An open dialogue will come naturally when trust is established. Make the learning environment comfortable, ask open-ended questions, and set up a feedback system (emails, coaching apps like CoachNow, etc.) to help continue this relationship in between sessions. Effective language and messaging play a big role in creating a successful coaching partnership. Make your comments feel inclusive by incorporating “we” when possible. For example, saying “We want to work on balance today by doing these two drills together” will allow your student to sense a team approach. Reframe questions that could end in “yes or no”. Instead of asking, “Did you like that hit?”, you can rephrase that question and say, “Why do you think that ball went higher?”. You will be able to gather much more information and see how your information is being interpreted by asking open-ended questions.
The first lesson is crucial for information gathering for the coach and trust building for the student. You can make or break your customer retention with how that golfer feels throughout that first impression. When you can provide a customized experience in a golf lesson, you are cultivating a relationship with each student and helping to build a long-term relationship. Before your next lesson with a first-time student, look to implement some of these “Investigator and P.R.O.” tools to help develop a rapport with the golfer as well as the person.