The importance of the first lesson
We stress at the USGTF certification courses that the most important part of giving lessons is for the students to enjoy themselves. Your quality of instruction might be great, but if your students did not have an enjoyable learning experience, they likely will not return.
Not only are they likely not to return for lessons, it is entirely conceivable that they might not return to the game itself. That’s why a successful first lesson is so important. It can help create a demand for your services, and in turn grow the game in general.
One of your most important tasks during the first lesson is to adapt your teaching style to their learning style, and your personality to theirs. This does not mean being a phony. Being human beings, we all have times we are serious or jovial, technical or non-technical, relaxed or intense, etc. It’s simply a matter of turning on that part of your personality and teaching style that will mesh best with your student.
As for the nuts and bolts of giving the lesson, the first thing we must do is conduct the student interview. Along with the general questions of what are their goals, how much time do they have to practice, etc., make sure to get specific. What is the ball flight when you hit a good shot? What is the ball flight when you hit a bad shot? What clubs do you hit well? What clubs do you hit poorly? Gaining as much information as possible gives you a roadmap in planning the content of the lesson.
Watch the student hit several shots before giving instruction. What you’re looking for is a pattern to their swing or ball flight. New teachers often feel they need to start giving instruction after a couple of shots, but by doing so they might start out in the wrong direction and have to adjust mid-lesson.
Once you’ve detected a pattern, come up with a theme. For example, your student has told you he tends to hit pushes and hooks. You notice his setup is okay, but he tends to bring the club slightly to the inside on the backswing. Starting down, he has a good transition move, which further drags the club inside, thus producing an inside-out swing through impact.
Therefore, the theme of this lesson would be to improve the backswing. You might point out one or two other things you want the student to be aware of, but all of it must point back to the main theme. Deviating from the main theme will simply confuse the student.
During the first lesson, one question I ask is, “Do you feel this is a change you will be able to make?” I feel this is a very important question based on my own learning experience. A couple of times, I’ve had teachers recommend changes in my swing that simply didn’t feel right to me. I could inherently tell that the changes were something I just couldn’t do, and I told them as such. Yet, the teachers didn’t adjust their teaching. They merely insisted I needed to make those changes. Needless to say, I stopped seeking their counsel.
If your student tells you the change is too uncomfortable or that he doesn’t feel like he can do it, you should seriously think about altering your remedy, even if you are convinced it is 100% correct.
When it comes to beginners or novices, there are several paths that successful teachers take, but one of the more innovative approaches I’ve heard doesn’t involve working on the student’s game. I read of a teacher who takes beginners during their first lesson on a one-hour tour of the golf course. He points out the various features of the golf course and what the players on the course are doing. This is a great illustration of the concept that we are not just swing coaches, but golf coaches.
There has been debate whether beginners and novices learn best by starting out on the putting green or starting out on the driving range. My personal opinion is that it doesn’t really matter. As long as they are receiving proper instruction and executing those instructions relatively correctly, they will progress at an acceptable level.
Design the lesson so that easily achievable goals are met, such as holding the club correctly for full shots or holing three consecutive three-foot putts. I once worked with a teacher who filled his beginners’ heads with so many technical thoughts you could just see their confusion and frustration.
Golf is supposed to be fun. The people at the Callaway Golf company told us their research shows the number one reason people quit the game is due to its difficulty. Providing a first lesson that makes the game easier and enjoyable greatly reduces the attrition rate.
Not only is that good for the game in general, but good for us as golf teaching professionals, too.