Golf coach, teacher or instructor?

Socrates is referenced to have said you can never teach anyone anything, all you can do is help them think differently. This then leads and allows us to look at and explore what teaching is and where does teaching sit within golf.


A good place to start is to look at the word teaching as many issues within how we learn relate back to the words we use and how we use them. Famously Depeche Mode wrote the song ‘Enjoy the silence’ which contains the lyric ‘words are very un-necessary, they can only do harm… Therefore when attempting to role define, is there a difference between a golf coach, golf teacher and a golf instructor? Let’s start by looking at each of these definitions first by understanding precisely what each word means:


  • Golf coach - a coach is someone who helps develop a player and allows them to evolve both as a player and as a human being. They typically acknowledge and appreciate all areas of development and it’s invariably done in an implicit and autonomous way.

  • Golf teacher - teaching typically is very didactic in its approach. Therefore to teach is to in essence speak and tell someone what to do and how to think as this is the historical definition of teaching.

  • Golf instructor - to instruct someone is a very explicit and deterministic way to teach and it normally done in a commanding and authoritarian way therefore by this definition, instruction is the complete opposite of learning.


What do you want to be, a coach, teacher or instructor?


Perhaps a better aspiration for us all are to become Sherpas as a Sherpa is someone who helps someone climb Everest, however in golf it is the player who decides their own Everest and what Everest means to them.


Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how knowledge is acquired and constructed. However what we know about knowledge is we actually don’t have the knowledge yet to understand knowledge. Why this is so important and never more relevant in golf is currently we are surrounded and absorbed by information and for some, information is perceived as knowledge whereas the reality is information is just pollution of the brain. We don’t understand to any level the information we currently have therefore the last thing golf or coaches need is any more information. Information only becomes knowledge once we attach an experience to it. Then once we have acquired and constructed knowledge we can then start to turn this into know how (procedural knowledge) with the aspiration then to convert this into wisdom and mastery. Nirvana within education is then becoming a master of mastery. John Kavanagh explains leaning extremely well as he said that Information is knowing a tomato is a fruit, however wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad….


Employing these philosophies to golf, the coaches main role is to illicit and allow learning to happen. However it is the players role to design their own learning as essentially who’s session it is, the players or the coach? Who owns the learning, the player to coach? Most often in sessions what the player wants to learn and what the coach wants to teach are two very different things therefore being able to align what the player wants to learn with what the coach wants to coach is aspiration for us all. Two of the biggest influences on how we learn are perception and memory. Our perceptions create expectations which are then subsequently referenced against our memory. An example of this could be when we move in a certain way it evokes a memory or success or failure (both awful words and orientations in life as we should not look for success, we should look for self-worth and equally, we never fail we should only ever reflect and adapt). In a recent session I shared some feedback with a player and his coaching them and the response I received was immediate, the player fed back that when they moved this way previously they won a major event…Therefore a stored memory was recalled. Subsequently, when feedback is shared often it can relate to a bad experience such as when the player has moved this way previously it created pain and of all the motivators we have in life, pain avoidance is one of the greatest.


Let’s now expand on how we can elicit a response in a player however done in a very implicit and evocative way. When I look at 3D movement data and start to conceptualise how I wish to use it and provoke a discussion with the player I often use one of my favourite questions - perhaps after showing them the 3D animation of other forms of visual feedback I ask “If I came to you moving this way how would you help me?” An example, if the player at set up has their trail foot in a pronated and everted position which migrates into the hip resulting in the right femur being held in an internally rotated position., if I used those words ( the concept of Instruction, teach, Depeche Mode…) they would mean what to the player? However If I showed them my foot/ankle/hip resting position and asked them to help me move from this position how do you think they would respond? Which one is more playful and exploratory vs. which approach is more cognitively demanding and constrained? Bruce Lee famously said the art of coaching is about removing thought not adding thought, however to expand on this it’s knowing which thoughts to leave and which ones to remove. An example of this is a spinning coin, when it’s spinning you see both sides of the coin however only when it comes to rest do you only then see one side of the story. As a coach, one of your main roles is to keep the coin continuously spinning….


These are very big, evocative questions that need much discussion. However our role regardless of our background and education is to allow the player to design their own leaning and for them to decide what helps and what doesn’t, not us. We can guide them based on our own experiences of knowing what works and what doesn’t however the reality of movement is anything you do well you never learned from anyone. Revert back to being a five year old once more, would you want to be coached, taught or instructed? The basis of learning is about finding your answer, not someone else as it all relates back to what it means to you.


Perhaps the priority within leaning is how do we speak by saying nothing as there are multiple ways to communicate asides from linguistics. After all, babies learn so much without understanding a word we say therefore who knows, maybe Depeche Mode were right…

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