COACHING TACTICS PART III- 4 KEYS TO EFFECTIVE ON-SITE COACHING
PART III: 4 KEYS TO EFFECTIVE ON-SITE COACHING
In closing our series on tactics, we want to shift our attention to coaching on-site at competitions – far away from the comfort of our learning centers and practice ranges. Compared to our normal coaching environment, taking our show on the road to an event carries with it much higher stakes and importance.
Relative to the history of the game, coaches being on-site at golf competitions is a relatively new thing. However, there are very few (if any) sports wherein the coach misses the game, and/or the time leading up to it. When we come to think of it, it is kind of crazy that this is the case. Think about it– how often do we start our session with a player with a question about their recent performance? Their answer is usually influenced by their perception of, and emotional attachement to, the events that unfolded. Oftentimes, this information is incomplete and inaccurate, which is why it is really important for us to see ‘how’ the results happened.
Either way, we want to explore how we can maximize our impact such that we best prepare an athlete for success when it counts, and in general, do a better job of supporting the competitive experience. To do so, we seek to shed some light through our personal experience.
For the past 6 years, I’ve had the good fortune of working with competitive players on site at major competitions, from junior golf through the professional ranks and everything in-between. Much of what we will talk about is purely based on my experience and reflections, as well as athlete feedback, as to what they appreciate and define as effective coaching during competitive weeks. With that, many of the instances in which I’m working on-site is during marked competitions – identified ‘majors’ – which certainly influences what I do. Nonetheless, we feel that there are some things that are very applicable to everyone working in similar conditions.
In the end, we want to behave in a fashion that enables – not suffocates – athletic performance. To that end, here are four keys to keep in mind the next time you are with an athlete at a competition.
Athletic performance often hinges on preparation. When we arrive on-site for a competition, we shift our focus towards helping the player develop a strategy that maximizes the output of their skill set that week, and building their confidence. For the most part, the time for technical interventions is long-gone, and we have to prepare the golfer to compete with the current state of their skills. So we find ways to inspire confidence while identifying key course situations that will require special shots or other strategic modifications.
Walk the practice rounds with the player and caddie (if applicable). It will give you a sense of what shots, conditions, lies, etc. that they are likely to face. From there, you can spend extra time with the athlete working on shots and figuring out different strategies based on what they are likely to encounter as they compete. Be careful in observing the nuances of the course and conditions that may require extra attention. Recreating different situations around the green (uphill and into the grain – for example) and rehearsing tee shots, are two simple things that we can do to aid in preparation and help create an inventory of success in the mind of the performer.
It is about the athlete, not the coach. Our role is to support the player in their pursuit of autonomy and in driving their own performance.
In my experience, athletes tend to perform their best when we arrive with the intention of giving them space, and helping them prepare to perform by building their confidence, and managing their focus.
Ensuring that their attention is placed solely on their intention is a top priority. Moreover, it is something in which a ton of action on our part isn’t necessary. Simple questioning usually does the trick. Will there be times when we need to jump in and be a more active participant? Absolutely. However, more often than not, a less-is-more approach will have the greatest impact on their performance.
Know the people you work with. Understanding their needs and tendencies helps you identify moments in time where you need to be ready to assist. The better our timing, as dictated by the needs of the player, the more impactful we can be. Keep an active history on each player you work with. Keep notes as to what makes them tick and what their ‘default settings’ – their tendencies before, during and after competition – are. These can help you with the timing of your support and interventions and help you better manage their focus.
As I alluded to earlier, golf is one of the few spots where the coach seldom sees the game. Additionally, the course is vastly different from the range, and competition is so much different from practice. Given these conditions to be true, observing the athlete while they are performing, is a major component to maximizing your effectiveness. Think about it. How often do competitive golfers get objective (and subjective) feedback about the way they went about their business? Not often. Therefore, we feel it is a very worthy pursuit.
The simple idea of helping the golfer become more aware of their behavioral patterns in certain situations serves as a catalyst for learning. Gathering objective information through observation, at times supported by video, can be really effective in facilitating the learning loop and in helping them make positive change.
Disclaimer: it is hard, if not impossible, to digest the actions of others without understanding their intent at that moment!
Use video to film routines, changes in body language, decisions, or anything you feel is relevant to unpacking their performance. These can be used as objective tools to create understanding and a starting point of behavior change.
While perhaps oversimplified, our role is vastly different that on our lesson tee. We need to a) do less, and b) do different things. As mentioned previously, we need to observe the athlete intently, and serve more as a mirror – a means through which an athlete, via our feedback and discussion, can reflect on their performance, and identify what went well, and what they’d like to take action on. This learning-first focus is what, we believe, lies at the core of what we do, and in the long-term, determines our success.
Review the round! Use the data you collected, as well as those provided by stats programs to do a full debrief. Identify the elements that were great, the turning point, and an item or two to improve upon.
In some (many) cases, what is perceived by the performer as the catalyst or impediment of a round, is actually not. Only by going below the surface of the score and the emotion we feel towards it, can the performer start to understand what went into it, such that the performance can be reproduced (if positive), or avoided (if negative).
Golfer’s don’t have the luxury of instant replay. In team sports such as hockey and basketball, teams and players can quickly audit their performance by watching taped footage of each of their shifts. Golfer’s don’t have that luxury. As a coach, therefore, our primary duty when we are on site with an athlete is to help them prepare as best as they can, compete with as much confidence as possible, and most importantly – help them learn from their actions – not fix the swing.
– MATT WILSON
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