The basis of being a good instructor involves one fundamental axiom – know your student. Establish this as your foundation and you’ll be effective at teaching the game on every level.
With the incredible acceleration of technology I often see younger instructors latching on to gadgetry in order to dissect the golf swing from hundreds of angles. It reminds me of the book by Homer Kelly, The Golfing Machine that breaks down the swing into various facets of Geometrically Oriented Linear Force (GOLF). To read the book you need focus and patience. It is not for the casual student. In the end, too much information about each component of the swing is not neccesarily a good thing.
Learning golf relies on three senses – the sense of sight, the sense of hearing and the sense of feel. Good instructors will incorporate all three in order to get their message across to their students.
Every student has different capacities related to each sense. Some prefer to listen to instruction and decipher it for themselves. Some like to watch and then attempt to imitate what they are seeing. Yet the feel component is the most crucial in learning golf.
There are thousands of ways to swing a club. Showing those to students will only pile on the amount of information some instructors feel is pertinent to improving one’s swing. However putting students in fundamental positions and allowing them to feel it without visual interpretation can make all the difference in the world.
In college I was fighting a double cross and went to see a local professional, Willie Miller. Within twenty minutes he adjusted my set up and the change produced a controlled cut shot that improved my game. As we took a brief break I asked him how the changes were dictating my swing. Willie replied with one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever heard – “Why do you need to know?”
I had affected the changes through feel by adjusting my setup. All I had to do once I got in position was swing the club. Willie didn’t want a bunch of thoughts running through my head so he simply didn’t provide them. It was one of the best lessons I ever received.
The key point is Willie knew what sense to appeal to in the lesson. I wasn’t writing a dissertation, I just wanted to hit better golf shots. He made it happen simply and effectively.
Today’s technology may actually make it harder for students to improve because of “informational overload”. The good teacher knows the right dose of information to dispense and how to do it. Even though students may feel shortchanged if they don’t receive all the facts and figures, as instructors we must focus on the aspects they respond to best. Often those are simply adjustments dictated by introducing feel.
Ultimately golfers play their best when thoughts are few and feel is heightened. It is an awareness created by repetitive moves the mind trusts. As long as nothing gets in the way of this feedback, players can hit good shots throughout their round. But if one thought filters in, “I heard Sean Foley say…..” or “I saw Rory do this during his forward swing…..” then all bets are off. The process can be disrupted and feel dissipates into thin air.
If you have a student who is progressing well through your training by focusing on feeling their golf swing, maintain the momentum. Should the student cross the line and ask why it works that way, you have my permission to use Willie’s reply – “Why do you need to know?”
As instructors I encourage you to discover how your students learn. Hone in on that ability and run with it. If you’d rather show up with technology capable of heaping reams of reports on your students you are no longer a teacher, you are an information processor. Don’t stoop to that level. Golf instruction isn’t “Show & Tell”. It is a process of discovery for every individual.
It’s extremely easy these days to break down a swing into myriads of angles and movements. Sometimes students are better off not knowing what is actually taking place. Don’t introduce additional elements that will disrupt how they learn. It’s up to you as an instructor to know your student.