Of the many components that make up good golf instruction, the most overlooked has to be the instructor’s ability to key in on the way people learn. A vast majority of golfers try to learn verbally. In the worst-case example, they listen to their friends and relatives spew out “tips” and try to take the spoken word and translate it into a physical movement.
Many years ago I heard a great quote from the Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth, winner of an amazing 74 LPGA tournaments: “Golf, unlike most sports, has a number of clichés, often disguised as ‘tips.’ My advice is, watch out!”
I never hear the word “tip” without thinking of her. Unfortunately, most golfers don’t apply every day common sense to golf. Can you really learn any complicated movement by just listening to someone describe it to you in their own words? Revisiting the ways we learn, verbal learning is the least effective. Golf is way too full of verbal, ineffective tips and clichés, which, more often than not, are simply poor or even detrimental pieces of advice.
Above verbal learning we would place visual learning. Visual learning is much better than verbal, but still not very effective for most. Demonstrating a movement or position would be an example of teaching visually. Studies have shown older adults lose the ability to learn visually. It can be effective when teaching kids and very specific learning types.
Physical (kinesthetic) learning is by far the most effective. Since that fact is so well established, what does that teach us as golf instructors? The lesson here for the teacher is to be interactive. Find ways to help your students feel the improved or new motion. Help them swing the club. It’s that easy.
Why don’t more teachers do it? That is a question I have asked myself thousands of times. I am still without an answer. Perhaps it is the hesitation to invade someone’s space. If this is the stumbling block for the teacher, it is imperative that they get over that hurdle. Students want to feel the correct motion. Trust me, they do! Engage your students professionally from a physical standpoint and you will be amazed at how much faster they improve. They want to feel the correct static position, as well. Physically help them grip the club. Move their shoulders to square. Interact, period.
Observing so many great teachers of the game over the years, it is striking to see how different they interact with the student compared to the average new instructor, or even with coaches in other sports. Professional football and basketball coaches constantly teach kinesthetically. Some use very little verbal instruction, only talking as they physically help their student.
Go to an NFL training camp and watch the offensive and defensive line coaches. Ever notice how crazy some basketball coaches get on the sideline when one of their players sets a pick incorrectly? They are dying to go out on the floor and physically correct the player. I personally witnessed a great example of kinesthetic teaching in 2008, watching Hall of Fame basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski physically show NBA superstars how he wanted them to defend a certain play during a practice, moving each player into position and physically showing them the proper foot and body movement.
These were NBA millionaires, at the most elite level of their sport.
To watch the contrast of the challenged golf teacher standing 10 feet away from their student, trying to verbally describe the grip to a new 60-year-old female golfer, is quite eye-opening. Another situation taught me the value of teaching feel: Teaching golf in a foreign country and having the students not know my language. To make it more challenging, I couldn’t speak their language either.
After 28 years of teaching, if I was only able to give one piece of advice to a new teacher, it would be to “teach feel.” Golf is a game of feel, and if you don’t teach it to your student, no one will.