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UK Coaching Team
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Coaching Skills

What Does Great Coaching Look Like: Golf

A case study providing practical examples of great coaching in golf for other developing coaches to read and use as inspiration

Golf coach Duncan Woolger believes the secret to great coaching is to get every player a little better every session.

In this article, you will get a real sense of Duncan's coaching philosophy as he explains his approach to coaching and shares some practical tips.

He first qualified as a full PGA Professional in 1998, and has since performed that role with a number of different golf clubs. For the last  two years, he has been  a full time golf teacher, coach and instructor. He coaches players ranging from adult beginners and improvers through to elite amateur competition golfers and touring professionals. He is also lead junior coach for Berks, Bucks and Oxon coaching golfers aged 8-16, and coaches Berkshire girls beginners, intermediate and improvers sessions.

Coaching junior squad players and adult recreational participants

Duncan tries to replicate situations the participant will encounter on the course in lessons. For example, for technical skill to navigate a bunker hazard he will take the lesson to such a hazard.

Duncan integrates a sense of fun into the sessions through interactivity. The Berkshire Girls come up with their own team names, and take an active role in designing the game they are playing. Underpinning that game is learning that Duncan wants to achieve – so for chipping, he asks them to set out targets at a number of different ranges (for example 5, 10, and 15 yards) and the teams take 5-10 minutes to design a game, including rules and naming. The learning outcome is improved judgement of distances, essential to chipping.

Duncan asks adult recreational golfers to practice in a way that gets them to improve their skillset “by stealth”. For example, he will run a round robin of very short practice stations, where golfers might spend 10 minutes on a game before moving on to another station. Collectively, these stations focus on a specific area of the game, so after 6 stations (1 hour), the golfer has improved that aspect of their game significantly. Duncan supplements this learning with examples of famous golfers or stories they can relate to; “If Tiger Woods can do this for 3 hours, you can do it for 10 minutes.”

  • Game situations: Lessons on the course not just in the driving range
  • Interactive Session Design: Participants design their own games – Duncan picks the learning objectives
  • Learning by Stealth: Round Robin Games for adults all improving one part of the game
  • Reflection: After the shot; after the session; before the next session

I get people to reflect at the time – after each shot – a little later (we'll go over the whole session immediately afterwards) and further after. Between sessions I will ask players to go away and reflect on their own, and at the next session feedback how they’ve done in the meantime

Duncan explains his three-stage reflection routine

Improving understanding, offering opportunities

As players move up the development pathway, Duncan increases the amount of information and technical language he uses. At first he focuses on developing a rapport, talks about what the golfer wants to talk about and gives them opportunities to ask any questions they want about golf. As they progress, he uses more technical terminology to familiarise the player with the language of the game.

As players develop, Duncan guides them towards appropriate pathways by advance mention of competitions the participant is eligible for. Duncan will do this by simply informing them of their eligibility to play, and suggest, “Wouldn't it be nice to make the cut / top 10 / win?” His stated goal will vary from player to player, but always aiming for what Duncan assesses as “a 7 out of 10 possibility – it needs work but it's achievable.”

Younger participants are sometimes given "homework", which could take the form of watching some golf or finding out some information. For example, they are asked to find  out information about three Hall of Fame golfers; an element of fun is added by the participants giving Duncan his own homework (to name every Justin Bieber album!).

  • Build up to the technical: Don't blind beginners with science, but drip-feed players the tools they need as they need them
  • Goal Setting: Set challenging but achievable goals for participants; inform participant of opportunities but leave them to decide to take them up or not
  • Homework: Helps younger participants to learn the culture of the game

Management, organisation and planning

Duncan limits himself to 36 hours per week of coaching and spends 12 hours per week planning; thus for every hour of coaching he spends 20 minutes planning. In addition, Duncan has a short and simple checklist of things which he runs down about golf swing; this might include questions such as “When you drive what direction does the ball normally go?” and “Which holes do you most or least enjoy playing?” These questions allow him to begin to identify the nature of a golfer’s swing in some cases before he has even seen it, which means that he is very quickly able to diagnose ‘quick wins’.

“I use the biggest toolbox I can get to adjust the gameplan. Some people are very technical, happy to keep working at something for 2-3 hours. That might not be what I would do naturally but whatever works for them. For more impatient people I will get on top of them and challenge them.”

Duncan observes that in his experience, "On the whole with male golfers you can be a bit more wishy-washy – you give them a club and tell them to have a go. Female golfers prefer to have more detail from the start about things like stance, grip, swing, etc. so I will provide that at the very start."

At the start of a relationship with a player, Duncan will identify the shot that they are most concerned about. In his first session with them, he will focus on that shot and will  not try to ‘deconstruct’ it, but will through observation make small changes to it which lead to the player hitting the ball better. His aim is for every player to hit the ball a little better after every session than they do at the start – “players don’t want to get worse before they get better”.

  • Have a gameplan: Planning counts – 20 minutes per hour of coaching. Remember that a few key questions can unlock quick improvement
  • Know your participant: Some learners like lots of technical input, some want to hit lots of balls. Women generally like more information, while men like to get on with it (in Duncan's experience)
  • Watch and learn: Identify the one small thing that can be improved today

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UK Coaching Team