My recent experience at golf school illustrated how frustrating and exhilarating it can be to learn something new. In fact, an anonymous but wise person said, Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle.

What lessons were learned that will help all of us to be better coaches and learners, regardless of the subject matter? For coaches:

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. The golf pro spent 99% of the allotted time on the basic building blocks for a good swing. It wasn’t just on the driving range. Every time we had a club in our hands, she connected the dots between the current focus and the swing fundamentals.  As we built a good short shot, we also improved on our drives, and vice versa.  Whether you’re teaching someone how to sell widgets or service a machine, define the fundamentals and keep them front and center.

Stay true to what works. The golf pro was immovable when it came to the fundamentals of a good swing, no matter how many times she heard, “Well, what works for me is…” If there are tried and true best practices, stick to those and don’t compromise.

Communicate in a way that works for the learner. The golf pro used multiple means of communication, including verbal instructions, physical demonstration, video reviews and an illustrated manual. She adapted her methods to suit the needs of her students, like when her “80% angle” reference caused us all to stare blankly. She quickly understood that we didn’t get the spatial relations talk, but responded well when she said things like, “keep your head steady, rotate at the waist and straighten your left arm.” A good coach learns to communicate in many different ways – not just in the way in which he or she is most comfortable.

Break complicated stuff into manageable bits. Instead of tackling the whole swing, I spent hours working on bringing the club back to shoulder level correctly. Once my brain and body were coordinating this move well, I was able to incorporate other swing elements. Remember that people can’t keep numerous steps in their head all at once. Mastery of each component part builds muscle memory, increases confidence and sets the stage for overall success.

Use cycles of show, imitate, rectify. The pro would model the correct behavior, we would try to imitate her, and she then provided us with constructive feedback. The cycle was repeated over and over, until we were able to imitate the desired results fluidly.

Think you’re ready to be coached? A successful learning experience requires both a great coach, and a learner with the right motivation and attitude. For learners:

Align with your coach on goals. Some people came to golf school thinking that their game was great and only needed a few tweaks. The pro helped each person become more realistic about their current performance and set goals for improvement. In any coaching situation, be open to the fact that you may have more to learn than you previously thought.

Be a sponge, not a filter. In many ways, the novices at golf school got it right. They kept their mouths shut and their eyes and ears open. They didn’t waste time debating the merits of one grip or another. They took in as much information as possible, and readily tried new things. The result? Fewer tragedies and many more miracles. If you’re learning something new, try not to screen suggestions through the lens of your past experience. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Practice perfectly. Yes, it was mind-numbing to repeatedly practice the correct back swing. Contrary to popular belief, practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. It is only through doing things right that you develop a habit of excellent performance. The amazing thing is, according to Gary Player, the more you practice, the luckier you get.

The most valuable lesson from golf school? Golf, like any skill, is not about executing the right physical movements. It is largely played in our minds. Success is dependent upon having the right attitude as well as skill set. My attitude? Focus, relish the occasional miracle of a stellar shot and remember to have fun along the way.

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