Golf Coaching & The Power of a Metaphor

Iain Highfield
  • Author: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director
Facebook Twitter Share Email Print

As coaches, we want to influence players and help them create physical, technical and psychological habits of excellence. We must communicate in ways that compel them to action. A coach can have all the knowledge in the world, but if we can’t influence students to apply the knowledge we teach them, that is all it will remain, knowledge.

Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist who specialized in the art of influence, was able to develop his language skills and being artfully vague through using stories and metaphors. Erickson used "verbal surprises” to delight listeners. These verbal tricks helped close the gap between speaker and listener by sticking in the listeners memory.

At the PGA Show, Canadian golf instructor Sean Foley discussed Erickson’s techniques and their impact on Foley’s tour player, Hunter Mahan. Foley’s use of this technique stuck in our minds and compelled us to bring it to our own students, where we are hoping for a similar reaction.


Sean Foley's story went like this:


A man walks over to his friend and the man asks his friend, “Where is your horse?”

“It’s gone,” the man replies.

The man’s friend looks very concerned, “That’s terrible!”

“I don't know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” the man says.

The next day, the man and his friend are sitting on a rickety old patio drinking a beer When the man’s horse returns, with him is another horse.

The friend says, “Wow, that’s great! Now you have 2 horses.”

The man again says, “I don't know whether that’s good or bad yet.”

The man calls over his son, who is going to a horse riding camp that weekend, and asks his son to take the new horse to the event.

The son agrees and jumps on the horse’s back wanting to break the horse in for the show; however, the horse bucks and the son falls to the ground, breaking his leg. Now, he can’t go to the camp that weekend.

The man’s friend says, “Man, I knew that horse was a bad thing.”

The man replies, “Well, I don't know if my son breaking his leg is a good thing or a bad thing yet.”

Saturday comes and the bus leaves for the horse riding camp at the canyon. The man’s son is miserable, thinking about everything he is going to miss. The man walks into the room and says, “Don't be sad son, we don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing yet.”

Sunday evening comes around, and the bus has not returned from the canyon.

By Monday night, word has come that there was a mud slide and all the students on the bus had perished. 

Sean Foley

This kind of story, whether true or not, allows people to change perspective and try new ways of thinking.

When a player misses that all important green with an 8 iron, but chips in on the next shot, perhaps that is the moment you subtlety remind them of the ‘horse story’. 

Horse Story Blog inspired by Sean Foley