The evolution of golf coaching - how good can we get?

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Here at GLF HQ we believe that golf needs to change if it is to survive in the modern leisure landscape...

Nowadays, people are very discerning about how they spend their leisure pounds or dollars and they make decisions in a different way than they used to. Many team sports are struggling, not because there are less players but because those players play less frequently. Where as in previous years, people would make a commitment to playing throughout a league season, now they will play 3/4 of the games. Clubs are struggling to adapt and league rules often mean that it is hard to accommodate these kinds of transient players. 

In golf we are seeing something similar. Participation is on the increase but membership is in decline. The old model of forking out £$1,000+ annual membership is becoming increasingly hard to justify. People just don't have the time to get value from such a proposition. 

As the golf consumer has changed the potential golf coaching customer is changing too.

With less regular golfers out there who are likely to commit the time and energy to extended work on their games, golf coaches need to adapt if it is to keep pace with the way people are now looking to develop their skills and their abilities.

Here at GLF, we believe in excellent coaching…it is built into our DNA, it is our WHY! We have created the GLF platform so that golf coaches don’t have to worry about all of the admin and all of the business management stuff and they can focus more of their time on providing a great learning experience that will help people get better and become as good as they can be.

We believe that technology can help coaches to reach and engage their audience better and we also believe that the platform does much to fostering a new, more modern approach to supporting the golf coaching consumer.  

But...(isn't there always a but!)...we also know that all of the clever tech in the world, will only work if the actual coaching experience that the person gets is excellent.

We think that some old practices and some old ways of thinking could be holding us back…it is stopping us from re imagining what we do as coaches and delivering something different.

Part of this is the very idea of a 'golf lesson'

What exactly is a lesson? defines a lesson as…



A section into which a course of study is divided, especially a single, continuous session of formal instruction in a subject

…”formal instruction”? Hmmm...

Do people really want formal instruction? Isn't formal instruction something that makes you think of school? Why do we use the language of school within our industry? Why are we aligned to an educational model that, in the words of Sir Ken Robinson “…was designed for the needs of the industrial revolution?”

Do we want to be giving lessons or do we want to be providing people with ‘learning experiences?’

A number of skill acquisition researchers have begin to question whether formal instruction is a methodology that enables people to learn effectively. At least not in the sporting context. Sport is about movement, it is about learning to control your body in space in order to achieve a certain objective. In the case of golf it is about learning to solve the problem of managing an implement in space to propel a ball towards a target in as few strikes as possible.

Viewed from this perspective we would suggest that learning in golf needs to be experiential, the person needs to be at the centre of the learning experience and we as coaches need to be facilitators of their learning. Giving a lesson evokes the idea that the teacher is all powerful and has knowledge and their job is to transmit that knowledge to the pupil and that this will make the pupil better.

The latest research in human learning is now asking questions around whether instructional learning models are actually effective in helping people to acquire physical skill.

Check out this great video from a website dedicated to learning and skill acquisition called 'Train Ugly'. 






The other question we pose is how motivational an instructional coaching approach actually is….

In 2011 two researchers called Deci and Ryan proposed a motivational learning approach called ‘Self Determination Theory’. This approach to learning proposes that people are really motivated to learn when 3 key elements are present: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness.

  1. Autonomy is when a person feels that they have a choice in how they learn and do not feel compelled to do so.
  2. Competence is the sense of being able to accomplish a task and control outcomes.
  3. Relatedness is the sense of being connected to the person who is supporting them due to that person meeting their needs above.

Formal instruction or lessons do not serve the needs of people from the perspective of Autonomy and Relatedness because it fails to take into consideration the needs of the person as a problem solving learning organism. People love to have the freedom to explore solving problems and puzzles and sometimes need a coach to help them to solve the problem when they have run out of answers. But if that coach just tells them the answer then that takes away the sense of autonomy and competence and relatedness as it places the learner as a passive recipient of the coach’s superior knowledge. The coach is all powerful and all knowing which makes them less relatable, they do not feel autonomous because they are merely carrying out instructions rather than finding a solution and they don’t really develop competence because much of what they have learned doesn’t stay with them and transfer into their competitive play.

As a result these people can quickly become disenchanted and either stop getting coaching or maybe find someone else who seems to connect with them as a learner better.

Sport England recently published its new strategy for coaching entitled, ‘Coaching in an Active Nation: The Coaching Plan for England’ and in that document the plan writers talk about how coaching needs to become more focused on meeting the needs of players when it defines coaching as:

“Improving a person’s experience of sport and physical activity by providing specialised support and guidance aligned to their individual needs and aspirations”

The team at GLF are totally on board with this vision for coaching and we want to enable more coaches to be able to meet the needs of more golfers so that we can help them to grow the game and be more successful.

So here is the challenge to anyone reading this…

Can we stop talking and thinking about instructional 'golf lessons'....and move in the direction of thinking about providing more ‘learning experiences’? Can we rid ourselves of these words from all of our promotional materials and start using a more modern, learner centred vocabulary? 

In case you are struggling to come up with something better, here are 10 suggestions that are better than 'golf lesson: 

  1. Skill excellence session
  2. Skill development sessions 
  3. Learning sessions
  4. Skill exploration sessions
  5. Skill discovery sessions 
  6. Skill execution sessions 
  7. Learning experiences
  8. Learning conferences
  9. Golf growth sessions
  10. Game enhancement sessions

The 'Golf Science Lab' podcast features 2 of the worlds best golf coaches, Lynn Marriott and Pia Nillson of 'Vision 54' gives a great insight into how great coaches think about the golf coaching experience. 

I hope you find this useful in helping you to provide amazing learning experiences for the people that you coach. We firmly believe that adopting this kind of approach will develop a network of people that aren't just customers, they are raving fans!

To your continued success on the amazing learning journey that is coaching.