The Talent Equation

Profile of a master coach (of children and of talent)

I was once fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to listen to a gentleman called Rudy Duran talk about his coaching. You maybe forgiven for not knowing who Rudy Duran is as not many people have heard of him, he was Tiger Wood's golf coach from the age of 4 to 10. Firstly, I have to say that you can not imagine a more self effacing, humble and genuine person. Rudy was honest and open and prepared to admit the mistakes he made as much as the good things he did. In many ways he underplayed his involvement in Tiger's development often just suggesting that all he did was get out of the way of a genius being nurtured. For me he played an absolutely critical role in enabling Woods, who was undoubtedly well above average in his golfing abilities as a four year old (much of this can be put down to his early experiences with his father, Earl who was a recent convert to golf and a total golf nut) as Rudy recalls, "not many 4 year olds can read their own putts". The amazing thing is that I'm not even sure if Rudy himself, fully appreciates the role he played. To me the story is a fascinating one because, as with most stories about exceptional talent or outliers there are so many aspects that contribute to the development of Woods. It is my belief that Rudy Duran was at heart of many of them, I will try to list them as best I can below:

1. Rudy's coaching philosophy is based on the fact that he believes golf is a pretty easy game to play. With a little time and practice most people will improve quickly. The game is very hard at the elite level with tiny margins deciding success and failure but the key for Rudy is to let people experience the joy of the game so that they develop a love for the activity which will then drive them into lifelong participation. The rest takes care of itself. - Rudy wants his pupils to fall in love with the game - a critical ingredient to intrinsically motivated future improvement. 

2. Rudy was the owner operator of an 18 hole par 3 public golf facility in Southern California, as such he had complete control over timetabling of the course and was so committed to junior golf that he would block out the 1st tee on a Saturday morning for junior competitions even though he could have sold the green fees to adult players 3 times over. As the owner operator his income was mostly derived from green fees, coaching was a sideline and something he did mostly for fun. In this respect taking 2 hours or so at a time to coach Tiger and play golf with him was no problem and meant that Tiger had a unique opportunity to play alongside his coach, observe, experiment and explore. Rudy had such freedom that he would often play games with Tiger that involved curving the ball around the club house or hitting a shot under a picnic table! - How many kids get the opportunity to play games with their coach and to have the freedom to experiment with a guide at their side? 

3. The coaching sessions took place 85% of the time on the golf course and 15% away from the course on the practice areas. On the infrequent occasions when they were on the range they would be going through all aspects of the game working backwards from the putting green to the full swing. - Tiger learned to play the game and to develop his own solutions to getting the ball in the hole, he learned this before he tried to refine his technique and as such he developed the ability to score and play instead if just learning skills outside of the context of the game which can often be the experience of many youngsters.

4. Tiger, Earl and Rudy would spend about an hour after each session chatting about the session and Tiger's game. These post game chats were also described by Rudy as 'brainstorming' sessions where they would create practice programme designed to enable Tiger to play his best in competitions. There were typically 5 or 6 sessions per month sometimes more if Tiger was leading to one of the major junior tournaments which were 8 to 10 a year. - Rudy ensured that Tiger took his learning away with him and work on things when Tiger was at home. This way he was able to guide the Tiger's practice time between coaching sessions and make that practice time more deliberate. 

5. Rudy said that his coaching was based on challenging Tiger to achieve certain goals. An example of this was the way Rudy created Tiger's 'personal par' where Tiger would be trying to play a hole in less shots than the number set for him by Rudy. Rudy says that the biggest difficulty for him in this was to keep coming up with things that pushed Tiger enough to maintain his interest. - By setting challenges and obstacles for Tiger to overcome he maintained his motivation and also allowed him to develop skill more rapidly through guided experimentation.

6. Rudy describes his coaching style as "waiting for the coachable moments" where he would wait for Tiger to stumble at something and then ask him questions about how what he could do to achieve the goal. - this questioning approach has been shown to be a route to giving the player/athlete ownership of their development which means that they learn new tactics and skills and they reatin the knowledge much more effectively than if they are merely told how to solve the problem. 

To me, so much of what Rudy Duran explained about the way he approached coaching Tiger Woods points to him being a highly accomplished coach of children as well as being a high performing coach of talent. I find it difficult to imagine that these early experiences did not provide the foundations for Tiger's future development and gave him a major head start over so many of his contemporaries. I often wonder what might have happened if Tiger hadn't found Rudy.