Coaching Currency

Golf pros are constantly pulling together plans to improve their clients, but it is vital that they do not forget to work on their own development, writes Sue Shapcott.

As coaches, we often work on development plans for our clients. It’s part of our professional wheelhouse. Regardless of whether the players are beginner golfers, club members or elite competitors, we detect the weak areas in their games, and then identify the necessary steps for improvement. For example, we might design a roadmap for beginner golfers that includes adequate classes and playing experience. This plan will help them accumulate enough golf-time under their belts to feel comfortable in the game. Club golfers’ development plan may include incorporating physical fitness training into their routines to help them gain sufficient strength necessary to navigate swing changes. For elite golfers, we may develop a practice plan that is more deliberate – ensuring that the hours dedicated to improvement are constructive.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 11.57.43Our commitment to helping players improve can be all consuming. When we are not physically coaching, we are reviewing notes, sending messages and generally staying connected with our students. Other people, our students, are the focus of our attention and it is our job to ensure we are managing their development responsibly. With such commitment, coaches often forget to take some of their own medicine and plan their own professional development.

But let’s take a moment to step back and realise that, as a coach, you think it is important for your players to plan their development. You know it is effective for them to benchmark their playing skills against a criterion and then figure out a plan to improve in one or two areas. Acknowledging that it is important for your players to engage in such rigor, do you then think it is important for you to participate in the same process with your coaching skills? I hope the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!” However, despite us knowing the importance of benchmarking and planning, we often neglect to take care of our own developmental needs.

Ask yourself the last time that you evaluated and benchmarked your own coaching skillset – this benchmarking may happen against a list of coaching skills identified by coaching agencies, or skills that you think are important. Or you may benchmark your skills against those required for an advertised job description that appeals to your ambitions. Less formally, you may have identified skills in other coaches you admire that you lack. Regardless of how you benchmark your skills, it is a vital process required to maintain your coaching currency. The process will remind you where you hold expertise, and identify areas that need improvement.

Once you have identified skills that you would like to develop in your coaching tool kit, you should prioritise them. Just as its unrealistic for your players to improve everything at once, it is impractical for you to take on more than one area of professional development at a time. For example, you may have identified improved biomechanics knowledge, understanding the coach-athlete relationship and cultivating listening skills as areas you plan to improve. Then ask yourself which one will have the biggest impact on your coaching? The answer will vary from coach to coach, and you should trust your own judgement about the order in which you address the identified deficiencies.

The next step of your own professional development process is identifying what success looks like. For instance, success for an elite player working on iron accuracy may be seen in the number of greens hit. Similarly, success for improving listening skills may be recognisable by your deeper understanding of what your players want from lessons. Consequently, you may have more satisfied clients. Finally, to put your professional development plan in action you must identify the steps required to improve your skills. For instance, if you decide to focus on listening skills, try videoing one lesson a week and reviewing it to see how many times you interrupt your student before she has finished speaking.

Anytime is a good time to embark on your own professional development planning. But the new year is particularly pertinent. Make a pledge to yourself for 2017 – that you’ll make time for your own professional development, and you’ll commit to your improvement in the same way that you expect your players to commit to their games.

Sue Shapcott is co-founder of The Coach Learning Group based in Madison, WI. Sue has been a member of the British PGA since 1996. She is a former Curtis Cup player and competed on the European and Asian professional golf tours. In addition to her 20 years’ coaching experience, Sue has a Master’s degree in educational psychology and is a PhD candidate at the University of Bath. Her research provides the foundation for her evidence-based approach to coach education. For more information visit www.thecoachlearninggroup.com or email sue@thecoachlearninggroup.com