harveyThe greatest selling sports book of all time, in any sport, was Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. As you may know, Penick was a golf teaching professional from Austin, Texas, who, during his long illustrious career, jotted down his random thoughts on the subject of teaching golf. He eventually compiled these “golden nuggets” of information into his popular book, and subsequently went on to write two sequels.

As teaching professionals, these books are certainly on the list of compulsory reading material, because of the tremendous insight they give us into the profession that we all love. Penick knew from a lifetime of teaching what people wanted in the lessons he gave and the books that he wrote: a simple, refreshing, uncomplicated approach to teaching. Historically, however, teaching golf has been notorious for just the opposite. Long-winded but well-intentioned teaching professionals seem to go on forever with several different concepts, including eight key positions one must seek during the swing in order to be “correct.”

In the course of becoming competent teachers, we have all been there, we have all seen and heard these concepts, and for many of us, much to our chagrin, have even experienced lessons like this. There is a huge difference between a good teacher and a poor teacher, and certainly part of that difference is that the more productive teacher can get his point across using fewer words. In fact, the sign of a great teacher is one who actually limits the amount of knowledge he has on the subject. Don’t forget, as good salespeople, hopefully we are going to have the privilege of working with our clients more than once.

Recently, I was watching The Golf Channel, and a well-known teacher was instructing a junior golfer on the intricacies of chipping. He mentioned several times to the host, Jennifer Mills, that it was important to keep things simple. That being said, however, during the lesson he explained to the young golfer a total of seven different points to remember. He just kept adding random items to think about with nearly every sentence. Imagine an eight-year-old thinking of all these points – and that was only a chip shot! Furthermore, there was no demonstration, only words.

Here is an example of how I explain the golf swing to a beginner: “Think of the golf swing as a big spring – you wind up and you unwind. When you wind up there is more weight on the back foot, and when you unwind there is more weight on the front foot. We accomplish this by staying at pretty much the same height in the swing without getting higher or lower.” At the same time that I am explaining this, I am actually demonstrating as well, so they can see what I am talking about. It really does not get any simpler than that. Then, of course I will say, “Okay, let’s try it.” I do not go on and on. I get the student involved – moving, swinging, and thinking. I listen, encourage, motivate, and I can tell by body language alone, whether or not people are enjoying themselves, whether it is time to move on, try something else, or take a short break.

The last thing I do is stand and lecture. To me, that is not teaching golf. I’m not concerned with trying to impress myself with how much I know. My concern is genuinely helping my students improve, by explaining the mechanics in a simple, uncomplicated manner. I realize people take up the game to enjoy themselves, and I do my part in ensuring that they enjoy the process of learning. As I always explain to my fellow teaching professionals, “Teaching golf is not cancer research!”

Here are some more tips for teaching professionals from Harvey Penick:

All people like to feel important. Criticism from a teacher can kill the pupil’s ambition to improve. Be anxious to praise and slow on finding fault.
Try and remember names. Try and talk plain.
Try and be simple in living as well as in teaching and playing.
Teaching is a teacher’s best advertisement.
Practically all of the awkwardness and odd ways people have are an outgrowth of misunderstanding some of the few simple fundamentals.
Stay away from the social angles of the club.

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