With data showing that women golfers are more likely to take coaching lessons but also more likely to give up golf, Sue Shapcott examines what all pros can do to ensure women enjoy their lessons and the game.
For coaches, the more people who play golf, the better. Increased participation means more golfers who need golf lessons. And as female golfers proportionately take more golf lessons than male golfers, coaches should be incentivised to encourage women to play – Sport England reports that approximately 35 per cent of women golfers take lessons compared to 20 per cent of male golfers.
However, there is good news and bad news about women golfers for coaches. The good news is that an abundance of research shows women have great interest in playing golf, even though they may not yet do so. This means there is exciting potential for growth in the number of women playing golf – and subsequently, the number of women taking lessons.
Now for the bad news. According to data from the National Golf Foundation, women give up golf at twice the rate of male players. Despite having the interest and motivation to start playing, something happens that turns women off golf. Within five years of taking up the game, 54 per cent of women quit. By comparison, only 27 per cent of male golfers give up within the same time frame. This means that the segment of golfers who proportionately take the most lessons also give up at the highest rate! So, what are golf coaches doing wrong during golf lessons, and what can we do better? Start by considering the following points.
Golf has a complicated history for women: There is no getting around the elephant in the room. Golf’s history is off-putting for many women. Thankfully male only courses are almost a thing of the past. But golf is still a male-dominated world where women oftentimes feel unwelcome. By recognizing a historic barrier for women, coaches can be more thoughtful and strategic in their approach to teaching female players.
Diversify your coaching team: Female coaches may not teach women players any better or differently than male coaches. But seeing someone ‘like you’ as an expert is great for motivation and developing a sense of belonging. This is true for women in golf. Adding a female coach to your team may make the golf course environment a more welcoming place for female players.
Consider your promotional material: What kind of photographs do you use in your promotional and marketing material? Do you represent both men and women playing golf in photographs? If so, you are on the right track. Research of university engineering programmes has demonstrated that when women are represented in school brochures, more women enroll. If you want more female golf students why not try the same strategy with your golf coaching material?
Stereotypes about women golfers: I know them. You know them. Women golfers know them. The use of positive female role models will go some way to reducing the effects of these negative stereotypes of women golfers. For example, if you use video analysis when teaching, choose a female player’s swing to compare to your student’s swing (using a male player’s swing just reinforces the stereotype that male players are expert, and women are not).
Don’t flirt! When women come to take a golf lesson, they come to learn. Occasionally I hear reports that instead of taking the lesson seriously, and helping women players improve, golf instructors are patronising and flirtatious! Obviously, this is unprofessional behaviour. It shows little respect for women who seek professional help, and it also really puts women off playing golf.
Women aren’t one-size-fits-all. Like men, women learn to play golf for many reasons. Some enjoy competing. Others may want to widen their social network, use golf for business, or to spend time with family. Take the time to find out why your female students are playing golf and don’t make assumptions. Not all men want to play competitively, and not all women want to play just for fun.
Women can improve their games too: This point also sounds obvious. But research found that golf coaches think male golfers are more able to improve than female golfers. When coaches don’t think someone can improve, they give them feedback that reinforces those beliefs. The result is that the female golfers start thinking they can’t improve either, and will then be more likely to quit.
There is no magic bullet to increasing participation rates of female golfers. Golf’s culture means there are many things that discourage women from playing. But as coaches, we are in a unique position to make a positive difference. By being strategic with our approach, we have an opportunity to influence whether women stay in the game, or not.
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. For help with your professional development planning, consider one of our professional development planning courses for golf coaches. For more information visit www.thecoachlearninggroup.com/pgas-of-europe