Teaching golfers for the long haul

Matthew Cook
  • Author: Matthew Cooke
  • GLT Director
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Junior golfers

The early years of coaching golfers is know as phase one: 

This is where players are introduced to the many aspects of the game in its entirety. This is done in a very open, engaging and non-intimidating Game Like way. Measures are taken and scores are recorded. They are not shared or discussed to much extent to reduce the possibility of creating unrealistic expectations. Praise and applause are given in response to the efforts that are being made. Carelessness is pointed out to the player in a very nonconstricting way. Smiles are given often, and rewards are a must. At this stage, instruction is very informal, yet personal. Measures of achievement are of no concern; it is all about engagement and exploring the wide varieties of the sport.

Teachers are more than just teachers, they get involved with the player. With that, the player gets more involved in the sport. Research shows that expert teachers at this particular stage often have dinner with the student and their parents, whilst regularly communicating on a much more personal level (Developing Talent In Young People, Benjamin S. Bloom.) Teachers are viewed as a hero, forming a very positive connection with their students.

*Based on interviews with elite performers, their parents, and teachers, Bloom (1985b) found that future elite performers were typically exposed to the domain initially under playful conditions as children'. (The road To Excellence, Dr. K Anders Ericsson.) 

Students learn through fun games. Curiosity then gets the better of those who begin to feel the desire to learn more. Suddenly, they become more skilled and begin to explore. It is this exploration that leads to the discovery of vital areas such as principles, rules and history. It is at this point where the sport gets a little more systematic for the student. Discipline is self-regulated and intrinsically established from this point onwards. For some, it has been known to be a dramatic moment in which the student makes a shift from all fun to active study. This leads us to phase two. Before we discuss phase two in depth, we must understand the transition.


The transition can be seen through students’ minute differences in behavior, both in and out of training. Early arrival and later finishes, extra workouts and extra questions, more communication ,etc. Subtle, but clear. Through this transition, students that have already decided to start acting and thinking more seriously about playing golf can be prodded, prompted, encouraged and supported by parents and teachers.


The middle years of coaching a golfer are known as phase two:

Somewhere in this transition, students must become possessed by golf, and have the sudden desire to play, excel and compete. The initial interest has been fostered, cared for, and is now becoming inspired to evolve. Students begin to work and spend tremendous amounts of time fine tuning detailed aspects of the skill. The stage one applause turns into knowledgeable criticism from teachers, feedback during practice and competition results. Practice takes a dramatic change, becoming very long and very detailed ,whilst concentrating on those small details. The teacher at this stage expects more from their students, and holds them to much higher expectations.


The later years of coaching a golfer are known as phase three:

This is where the focus now shifts to a player creating their own personal game based on his or her strengths. Here, golfers transition from technical precision to personal expression. Interviews of expert coaches in different sport related domains state they teach young people for many years and they end up playing very well, but they suddenly plateau when they have to do something by themselves. Others also state that students are great imitators, and that it is fine if it’s a stimulant, but not if it remains as a product. Everybody learns by imitation of some sort, but the goal is to make whatever we learn our own. Golfers at this stage develop the ability to take charge of their own development, while working with expert teachers who are amongst the most respected in their field.