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7 questions to ask yourself before you change golf instructors

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Sometimes, a teacher-player relationship just isn’t working out. It’s a natural progression in the career of most avid golfers, whether they want to make a major swing change or simply want a new perspective on their game. Even the best player in the world, Tiger Woods, hasn’t hesitated to switch coaches when he thought the time was right.

As a golf instructor, all I can do is understand the goals of my players and try to eradicate their problems as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s very difficult. The fact remains that me and most of my colleagues are trying as hard as we can, and if you listen to us and apply what we are telling you, I believe that you WILL get better. But in the real world, sometimes it just doesn’t click — just more proof of how hard golf is — and that can be frustrating for any golfer (and teacher).

Think you need a new coach? Here are seven things you should consider before making the change.

No. 1: Does your teacher use a swing model for all his students?

Let’s say you have selected a teacher who uses a very specific swing model and you have been working with him consistently. You cannot seem to master the move that the entire system hinges upon, no matter how hard you try. Well, you’re probably in for a lot of trouble.

Does the teacher suggest alterations of his system that works better with your physical makeup or idiosyncrasies? If not, and you are stuck, then this style will never work for you. If you want to improve, then it’s time to make a change to someone who will work with your natural swing.

Don’t force yourself into a swing model that doesn’t work for you.

No. 2: Does your teacher have advanced teaching tools?

advanced teaching tools

I am not suggesting that teachers without technologies such as FlightScope, Trackman, high-speed video or force plates cannot be top-quality teachers, but that’s not the point. I routinely see my students improve faster with these technologies, because they provide immediate, unbiased feedback to me — and maybe more importantly my students.

As a golfer, it’s crucial to see and feel what’s going on and have tools to audit your progress. I use technology as a way to show my students that what we’re working on is indeed the best thing for their game, and by comparing numbers and/or position from the past, we have a way to quantify our progress.

There isn’t a teacher on this planet who can see everything that goes on in the swing — and no one who can see in accurately in degrees — so if your teacher does not use technology my first question would be, “Why not?” I have seen some great teachers who don’t use much technology, but I have also seen many teachers who shy away from using technology because of a lack of education.

Don’t get caught with a teacher who rejects new technology.

No. 3: Does your instructor work with golfers who are better than you?

One of the biggest indicators of an instructor’s talent level is to observe their best students and see how they compare to you.

Does this teacher only deal with beginners? Does he only work with high handicappers? Those are warning signs for better players. After all, if you aspire to be a tour player, wouldn’t you want a teacher who teaches a ton of tour players? Of course you would.

Ideally, a teacher would have a stable full of players who have shown improvement and play at a level that you would like to attain. Most teachers are comfortable with a certain level of player and tend to stay there, which can hamper their ability to teach more advanced players. Find a teacher who is comfortable teaching the level of player you want to become and you have found your teacher.

Find an instructor who teaches golfers who are better than you are. 

No. 4: Does your teacher recognize your learning style?

It is widely known that there are a few learning styles — the most common being visual, verbal, and kinesthetic — and the use of these systems must correlate with your teacher’s delivery or you will have communication issues.

Does your teacher recognize and teach you in the way which you learn best? Do you think Fred Couples (a kinesthetic learner) would work well with a verbal teacher who explained everything to the n’th degree? Of course not — his head would explode! If you are a visual learner and your instructor only focuses on putting you in positions that you should feel, you will not improve. Find a teacher who understands YOU and how YOU learn and you will be successful.

It took me a long time to learn how to teach someone in all three styles — I was more of a verbal learner so I tried to verbalize everything. Needless to say, it was not always the most effective technique. It was only when I became more proficient within these styles that my students got better quicker and with less effort on their part. So if your teacher is going against the grain of your learning style, it’s time to move on.

Find an instructor who understands your learning style.

No. 5: Does your teacher take your goals into account?

goals list

Does your teacher interview you at the beginning of each lesson, asking you what you’d like from your golf game? What shot is plaguing you? What you are doing well? Doing poorly? What you are feeling? If not, then you might not be with an instructor who is in tune with the direction you want to go in as a player.

I get all kinds of requests — some make sense, others do not. I have players who shoot between 85 to 95 hitting fades, but they say they are happier shooting 90 to 105 if they can consistently hit a draw. Does that make any sense? Nope, but that’s what they want. Teaching is not about MY personal agenda, so I try to use two ears and one mouth during the interview process. From there, I can identify what my students want from me and what type of golfers they’d like to become.

Find a teacher who is willing to help you achieve your goals. 

No. 6: Is your instructor a know-it-all?

The great thing about teaching golf in today’s climate is that there is a wealth of people helping us all learn how to teach better. When I came up, golf instruction was a closed shop — no one wanted to give their secrets away. Now we all routinely discuss what we do and how we do it, and we meet at national seminars to listen to the experts in the field. Just this season I have been to five seminars where we’ve had people speak on various subjects — some that I knew all about and others that I did not. No matter how much I know, I believe there’s always more to learn.

You must be wary of the instructor who feels or gives the appearance that they know it all, because they don’t — no one does. If your teacher is not watching others teach and continuing to expand his knowledge base, then he is being left behind as a teacher. We are learning more about the golf swing and the body each and every day and if you don’t seek new information you will not improve your instructional style.

Find the teacher who is eager to learn, accepts mistakes, and is striving to get better by listening to others. 

No. 7: Has your instructor been featured in magazines, blogs or won any awards?

Recognition comes in many form, and I am not saying that if your instructor is not ranked in the Top 100 or Top 50 of the major golf magazines that he is not a good coach. If I was a student, however, I would like to see my coach in my state or region’s top teacher listings. If not, I’d like to see him doing something to gain recognition. Is he publishing instruction articles or videos on his site or another site? That’s one of the best ways to get to know a potential instructor.

I have yet to meet a teacher who didn’t want more clients to choose from, as well as more awards, top-teacher lists, certifications and exposure. These are the best ways for instructors to set themselves apart from the masses, a very few top teachers don’t want such distinctions.

Find someone who is striving to be the very best teacher they can be — one that takes all the steps necessary to grow their name and business. You don’t want the teacher who shows up, teaches and then goes home.

Find a teacher who is committed to his career. 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

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