Group coaching: why we should do more of it

For golf pros offering group lessons can be a way to increase their revenue and provide a social and fun environment for their members and visitors, writes Sue Shapcott.

In the United States, almost 85 per cent of golf instruction is given in private lessons. That means only about 15 per cent of golfers who take golf instruction do so in group classes. It is fair to assume that the same patterns are seen in other mature golf markets across Europe. This pattern is unfortunate for both golfers and coaches as group golf classes offer many benefits.

Peer learning
Research tells us that learning with peers of similar ability can increase motivation and skill acquisition. This can happen in several ways. Firstly, imagine that a coach is conducting a chipping class. The technique is usually explained and then players will individually practice. This is a good format. But even better, the coach could explain the chipping technique and then pair players up. Each pair could be tasked with helping each other implement the technique explained by the coach. The process of explaining the chipping technique to a peer will force class attendees to process the information deeper. Of course, the coach should oversee the session to correct misconceptions, but the process of helping each other can promote knowledge retention.
Secondly, watching someone with similar ability play a chip shot correctly (a coping model) may be more useful than watching an expert (a role model). Especially for beginner golfers, the skill of a coach is non-relatable, but the skill of a peer is not. By watching a peer successfully play a chip shot, the confidence and performance of the beginner golfer may increase.

Narrow focus
Although we know that players can only focus on one or two corrections at a time, it is easy to deviate from this rule of thumb in private lessons. If a player is doing well, it is easy to move on to new things. Alternatively, coaches may introduce different concepts simply to fill the time. Whatever the reason, players can leave lessons with multiple swing corrections and a misunderstanding of where to prioritise their focus. In a group class, it is easier for coaches to focus on one concept and stick to it. For example, a class on ball position stays very focused. Players will learn the correct ball position(s) and be able to experiment with how the ball flight changes when moving the ball forwards or backwards. Consequently, players will leave the class with very specific knowledge that they can implement as and when they choose.

Social
When coaches know all attendees’ names (or provide name tags), group classes can be a lot of fun for the coach and the golfers. By making introductions by name, attendees can meet new friends and future playing partners. This is worth the price of entry for many players! After all, no matter how much golfers enjoy playing, the social aspect is usually equally as important. Group classes are an excellent way for coaches to tap into that need.

Economics
For the golfer, learning in groups is excellent value for money. Considering only about 20 per cent of male and 40 per cent of female golfers take lessons, offering affordable group classes can help coaches reach players who have resisted instruction. Once players experience how helpful instruction can be, a coach may be able to convert a non-lesson taker to a lesson taker. A more direct benefit of group classes is the potential to increase coaches’ earnings per hour. A group of six golfers paying £30 each for an hour class will generate £180. For most coaches, this is more than their hourly private lesson rate.

Considering the benefits of group coaching, why don’t more coaches offer it? It could be that coaches don’t like teaching classes as much as they like teaching private lessons. Classes may require more planning and may be perceived as harder work. Even if this is true, the benefits are worth it!

There may also be a perception that ‘serious’ coaches don’t offer group classes. In the United States, less than 60 per cent of golf facilities offer entry-level group golf classes. This means that many golfers and coaches are missing out.

Group classes are a terrific way for coaches to reach new markets and increase their hourly rate. Group classes also create an environment conducive for player learning and socialising. It may be time to introduce more group classes into your instructional programme.