I have been active as a professional educator for approximately 14 years. In that time, I have engaged in teaching at a lot of different levels. I started out as a public school music educator in Maine, where I taught grades K-12 (including instrumental, general/classroom, and sometimes choral methods). I have also been a college instructor – lecturing at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the University of Maine at Fort Kent I was also an instructional assistant at Florida State University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A large component of my university teaching experience involves pre-teacher education (mentoring and instructing undergraduate education majors how to be teachers).
I am an admitted degree “ho,” having earned four degrees in music and professional education (including a school administrative certification), and am now earning a fifth degree; a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction; curriculum and instruction being the “what and how” of the educational sphere. A current research interest for me is how issues and considerations in public school education transfer over into golf instruction, which serves as the premise for this writing. This interest comes from a very new experience for me – becoming the golf coach for Hampden Academy in Maine while I finish my doctorate.
Please note: this article is geared mostly for those involved in golf pedagogy and instruction, including golf coaches, PGA professionals, golf educators, students and even parents. That said, I feel there is content here that may be relevant for a wide range of individual interest. Feel free to comment and I will respond to any and all questions to the best of my ability.
Let me begin by asking all the golf educators a simple question, “Have you ever taught an Einstein?” Maybe not a literal golfing Einstein like a Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus, but maybe a player you would put up against the best in their category, or even one who exceeds everyone else in that category. Some of you might say yes, others no. For those who answered in the affirmative, how did you qualify such a determination? Were you thinking about a particular student and the qualities he/she displayed? Did these qualities include any of the following (?):
- That student was the best player you ever had.
- Exhibited personal maturity above and beyond his/her peers.
- Appeared to learn quickly/was easy or fun to instruct.
- You liked him/her and maybe that student’s parents.
- That student showed great enthusiasm for your instruction.
- He/she beat everyone who played against them.
If any or all of these were your reasons for describing your student as an “Einstein,” then…you might actually be wrong. Sorry!
Let me share an old rumor with you about Mr. Einstein when he was in grade school. As the rumor goes, young Albert was labeled by his teachers as only average or even a slightly below average student, was somewhat defiant, and unengaged and rather quiet (yet another rumor was that he began speaking relatively late). Hardly genius material here, many might think.
Okay, this was just a rumor, and Einstein later clarified how it came about. Despite being the most gifted mind in the room (my words) Einstein found it difficult to work within the rote instruction process that characterized education of his period. Unfortunately, it also characterizes our period as well, but I digress.
Rote learning is a concept nearly all of you know well, even if you are unfamiliar with the term itself. The short of it as it pertains to education is: everyone showing up on time, sitting in orderly rows, silently listening to the teacher, remaining constantly focused (no talking!), “open your books and do examples 1-40 till the bell, and 40-70 for homework due tomorrow” … wash/rinse/repeat. Essentially, many of the things you might have hated about school are directly related to a rote approach. This highly structured (perhaps mundane) paradigm was an old European staple and made its way to the United States as it was looking for international recognition as a valid power prior to the second World War — kind of like OEM competitors copying the technology of whichever brand is leading the industry at the time.
While I taught public school, I was approached by a number of parents to take on their children as private students instead of enrolling them in band classes; their reasons including that the mainstream music program was not appealing to the child, though musical instruction, in and of itself, was highly desirable. Kind of crazy when you come to think about it, because I was also the music educator at the school! What these parents were actually telling me is that there was something about the structure I used when teaching many children was not right when it came to teaching their child.
There was no elitist mentality coming from these parents either; they weren’t the richest, they weren’t the most highly educated, etc. They simply realized that the traditional (rote) learning structure of the school was not what their child needed, despite his/her interest in music. I submit that the same kind of thing can happen in golf instruction.
Here is an interesting fact: the most accomplished music students I have ever taught never participated in my regular school music program. There was nothing about the approach I was forced to use in school that appealed to them. Of the students I am thinking of, one had her own solo recording career by age 14, and the other was a former Miss Maine, having competed in the Miss USA pageant. A number of other students went on to have successful (though minor) careers in New York and Nashville.
To further elaborate on this idea, nearly all of those private students had issues in school. They ranged from fighting with classmates, disrespecting teachers and other adults, truancy and below average academic performance. When they came to me for after school lessons, however, I rarely saw any of this. They were focused, almost always on time, and were upbeat and conversant; in stark contrast to how their other teachers described them. I am not taking credit for this change, rather I am pointing out that these students were ALWAYS that pleasant – it was the structure forced upon them that promoted the negative behavior and lack of motivation … most of the time. They were “diamonds in the rough,” or “Einstein’s in disguise,” if you will.
*2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson has a unique learning style — he’s never taken a lesson.
FIRST HALF SUMMARY – YOU HAVE REACHED THE MID-WAY POINT!
Here is the thing: the best minds and talents in golf, music or any other endeavor think and perform differently from their peers as a matter of course. It is logical to conclude that they might learn differently as well. Why then, do most instructors use one general methodology to teach ALL students? If you want a “different” result (discovering those rare talents who might simply be hidden behind a “misfit” image, like in the Einstein example), you can’t keep on with the status quo, expecting that different result to magically manifest.
Whew! That is a lot, right? This is where we bring it back to golf instruction…
AT THE TURN – HOW TO THINK DIFFERENTLY:
Here are some thoughts for the golf coaches and educators to consider based on the experiences I just shared:
Be prepared for the “best and brightest” to not always look the part
I see it all the time. “We” like teaching the students who are the easiest to teach and who are the most fun to be around – subconsciously recognizing them as being most consistent with our own personal standards. This doesn’t make you a bad person; it is just human nature to enjoy the company of, and interactions with, those who we view to be most like ourselves. However, it may make you a better golf educator to realize that the students you feel yourself naturally gravitating toward (while worthy of your time as well), may or may not have the most potential in the game of golf, apart from being no more worthy of your attention than any other student. Don’t be one of the teachers who fall easily into this trap.
We must never look for the “easy button” when it comes to teaching others, especially the young ones. Look for the best qualities every member of the group displays and take time to get to know every student in your charge personally, as appropriate. Sometimes (many times) all that it takes for a student to come out of their shell and step up their performance is for someone important to take an interest in them. Further, if there is one student who is not fitting in with the rest of your students (like on a golf team or junior practice), what might change that is you showing the group that you “accept” him/her by showing equal interest. The group followers the leader, which is you. Set the best possible example.
You won’t always find who you are looking for. Rare talent is … rare!
I want you all to know that I am NOT saying that every “ugly duck” will turn into a swan (or Einstein golfer) with a little love and attention. I am also NOT saying that every underperforming or unmotivated student is a victim of an educational structure or mismatched instructional model. Sometimes children just act like punks, even older ones – I just think these children represent a minority viewpoint. A good teacher learns to take the good with the bad and keep offering opportunities despite a lukewarm reception or occasional middle finger. Regret is an awful thing, and anyone who has been teaching for any period of time can look back on at least one situation and say,
“Man, I wish I had done more for that kid.”
We don’t mean for things to turn out poorly, but sometimes it’s hard to keep working with a kid who never responds to what we are saying, or wants to think they know better than us, or may just appear to “not get it.” Our frustration comes from the subconscious notion that this is a reflection on us, when it may not actually be so.
The best instructors will keep trying, ask for help, research solutions, talk with parents, talk with the student, talk to your deity of choice; whatever it takes to get through to a kid. Poor behavior reflects on the student, but a lack of effort just because things are tougher than we would like reflects on you. Strive to have a teaching career with as few regrets as possible – they get worse with time, trust me. Even if you don’t find that one super student that comes around once a career, you will help a lot of others who might not have otherwise had the same attention.
It may be beneficial to reevaluate the instructional models you teach with
Some students DO actually need the rote learning approach; it isn’t totally irrelevant. In golf, there has to be a degree of repetition as a matter of course, and that isn’t likely to change soon. I just want to clarify that this repetition should focus on the performance of the golf swing, and not as much as it pertains to a golf educator’s analytical teaching presentations.
That said, there are a number of recent studies that show growing numbers of students are better served with mixed approaches as pertains to instruction. The good news is, early research is showing that greater numbers of students are displaying tactile learning preferences – those that learn from a more hands-on approach and by “doing.” This makes a bit of sense, if you consider all of the handheld “gadgets” children are using these days (iPods, phones, tablets, Xbox, etc.). All of these promote tactile expectations from learners, and to a lesser degree, visual ones. It is certainly good news for us, because golf itself is a tactile endeavor requiring implements (clubs), and greater numbers of students appreciating this quality of our sport is a very good thing, as it can be used as a selling point to bring more to the game.
What does this mean specifically for instructors? It means that you should be prepared to vary your methods and move away from lecturing students as a core, teacher-centered approach. Yes, there needs to be a certain amount of information conveyed verbally during lessons, but you should be willing to keep this to as bare a minimum as a given student needs, especially in-group lessons, junior golf practices and golf team practices. This is hard to do, because the measure of a “good” teacher has traditionally been judged by the accuracy and depth of their content knowledge, often expressed verbally. It is hard for those of us who have been trained in traditional methods to move away from a teacher-centered model (“Do what I say”) to a student-centered model (“What do you need?”).
Private lessons don’t mitigate the effects of rote instruction
Again, rote instruction is not inherently bad (for our purposes), but not knowing the appropriate time to use such an approach will cause problems for newer generations who learn in increasingly diverse ways.
Are your lessons simply “smaller” classroom situations? As a golf educator, do you spell out every aspect of a lesson and nothing happens without you prompting it? Do you tell a student to put in “X” number of hours of practice per week or to make specific changes to his/her gear specs?
Do you ask a student what you both should work on that day, or ask what they are feeling when their swing reaches a certain point, present a couple different options to correct an error and let them choose or ask them which kind of swing “model” appeals the most to them?
The former example is closer to the rote approach, and the latter is more student-centered. Either approach can be used one-on-one, but will only work well for certain groups of students. If you are sincerely interested in addressing the needs of all of your students (and yes, even discover a hidden Einstein golfer), you must be able to identify which model is going to work for a given student, and have the pedagogical skill to switch modes as needed.
The really hard part comes when you are teaching groups of students and need to change modes constantly. This is called differentiating instruction, and is a concept that many public and private schools are having difficulty implementing, but is a hurdle you have to overcome in your own teaching studio/school if you want to avoid the inconsistent results that currently plague our school systems.
The easy part in all of this is that it can be fairly easy to identify which mode of instruction might work best for a student. In most cases, you simply have to ask. Think about it: you probably have already said to yourself, “Yep that’s how I learn best” after I listed some of the differences in approach. Older students will identify with a certain approach if you describe some of the ideas and differences I described above. I have also found that speaking with parents can identify the preferences of younger students – no one knows their child better, after all.
To close, I want remind you that this writing is intended primarily as a self-reflection piece for golf educators, though I feel the content is also relevant for golf students, and/or parents of students. I write from the perspective of someone who has realized that there is a LOT of hidden talent out there in any field that goes unrecognized because it doesn’t fit into the “bins” that are created by schools and instructors in an effort to teach to the middle (or majority). None of what I am suggesting is easy, especially if you have grooved a particular teaching approach.
I suggest a good starting point might be taking advantage of local resources: asking around at local universities or public schools about conferences including specific educational content. Also, use your local library (and reference librarian!) to gain access to research articles addressing the subjects I mentioned. Those of you who are PGA Professionals might look for opportunities for professional development through your organization that deal with instructional delivery.
If you have any further questions regarding the content of this writing, please leave your comments below – I will be happy to discuss!
Clampett: Is confusion the leading cause of golfers quitting the game?
It seems that lately I’ve had a run of golfers attending my two-day Signature School with similar stories.
“Bobby, I have too many swing thoughts! I don’t know what I should think about when I swing.” Nearly without exception, these golfers tell me that their increased frustration had led to a deterioration of their game. It’s really a shame, because many of these frustrated golfers were at one time low, single-digit handicap players that had fallen to bogey-level golf.
In these schools, I have the time to start peeling back the onion with each student, and I’m hearing the same story over and over. My first question is always, “How did you find out about us?” Usually, it’s through referral or the result of an internet search for instruction help. My second questions is, “What do you hope to accomplish in our two days together?” They almost always respond, “Bobby, my head is spinning with too many swing thoughts. I don’t know what to do. Your approach to impact makes the most sense I’ve seen. That’s why I’m here.”
Statistics indicate that 4 million golfers quit the game in the United States every year. And if you polled each of these 4 million golfers, you’d find confusion to be the common denominator in their decision to quit.
I googled “golf instruction” and received more than 33 million results. Then I went to “YouTube” and typed in “Golf Tip.” There were 932,000 results. Scores of golfers get emails everyday suggesting a new thought or idea to improve their game. They watch television and pick up some more advice. They subscribe to golf magazines suggesting all kinds of ideas. Then they go to the range or course and put as much of it into action as their memories and bodies will allow… only to find it just doesn’t work! They’re farther away from playing good golf than they were when they began seeking out these swing fixes.
Many of my students are avid golfers who come to my schools on the brink of quitting the game all together. One student’s story was so sad. He confessed that no one at his club wanted to play with him anymore because his game had declined so sharply. He was considering selling his membership. In tears, he shared with us that all of his friends were members of his club.
Why is there all this confusion around the golf swing? There are two simple reasons.
The first involves the idea that “style-based” teaching is still the most common approach to improving a golfer’s game, and in my opinion, this doesn’t work very well for most golfers. Style-based instruction centers around a certain look. These teachers ask golfers to set up to the ball this way, get in these backswing positions, make this move on the downswing, look like this at the finish… and so on. Meanwhile, the Dustin Johnsons, Jim Furyks, and Bubba Watsons of the golfing world don’t possess golf swings that look anything like the “style” being suggested. When swing tips are given for “style” reasons, they’re arbitrary, a visual preference, and can’t be measured.
The second reason golfers are more confused today than they’ve ever been is the climate of today’s golf instruction world. We live in a new age, the digital age, and golfers are being bombarded by countless forms of media suggesting how to improve their games. These tips have a very wide range of theories and suggestions, most of which are conflicting.
Set up with your weight on the left foot. No, on the right foot. No, in the middle.
Have a short, compact swing. No, get a big shoulder turn for more distance. No, just swing around your body.
Finish high. No, finish low and left.
You get the picture. Without the ability to discern fact from fiction when it comes to all of this information, golfers go to the driving range in search of that secret pill that’s going to make it all work. The truth is that a secret pill that’s “style-based” just doesn’t exist. The best golf teachers know that the “style” of swing really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in playing good golf is creating good impact. That’s what Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson all have in common, and that’s why they are all great golfers and great ball-strikers.
Good instructors understand what it is that these great players do to create that good impact, and they have the ability to offer clear remedies that might be built on only one or two simple thoughts. When a golfer is limited to thinking about only one or two key things, their mind is free and so is their swing. It’s not paralysis by analysis that ruins golfers, but rather paralysis by having too many needless and ineffective swing thoughts that ruins golfers.
Good instruction and good swing tips help golfers understand the impact their swing needs to create to be a good ball-striker. When a golfer’s impact isn’t good, a good instructor will help the student understand the specific element of their impact that wasn’t good and provide the appropriate remedy to fix it. Using today’s modern technology helps reveal precisely what was good or bad about a swing’s impact. After the remedy is given, technology will specifically be able to measure and show improvement in the various elements of impact. Game improvement can now be measured and verified by viewing the specific areas where impact is improved. When students see this measured improvement, hope is restored, confidence grows, scores drop and fewer golfers quit the game!
Be aware that it’s fine to read these articles and view these swing tips for their entertainment and educational value, but golfers should only apply the tips when they know they will help them improve a specific element of their impact. Then and only then will their game improve. One thing is for certain in golf, better impact equals better golf. That is where the “hope” of a good golf game is to be found.
The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings
I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?
I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.
- The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
- The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.
In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.
Case No. 1
It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.
Case No. 2
Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.
At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.
There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.
In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.
The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.
In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.
- Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
- Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.
And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.
Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.
What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.
As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
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