COACHABILITY: TRAITS AND TACTICS OF SUPER LEARNING STUDENTS
TRAITS AND TACTICS OF SUPER LEARNING STUDENTS
To examine what makes a student coachable– let’s start with a quick exercise. Start by opening your lesson book for tomorrow. Quickly review who you have coming in to see you. Unless you are one of the few lucky coaches who has the luxury of handpicking each and every student that you work with, there will likely be some students who you are more excited to meet with than others.
And that’s not because you really just like some and dislike others. It’s likely that some are just more ‘coachable’ then others. They bring a set of behaviors and traits that lend themselves to deeper learning. It’s not that you don’t believe in each and every one of your student’s capacity to change. We wrote about this in our post on the Pygmalion Effect— we think its critical that we believe in not only our own ability to affect change, but also interact with students under the expectation that they can and will reach their ultimate goals in golf.
But, realistically, we recognize that some players approach the learning process with a really lousy learning mindset. It takes two to tango. Each student approaches the development process with a mindset that will determine how much progress they will ultimately make. So it stands to reason that our ability to assess and influence that mindset is a key skill to our effectiveness.
Before we identify the key behaviors and tactics of our super learners, we should peel the onion back and look at the underpinning element in these contrasting learning mindsets. It really comes down to motivation and specifically, the question of, ‘what has motivated this person to seek out coaching?’ In most cases, the motivation of a person can be characterized by one of two scenarios:
- The golfer is motivated by the challenge of mastering a skill.
- The golfer is motivated by the challenge of beating someone else or some other external reward.
When we think back to our most coachable students, the golfers who relish the challenge of mastering a skill often are the ones that exhibit most of the behaviors that we appreciate the most. They’re most willing to persevere through the inevitable struggles that golf will present and are driven to find long-term solutions. Their willingness to persist is a function of their high levels of internal motivation– a high degree of this type of motivation is essential for long term growth.
On the contrary, we have our ‘performance-oriented’ players. They are looking for external results, often immediately, over and above anything. Looking bad isn’t an option, and one bad round can be a catalyst to them deciding to go in another direction. An orientation solely based on extrinsic reward is often an unsustainable path towards improvement. However, when coupled with an equally high degree of mastery orientation, it has been proven to be an effective pathway towards high performance. We’d encourage you to read Dr. Dan Gould’s research on the topic.
So, who are are Super Learners? What are some of their traits and habits? What can we do to help people with an overly performance-oriented perspective do to improve their odds at improvement? Read on…..
SUPER LEARNER TRAITS
This trait is listed first for a reason. Our favorite students to coach and the ones who experience the most success are, above all, conscientious. There is plenty of research that links conscientiousness to high academic achievement, as well.
By definition, it means to ‘do one’s work well and thoroughly.’ So when you provide some instruction or guidance to someone with this trait, you can be sure they will work purposefully towards it. As a coach, you can count on them to do the work that is required to make progress. Not only will they do it, but they’ll be meticulous in completing it as assigned. No wonder this trait is linked to high performance in other fields as well.
Alternatively, our students without this trait rarely coming back having completed the assigned tasks or prescriptions. If, in a previous lesson, you identified a critical technical point that required attention, the unconscientious student is likely to come back with an entirely new set of ‘swing thoughts.’ They’re just more likely to become distracted because they lack the discipline and organization to remain purposeful and focused throughout their practice.
Our favorite students are also curious. We list this after ‘Conscientious’ because we want to be sure to clarify that it’s not compliance we are after. To remain an active participant in the learning process, we need them to stay inquisitive and engaged in finding solutions to the various problems that we encounter. Rather than the ‘just tell me what to do to fix it’ student, they are eager to truly understand key elements of their performance. And when we feed their thirst for understanding, we unlock the innate problem solver that lives within each of our students.
Now they don’t depend on someone else to get fixed. So many golfers struggle because they have no idea why bad shots occur and, similarly, they have no clue what happened when a ball happens to go where they’re looking. With curiosity, the golfer can demystify the miss and begin to more easily replicate their great shots. They become autonomous learners who seek necessary information so that improvement isn’t a total mystery.
All golfers are quick to see the probems. Golf has a cruel way of making them painstakingly obvious. Our most coachable students have a different reaction to encountering a problem then the vast majority of golfers. They have adopted a combination of optimism and curiosity that aims their focus towards finding a solution to unsuccessful trials. Rather than slam a club, mumble the obligatory curse, and scrape over the next ball— they believe in their ability to find a solution and get the wheels turning on how to improve.
If they have this trait and we have done a good job helping them read feedback— you have a dream student. After a poor shot, they will carefully reflect on what went wrong and they start solving the problem for the next shot. We often try to help these students by reverse engineering their answers. How did the ball fly? How was the club delivered to make it fly that way? And lastly, if necessary, how did our body move to deliver the club in that fashion?
Call it what you want— grit, toughness, resilience, tenacity— our best students have it. They’re fueled by an unwavering self-belief that they can get through the toughest of obstacles. So rather than quit at signs of trouble, they persevere through them. They even relish them. So many of our students are unwilling to fail or look foolish while undergoing a change or as they develop a new skill for the first time. But our intrinsically motivated students are so dead set on their journey to mastery that they view temporary struggles as a necessary means to an end.
Most coaches have become very familiar with Carol Dweck’s popular work on the Growth Mindset, but I highly encourage coaches to explore her lesser known work on Academic Tenacity. She describes this trait as allowing students to “look beyond short term concerns to long term or higher order goals.” Because they aren’t driven by immediate gratification, they can take a long term approach and focus more on their ultimate goals in golf. These are the students we want to coach.
Golf is really hard. At the highest levels, we have had plenty of reminders lately of just how hard it can be. The best students realize this and are kind to themselves as they navigate the road to improvement. Dr. Kristin Neff describes self compassion as ‘instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.’
We are shocked at some of the self-talk we sometimes here on the lesson tee– students who have voluntarily chosen to spend their free time berating themselves as they tackle this game that demands so much of us.
If there is one personality trait that we would require in all of our students, Self Compassion would be it.
SUPER LEARNER TACTICS
In addition to the behaviors described above, Super Learners employ a number of tactics that increase the likelihood of success. As you’ll notice these behaviors are driven by the personality traits that we have detailed, especially conscientiousness. If all of our students were diligent in applying themselves to the following actions, our track record as coaches would go through the roof.
This is where the conscientious students thrive. They throw themselves towards a singular focus when they arrive on the practice tee. They’re organized, they know exactly what they are there to work on and how they plan to attack it. Because so few students posses the self-discipline to attack practice this way, we try to do our best to make it as easy as possible for everyone that we teach. They leave each session with us carrying a detailed prescription of tasks and challenges to complete on their own. The results of the students who actually complete them and those who don’t are not even close. As the old saying goes: we can lead them to water, but we can’t make them drink. This is the one tactic that Super Learner employs that absolutely guarantees progess, yet so few are willing to do.
The most coachable students take time to reflect. They reflect on their lessons, their practice sessions, and their on-course performance. They take the time to sit back and bask in their successes, learn from their failures, and develop an organized plan to fill the gaps.
Very few have the discipline to do this— but effective reflection often manifests itself in journaling. In great detail, Super Learners write down notes on their practice and play. So when we get together, we have this amazing resource of information to help us decide exactly how to take action in the most productive way possible.
Super learners are driven and purposeful. But first, they decide exactly where it is that they want to go and what they will strive to accomplish. Their goals serve as the North Star for all actions.
We love coaching students who have goals related to what skills they want to learn and have quantitive means to measure progress. Additionally, we are extra driven when we know they have certain performance goals they are driven to achieve. These serve as the tangible proof of their hard work and push them to remain tenacious and organized as they strive towards them.
Stat-tracking often serves as a litmus test for Super Learners. When we work with someone who remains disciplined enough to keep track of their stats— its proof that they possess the personality traits common in all high performers. They are conscientious enough to take the time to complete what is often a mundane and time consuming process of tracking their performance in detail. They commit to this because they are curious about what areas of their performance require the most attention. Once they have acquired this valuable information, they demonstrate their solution orientation by modifying their performance plan to account for the discoveries that the analytics reveal.
As always, we believe that people are malleable and fully capable of changing. Everyone can become a super learner, even if they aren’t one from the onset. We’ve written about the learning process and the ‘pathway to permanence’. While a nice framework for coaches to operate under, again, it takes two to tango. As we alluded to above, it isn’t always the case that the person we are working with has the traits of the Super Learner. So the question then becomes, how we can better prepare our students for the learning process and coach them through it?
1. BE FORWARD.
Learning takes time and effort. It isn’t on-demand like Netflix. There isn’t a button to push to get everything we need in seconds. Being open and upfront about what is required to make a gain is a key first-step in softening someone’s view on improvement. Think about it. What is the most perpetuated message in golf? The quick fix. People often arrive on the lesson tee indoctrinated with the idea that they are one tip away from excellence. We know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Being honest and upfront about the nature of learning and change goes a long way in starting the shift of their mindset.
2. FOCUS ON THE TACTICS IN ORDER TO MOVE THE NEEDLE ON TRAITS
When thinking about how to develop a Super Learner, the path of least resistance lies in helping them adopt some of the key behaviors that great learners exhibit. It doesn’t have to be a complete upheaval of what they normally do – it’s more like the way in which coffee drips into a pot – slow and steady. The simple act of practicing with feedback, understanding what that feedback means, and then how to make the correction, is a great first step towards getting that person to a) practice better b) learn to reflect and c) become more curious. All of these push them (softly) to becoming a better learner.
3. MEASURE PROGRESS
Witnessing success from the first-person is often limited to their score during play. Given the myriad of things that influence that outcome, it can often be difficult for a golfer to see themselves improve. Moreover, a lot of effort is usually required to experience a relatively small gain, which isn’t is something that everyone has a tremendous amount of patience for. To help get us encourage students to persist with the process, we need to be able to provide some evidence of success. This success-inventory, which we wrote about in our post on belief, is the catalyst for sustaining motivation and building confidence. Providing your golfers with simple tests that they can self-administer and log results of over time, is a great first step.
The bottom line? Everyone can become a better learner, even if it isn’t their natural pre-disposition. Yes, our job is to improve their golf skills. However, that will be infinitely more difficult to do if we aren’t adept at assessing and re-shaping their approach to learning. Using the traits of our most coachable players and working backwards to their behaviors can help serve as a compass to help guide you to the best starting point.
There is another reason why we see this as such a worthy pursuit– we make an impact on them beyond the golf course. As coaches, we have this opportunity to impact people in a way that really matters, not just in golf. Helping our students develop positive habits and behaviors that they can apply to all areas of their lives, brings with it a far more rewarding and richer set of objectives for us to work towards.
It has been helpful for us and hopefully it is the same to you.
– COREY LUNDBERG & MATT WILSON
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