Coach vs Teacher: “There’s a big difference between the two”

Words by
Tom Motley, PGA Golf Coach
Coach vs Teacher: “There’s a big difference between the two”

I started my career as a golf teacher but over time, my views have changed, as have both my style and delivery. I now regard myself as a coach rather than a teacher and in my opinion there’s a big difference between the two. 

As a teacher, the traditional lesson is led by the client’s perceived issue, which will predominantly involve some kind of technical swing fix. This type of lesson still takes up a percentage of my weekly schedule, but it gets smaller and smaller each year.

I’m not saying fixing ball flight issues is unimportant, but do these lessons ultimately lead to what most golfers investing time and money really want to see: lower scores?I’m not so sure. To do the best job possible and lower a golfer’s scores, I need to be able to see inside their rounds, preparation and strategy. That means keeping stats.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some high-level amateurs and professionals. I can say with absolute conviction that most of these players hit the ball just as well, if not better, than some of the players they aspire to compete against. And yet some of these players have felt what they needed most were technical lessons.In some cases, this was successful, in others, less so. 

I need to see more than just swings. I need to see how someone plays, what areas need work, and what areas will have the biggest impact on their scores.

Recording and tracking performance is crucial. Relying on the player’s feedback can often be misleading and sometimes very misleading because it's usually coloured by the last round. If a player knocked their drive OOB on 16 and sliced it on 18, the feedback will be that their driving was a problem. This might ignore the 10good drives they hit and the fact their chipping was average.

Every golfer wants to improve. But how many know what improvement looks like – for them? Having a pretty swing is one thing but I’m not so sure it’s the key to unlocking lower scores. 

A good coach will help the player technically but in all other aspects of their game, too. And this includes reviewing the data. I want to get to know the player. I want to understand their physical and mental patterns – not just a swing on a screen. 

If I don’t have the background information I cannot understand what’s going on. Then I’m working on a swing model rather than the player’s development, which is what I believe a coach should do.

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