Blanket Coaching - The Underlying Issue with poor golf practice game design

Arick Zeigel
  • Author: Arick Zeigel
  • GLT Associate
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Stuart Morgan GLT
  • Author 2: Stuart Morgan
  • GLT European Partner
Jordan Spieth & Rickie Fowler playing golf

It’s great to see golf instruction putting forth the effort to better understand ways to improve how we train the game. Though we’re seeing more and more people getting away from the rake and hit mentality, we still have a long way to go as an industry. I follow a lot of the forum pages on Facebook, and am always curious to see what people are posting. 99.9% of the time it is usually something related to the golf swing.


Regardless, the main purpose of this blog is to help people further understand how to better enhance training-game designs, as well as some of the major pitfalls that we want you to avoid.


1. You’re dealing with people - not cogs in a system. Know your student.

Far too often we see people design a game with the wrong initial questions in mind. When coming up with a design, whether it be for an on-course performance game, or a short game constraint task at the practice facility, the first question usually asked by the coach is, “how can I make this look good,” or, “how do I want the game to function?” While the functions of a game are important, and optical design is fun, we want to again stress that you’re dealing with people, and design is relevant to the user.


So, really the first questions that need to be asked are:

  • What should this player feel?
  • What sort of experience should they have while in the game?
  • Should they feel pressure, feel anxious, or should it be an implicit learning experience through the 'Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) framework?


In the research of PCDE's , by Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara, you can train these behaviors and tell the students that “this is what you are going to train today because x, y, and z.” In doing so, the student will have a clear understanding of the goal. This helps them to explicitly understand, which then enables them to implicitly learn. In one set up, you can give the students what they need individually, based on the level of the task. This becomes bigger than golf by helping young golfers develop the qualities to deal with whatever comes their way in the future, whether that be within golf or outside of it.


As a coach, you have to put the focus on the student’s needs, and only once those have been answered can you truly start the design. This is the difference between human focused design & function focused design. Human focused design takes into consideration a person’s motivational factors within the system, rather than optimizing for pure functional efficiency (Yu-Kai chou, Actionable Gamification.) The biggest underlying issue with poor game design is the fact that the coach doesn’t take into account the person they’re designing the game for.


2. Don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles of the game. Less can be more.

Once you’ve answered the vital question of what the purpose of this task or game is, then you can start to build in the game elements. Keep in mind that game elements are there to push and pull on their user's behavioral core drivers (Yu-Kai chou, Actionable Gamification,) and the saying of less is more is vital to a successful game design.

It is also imperative in this situation that you allow the student time and space. Don’t create multiple scenarios just to keep them busy, as certain games can be toxic to some, but magical for others. This element takes planning and an understanding of the student to put together, so don’t be lazy.


Golf coach standing on range

3. Don't become a blanket coach. One size does not fit all.

In other words, each student is different and will have a different experience in the game. Use their feedback to grow and develop. Every student that we, as coaches, are fortunate to come into contact with is different; they are all case studies of one. When designing a game, if you keep the game elements the exact same for players of different levels, they will lose interest. If the task is too easy for some, they will become bored and disengaged with the task.

The same goes for if the game is too challenging; the player will become demotivated, and may lose interest as they perceive the task as impossible. You have to design the elements of the game around each individual in hope of finding a balance between the player’s skill levels and the difficulty of the challenge. When this is achieved, the user will become completely engaged in the task. They “zone in” on the activity, losing their sense of self, as well as losing track of time. This is a moment of euphoria, excitement and engagement (Yu-Kai Chou, Actionable Gamification.)


While the student is participating in a task, you must ask one vital question as a coach: does this look and feel real? If you were at a tournament, are you now seeing similar character traits from the individual? You can see emotion and body language, but it’s also key that you debrief with the individual after the task is over to gain more insight into the true experience. What were they thinking? How were they feeling?


Designing games is much harder than people think, and may not always work as you hoped the first time. But, after the student has engaged in the experience, use their feedback and input to further adapt and develop the game.


Keep in mind that you can develop strategy games, games to push a technical change to the course, games to challenge emotions and outcome stresses (like tournaments,) but the nail on the head moment is when you combine Technical, Tactical, Mental, Emotional and Physical into one game, and get the challenge point right for that individual.


Just like in the game of golf, if you play competitively, it involves all of these. It is dynamic in nature and not isolated.


Enjoy, and Happy Game design.