What Makes a Good Coach?

  • Author: TJ Sullivan
  • PGA Certified Professional
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What Makes a Good Coach?


What makes a good coach?


Not too long ago, someone who doesn’t play golf asked me this question. He was a maintenance worker in our facility. This question took me by surprise not because it was late in the evening after a long day of lessons and not because I wouldn’t have expected to hear it from this very nice gentleman, but because it was the first time anyone has ever asked me that in the 15 years I’ve been coaching golfers.


That got me thinking. What does make a good golf coach? I will be the first to admit that I never have all the answers. In fact, that’s a part of the answer. And I certainly do not intend to describe myself in this answer. I do, however, aspire to these key points and commit to bettering myself every day, but enough backstory. What makes a good coach?


Mark Twain once said, “Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t.” Good coaches take that same philosophy with learning. The very best coaches I know are always striving to learn more. Regardless of whether it actually includes reading, a good coach is someone who uses all of their assets and connections to help themselves learn. Some do research, and some have conversations. A good coach is one who actively pursues continuing education, and it can be in any form. Some coaches I’ve talked to have hobbies that range from reading sci-fi books to flying drones. One of the most interesting coaches I’ve ever worked with has a YouTube channel not for golf, but for his music. The constant pursuit of more knowledge is key.


Sometimes, my wife gets a little frustrated with me when it seems that I pay more attention to my students than I do to her. I’m certainly not advocating that all good coaches must put their marriage or personal lives in turmoil. I am, however, saying that coaches who care make great coaches. I try to hold my students in the highest regard with respect and care. Sometimes, all it takes is standing up when you speak with them or holding a door open for them. Some of the best coaches are also the best with customer service. One of my role models always talks about how being a golf coach is more like being in a relationship with each and every one of your students. Hopefully you have a great relationship with your coach.


I remember during one of my lessons (and yes, I do take lessons), while we were talking about my goals, I mentioned the fact that I really don’t like seeing the ball curve left. The lesson went along, and I was instructed to swing more in to out, creating more of a draw shape. I left the lesson upset not because I was hitting a draw, but because I specifically told the instructor what I didn’t want, and he told me to do it anyway. Maybe I didn’t explain what I wanted properly, but I believe that good coaches always teach to the goal. I feel if someone is struggling with their driver going too far right on the 14th hole at their club, hitting 7-iron on the range is a horrible way to go about it. If you had an issue with your short game and all you did was hit mid irons to the same flag for an hour, I would suggest finding someone else to go to in order to help you with your game. Find a coach who will help you achieve your goals, specifically and with priority, and they will be a better coach.


What Makes a Good Coach?


During another lesson, we were talking for about an hour, and I said maybe 3-4 sentences. Keep in mind that I talk about myself. A lot. But this coach was talking almost the entire length of the lesson. The worst part is, he was talking during the entire lesson before me and even started talking to the next student after me! Good coaches ask questions and LISTEN. There is a great TED Talk that resonated with me by Celeste Headlee where she mentioned one of the ways to have a good conversation is to listen. A good coach does this crazy thing called listening to the answer instead of thinking of the next question or the next thing they want to say. Enter every conversation assuming you have something to learn.


Like many of you, when I’m playing golf, I want to see the results of the hard work I put in. We all do. The best coaches care about the process and maybe even put the process ahead of the results. Many great coaches stick to the same routine (or process) every day to show their students that the process matters more than the results. The results will result from the process. Need I say more?


It was only a short time ago that the PGA taught concepts like the 3 learning styles and how the ball plays depending on your swing path without being aware of the errors in their lessons. They have since corrected most of that information. Something I constantly tell people (players, other coaches, or even friends) is “we don’t know what we don’t know.” I’ve been on a personal journey to learn as much as possible in order to help my players as much as I can. A good coach, in this coach’s opinion, is humble and certainly doesn’t claim to know everything. If your coach is humble, they will show it. I also believe there is a difference between earning certifications and accolades and being boastful about them. Some the best coaches and instructors I know are some of the most humble people I’ve ever met. I look up to those coaches, and your coach should as well!


If you were to look at some of my lessons from 15 years ago (which, thankfully, were prior to YouTube), you would see not only a different coach, but a completely different type of lesson. With that being said, my philosophy hasn’t changed much in those 15 years. A good coach is one who can change their methodology while staying true to themselves and sticking to their philosophy. To touch on my earlier point, we as coaches need to continue to learn, and we should evolve with the times.


As I mentioned above, I certainly am not describing myself in this article. In my opinion, these are a few attributes of good coach. I think this is a good start to answer the question of what makes a good coach, and hopefully you have a coach who has many these characteristics. Also, I want to apologize if there are more that I may have missed because, well, I’m still learning, too.