GOLF LESSONS FROM A Student’s Point of View

studentsasAt this stage in your professional development, you’ve probably read interesting articles and educational materials about the finer points of teaching – all written by illustrious colleagues. But, have you ever gotten the skinny on quality golf lessons from a student’s perspective?

After all, as the recipients of your insights and advice, we students should be in a fairly good position to let you know what works and what doesn’t, right? While I can’t speak for everyone who’s ever taken a lesson, I can share personal observations and opinions culled from 25 years of learning how to golf. Obviously, this lifelong series of lessons hasn’t led to a diploma, but it has made me a better golfer with an appreciation for artful teaching.

How many of these lessons were good? How many were bad? How many were ugly? The answers, I’m pleased to report, are most, few and none. Instructors who recognize the students’ potential for apprehension or nervousness, and help their students feel at ease by offering encouraging words, get things off to a great start. What long-time golf teaching professionals know is that not everyone learns the same way.

One of the most widely-followed and much-discussed educational concepts involves the theory of multiple intelligences, developed by noted psychologist Howard Gardner. This theory identifies seven distinct styles of learning:

Verbal-Linguistic – likes lectures, discussions.
Visual-Spatial – prefers visual presentations.
Logical-Mathematical – likes brainteasers, problem solving, and critical thinking.
Musical-Rhythmic – learns best from songs that teach.
Bodily-Kinesthetic – enjoys hands-on learning, tactile activities.
Interpersonal – seeks cooperative learning, peer tutoring.
Intrapersonal – needs individualized instruction, independent study.
One barometer of a good instructor is the ability to quickly spot these different types of students in a group of golfers, and tailor the lesson to each preferred learning mode. The quicker a teaching professional can figure out a student’s particular intelligence or style of learning, the quicker he or she will be able to mesh that with their motivation to help them improve.

I once went through a series of six daily lessons during a golf trip to Colorado. Each of the first five teaching professionals taught the skill well and achieved the desired results with one or more of the people in his class that day. Each had a specific way to teach the technique and each offered analogies that worked for him but not for me. I gained something from each lesson but never quite understood what I needed to do to progress to that next step that I drastically needed.

The sixth teaching pro was teaching the same skill, but his analogy suddenly made sense. The lights came on, the bells and whistles sounded, and a little voice in my head was shouting, “Eureka!” I finally understood the procedure and was able to adapt and use the maneuver to make me a more efficient golfer.

Was this professional better than the other five? Was I suddenly a better student? Did I say something that unlocked a secret nobody else even knew? I don’t think so. it’s just that his way of teaching was more understandable to me on that particular day and the skill being taught was easily mastered.

Teachers in the classroom make the same discovery on a daily basis. You can’t have enough different ways to explain something. If the first analogy doesn’t work, you try another, and then a third, until you demonstrate the skill or frame the information in a way the student can finally grasp.

Perhaps something you discover about the student’s background will provide a clue about which analogy to use. If the student played youth soccer, perhaps a reference to that sport will work. Or, if the student is a pilot, a discussion of the physical dynamics of golfing might make things click. Next to knowing your subject, you have to know your student.

Students have come to you to improve their skill and to take their game to a new level. And your students, not you, will grade your achievements for the day. Did you give each of them something to think about that will definitely improve their swing without overloading them? Did you find something fixable in their setup and show them how to make it better? If so, they’re going to remember you as well as the specifics of the lesson, and that’s a win-win situation for student and instructor alike.

If the students like what you did for them in the group lesson, then maybe they’ll remember you when they have a few bucks to spend on a private lesson. Another plus: around the Jacuzzi at day’s end, they’ll be doing positive public relations for you by telling their friends about the great lesson they had and learning from (your name here).

But, how do you make that impact? How do you leave the guest remembering not only what you taught, but also who you were as a teaching professional? How do you combine personality and the necessary aspects of doing business in a group lesson with a little teaching in two or three hours? These are the dilemmas that every golf teaching professional must face.

I asked a few friends, all veteran golfers who have had dozens of lessons, about the ones they remembered, and there was a consensus: it’s not the instruction they remembered, but the instructor. What you say is important, but how you say it is more so. In other words, you improve the impact of your message with the method you use to deliver it.

Humor works. So do analogies, demonstrations and video. Judging from the looks of my fellow lesson-takers, most students are from the MTV generation, generation X, or whatever you want to call those raised on television and in possession of very short attention spans. For these folks, it’s wise to make your verbal version of the lesson as short and punchy as possible. Can it fit into a 20-second sound bite? Probably not, but the more teachers know about a subject, the more they tend to become verbose. Fight the tendency to share all of your knowledge all of the time.

Edit your information (and your instruction) down to short, digestible bites. A few nuggets that are savored are much better than a full course meal that leaves the diner bloated!

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