When the USGTF formed the World Golf Coaches Alliance (WGCA), there wasn’t a distinction between teaching and coaching that had much coherence. Some people tried to define the differences, but such definitions were sorely lacking.

Sean Foley said on the Charlie Rose’s PBS show, “I teach kids and I coach adults.” Another difference was said to be that teachers teach basics while coaches teach more advanced concepts. Still another claimed that teaching was refining technique while coaching was in how to use the techniques. All are plausible, but miss the mark.

Think of our traditional team sports such as football, basketball and hockey. The leader of the team is not the “head teacher.” No, he’s called the “head coach.” Baseball has a manager leading the team, but even that sport refers to all the other coaches on the team as, well, coaches. So why do these sports refer to them as coaches?

The answer is simple. The element of competition separates a teacher from a coach in a sport. One who is strictly a golf teacher is not imparting the elements of competing to their students. Rather, they are mainly focusing on helping the students improve their technique.

Are there some similarities between a teacher and a coach? Sure. Let’s list a few.

TEACHING. A teacher obviously teaches, but so does a coach. A golf coach has to know how to be able to fix swing problems and impart technical instruction. Like a teacher, a coach has to know the rules and etiquette of the game, and be able to teach them to their players.

MOTIVATING. Both teachers and coaches have to be good at motivating in order to get the best out of those they teach and coach. There are times when a golfer, whether or not they compete, doesn’t want to give the effort necessary to improve. Teachers and coaches have to know some motivational techniques in order to help these players.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE. One of the USGTF’s long-standing credos for teachers is to always carry a positive attitude when teaching. The same applies to coaches. Coaching that provides for a negative atmosphere leads to players who don’t want to put in the work necessary or the effort to improve or win. This is closely related to motivating skills.

KNOWLEDGE. Some high school golf coaches are given the job either because no one else wants it, or because they want to make some extra money on the side. They may not know the first thing about golf technique. Such “coaches” unfortunately exist, but it’s not necessarily their fault. A good teacher and a good coach have the knowledge base needed in order to be effective.

Those are some of the similarities. Here’s a look at some of the differences.

COMPETITION. This, of course, is the biggest difference. Coaches prepare players for team or individual competition while teachers, again, are mainly involved in teaching and refining technique. Once a teacher starts preparing a player for com-petition, that teacher is now also a coach. Coaches need to know the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of competition in order to get their players to perform as optimally as they can. They need to be familiar with the strategic aspects of the game, and the differences in competing at stroke play and match play.

TECHNOLOGY. A coach generally needs to make wider use of technology than does a teacher. For example, TrackMan and Flight Scope are launch monitors used by many clubfitters, but also competitive golfers seek out these devices so they can truly know exactly what they’re doing in terms of ball flight and club action through impact. While these devices are not necessary in order to be a great coach, they certainly help players in performing their best. Teachers may have some training aids available and even use advanced technology, but overall they’re drifting into the coaching realm when they do so.

PLAYING EXPERIENCE. A coach needs to have been in the competitive arena himself or herself in order to be an effective coach. There are certain things only a competitive player would know, such as how pressure affects the swing, how to fix a swing or create a go-to shot when things go wrong, or how to manage the emotional aspects of competing and how they play a part in performance. A golf teacher who never competed or rarely did so is at a disadvantage if they want to switch over to the coaching realm. That’s not to say they can’t do it, but there are a number of things they will need to learn if they want to become a good coach. The WGCA provides plenty of instruction in these departments in order to aid teachers of all abilities become great coaches.

Teaching and coaching are similar and yet they are different, as we’ve seen here. Resources from the USGTF can help teachers and coaches of all abilities in both endeavors. For more information on these resources, please contact USGTF Member Services.
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