Teaching Golf in Any Language

mimeI first began teaching at a public driving range in the Chicago area. This range was located near the beautiful lakefront area of the city. Most of this area was extremely upscale and very diverse. This was good for me, for being a young man, I was forced to learn to speak to a huge variety of people – a multitude of people from all parts of the world that had come to Chicago for various career opportunities.

And, most people that lived in the city who were golfers came to this very busy driving range. As a staff professional at this range, it wasn’t long before word-of-mouth and a few good students helped me to have a great following of students. I truly enjoyed meeting people and treated all with courtesy and respect.

After deductions for the use of the range, I was netting the modest sum of $4.50 per half hour lesson. I had to give quite a few lessons per day to make ends meet, and even then I had little money to spare. I was young and happy, so this didn’t bother me much.

One of my students was a Korean gentleman who spoke rather good English. I knew he was financially successful and always dressed very well and drove fine expensive cars, and always had the best golf clubs with him.

Initially, I was unaware of his profession or business. But, he seemed to know of my financial struggles, and unbeknownst to me he had a plan to help me financially. This gentleman was not only the owner, but the publisher, as well, of a Korean-language newspaper. This paper had a rather large distribution in the Chicago area, due to the large and growing Korean population in the area.

One day he showed up for a lesson and presented me with a copy of that day’s Korean newspaper. Much to my surprise, there was a picture of me on the front page, along with an article about me and the nice relationship we had established, as well as his success as a golf student.

Then, he shocked me when he opened up a page that offered people the opportunity to attend four consecutive weekend clinics that I was to do for the Korean readers of this paper. People could attend on Saturdays or Sundays. All they had to do was simply fill out the enclosed form and, along with payment, mail it back to the newspaper. He planned to take care of all the arrangements and allow me to reap the financial rewards of his efforts and kindness. Technically, all I had to do was provide the instruction to whatever-sized group of people had signed up to participate in my clinic.

I was shocked and a bit overwhelmed by his kindness and eagerness to help me. At this point in time, the reality of what I had committed to had only just begun to sink in. After all, the clinics didn’t start for another four weeks.

As the deadline drew near, my anxiety grew and grew. How was I to teach an unknown number of people who not only didn’t speak English, but who didn’t know the first thing about golf? And to add to the problem, I had never given a clinic. My largest group lesson was husband and wife!

As the start of the first week’s clinic became just days away, I was almost getting sick from the fear and apprehension concerning this. Did I teach them as individuals or as a large group? What language would work, or did I talk at all? I had to bite the bullet and figure out a way to communicate to this group. And, an even more challenging task presented itself – non-verbal teaching of the golf swing.

I stayed up several nights with a friend, who agreed to let me try teaching her the golf swing in a non-verbal manner. Since she was a beginning golfer, she would help me refine “my method” so that it was clear to her and hopefully to my clinic students.

Friday, the day before the first day of the clinic, soon arrived. I made a call to my friend at the Korean newspaper office. He was all excited; I was shocked and scared! More than forty-eight people had signed up for the Saturday clinic, and fifty-six signed on for Sunday’s!! The thought of addressing all those people, the language barrier, and just managing such a large group had me ready to skip town!

Of course, I didn’t skip town. I arrived at the driving range the moment they opened and began to reserve the tee areas necessary for such a large group. I told the people who operated the range of the impending group. They were skeptical and concerned about me taking such a huge area of the tees available.

Their worries soon diminished, as huge numbers of nicely-dressed and smiling Koreans began to pour into the range at this normally quiet hour, looking for Mr. Mike, as I was fondly called by my new Korean friends. The range operators were even happier at seeing how many buckets of balls were being purchased. They were happy and I was about to faint!

In spite of my fears, the time came to start my clinic, and with the help of my friend I began. I stood on a chair and introduced myself and my assistant, and quickly began.

I started with the grip. I spoke in English with simple childlike phrases and sentences. All the while, I was giving a very clear and exaggerated visual demonstration of the various steps necessary for producing a decent grip of the golf club. I was off and running and so were they.

As I saw this group beginning to grasp my teachings, even those that didn’t understand a word of English, my fears started to subside, and I began to relax and actually enjoy the process. I would give my visual and simple verbal demonstration, then I would quickly move through the group looking at how well each had grasped my “methods,” making small hands-on corrections as necessary. If someone were holding the club too tight, for instance, I would gently take hold of their forearm and demonstrate the correct grip pressure while making eye contact, seeing that they understood my “message.”

Consider yourself a skillful mime, skilled in exhibiting the feelings and looks of a correct setup or whatever aspect of the swing you are teaching. When you are limited at the verbal channel, this is a surprisingly simple and effective way to teach. You become an “actor” in a silent movie – even with its limitations, a very effective way to communicate and teach a task such as the golf swing.

This experience really got me off and running in the world as a teaching professional. I gained huge amounts of confidence that helped me through similar challenges in my career teaching around the globe. As a teacher, and as a successful teacher, we must strive to become better and better problem-solvers. Careful observation, and well thought-out solutions are what make great teachers!

Whether your career moves you to far corners of the world as mine did, or you are in your own back yard, don’t be afraid to use unique and different means of getting the job done. Whatever your methods of communicating, accept critical feedback gracefully from those that don’t understand what you are trying to convey. This is truly when you learn the most, and such critique should not be taken on a personal level. Go back to the drawing board and refresh your methods!

With a little practice at carefully observing that portion of the swing that you are trying to teach, you can convey this to another in the simplest of terms, capable of conquering any language barriers!

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