David Leadbetter: “The problem with a lot of teaching today is that people are working on the effect and not the cause”

Golf coach David Leadbetter has said that too many coaches are focusing on the numbers and statistics produced by technology such as TrackMan and Epson to the detriment of understanding the cause of their client’s problems. “There are people that know a lot more about the technology side of things – I look at some of these young teachers and I think ‘maybe I don’t know that much’ but the thing that concerns me a little bit is that a lot of the instinct has gone out as everything is done by the numbers. That’s a danger.

“We need to know a lot in order to teach a little – the more you know, the more you can simplify things to help the individual. If you are purely going by what a machine tells you then why do you need a teacher?”

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 15.55.05He is keen to point out that he is not against using technology and that it has been a benefit for coaches – as he puts it: “We can prove your swing stinks now, rather than in the past it was just my say so.” Leadbetter likes the information that comes with technology and how it can be used to illustrate the progress a client has made, but feels that it should be used judiciously.

Leadbetter spoke to GOLF RETAILING at the Golf Trade Show in Orlando and the man who has previously coached Nick Faldo, Ernie Ells and Nick Price was very open as he spoke about the issues facing golf and his new book, the A swing. Leadbetter hopes that the book will simplify the swing and help players that are struggling with lots of different thoughts about their swing. “The A swing stands for alternative and it is the first book that I have brought out for ten years because I really wanted to wait until I had something to say,” he comments. “I’ve done numerous books throughout my career and I’m very excited about this book as it really is an evolution from what I’ve learned and taught through four decades.”

One of the issues that we touch on is participation, with Leadbetter stating that he believes the reason that not enough people are playing golf as the industry would like is mainly due to the fact that golf is a difficult game. While he concedes that people are busier than ever before and there are more options for how people spend their leisure time, he says the main barrier to playing is how hard it is. “If you can get people playing reasonably well then you are going to keep them in the game, it’s the major reason people are leaving”, he asserts. “If people want to play golf then they will play golf.”

The idea behind the A-Swing is to make the sport easier by looking how to make the swing as effective as possible. “It’s a minimalistic swing, because so many people have so much wasted motion in their swing,” he says. “It’s very hard for the average player to be consistent that way – a good player is good enough even if they have wasted motion to be able to make those compensations on the way through to impact, but the average player can’t do that.

“The A swing is very easy to teach and very easy to learn. It’s not that complicated – you look at the complexities now of a lot of teaching and you go ‘whoa’ there is no reason why something should take you three months before you can do anything.”

Getting – and keeping players – into golf is an issue for all involved in the industry but another issue for golf pros is how to make sure they keep on making money, and one way to do this is through coaching. So what advice would the man who has been ranked as one of the world’s most influential golf coaches give to pros in the UK? “First of all you have to establish a relationship as a teacher,” he says. “One thing that teachers can do is teach kids and you get your reputation – rightly or wrongly – by teaching good players and there’s a trickledown effect. So if you can get a couple of good junior players and you work with them and help them become good then all of a sudden you get a reputation. That’s the first step.”

He also recommends that pros ensure that they spend enough time with clients on the short game as this is an area that he frequently sees being either overlooked or only done for a few minutes at the end of a lesson. Leadbetter also recommends that if a pro’s club doesn’t have a good practice facility then they take clients out for playing lessons. His final comment for pros looking to improve as a coach and connect with clients is to, “Design a programme – sit down with them, ask them what they want to achieve in golf and then say ‘for x amount a month you send me a video and I’ll watch it once a week’ so you keep in touch with them rather than seeing them once and then never again. You can sit and moan about not being busy but there are things you can do and you have to sometimes be a bit ingenious and different from what the guy down the road is doing.”

As a final point we come back to the issue of technology and Leadbetter emphasises the importance of coaches keeping it simple and not over-complicating things. “You get some of these young teachers who throw the book at people trying to show them how much knowledge they have, but people don’t want to know that. You have to make it fun and enjoyable. Learn as much as you can in order to teach as simply as you can. The more you learn, the simpler you can teach it as you realise that everything is a cause and effect.

“The problem with a lot of teaching today – especially with all the analytical aspects we have to the game – is that people are constantly working on the effect. They will look at TrackMan and say ‘they are four degrees out so put the ball further forward’ and that may work, but there’s probably something going on there. TrackMan doesn’t tell you why it has happened, it tells you what has happened and that’s the danger with these teachers who neglect that. They are working so much on the what rather than the why. Those numbers come from somewhere, they don’t just drop out of the sky. A good teacher will be able to get to the root cause – whether that be a set up problem or a grip problem. A good teacher has instinct.”