A FRAMEWORK FOR FIRST LESSONS: HOW WE ASSESS NEW CLIENTS
FRAMEWORK FOR FIRST LESSONS
HOW WE ASSESS NEW CLIENTS
Hope springs eternal as a new student arrives on our lesson tee for the first time. They’ve come to the realization that they need a bit of help in achieving their goals, so they’ve come to you— their new coach, to provide the necessary guidance.
The importance of this first interaction can’t be overstated. Our effectiveness will undoubtedly influence the longevity of the new relationship and possibly predict its eventual success. That’s why it’s imperative to approach the initial evaluation with a well-defined purpose, as we attempt to get answers to important questions surrounding a client’s current performance. If we can structure it in a way that allows us to dig deep into their capabilities and mindset, we can accurately assess where they are and then determine an appropriate roadmap to deliver them towards their ultimate goals in golf – one that marries the unique individual and their golf skills.
The first lesson presents a few unique obstacles that we have to consider in preparation for our interaction with a new student.
Information Gathering vs. Urgent Fixing.
As coaches, it’s a real privilege that a student has entrusted us with this undertaking. Based on a recommendation, reputation, or some other evidence of our credibility and capacity to serve as agents of change— they have confidence in our ability to help them. So often, it’s easy for us to want to justify their vote of confidence by jumping in and start ‘fixing’.
But great coaches realize the real goal of the first lesson is to act as an information-gatherer. We need to develop an understanding for the person and their skills so that we can begin to build their unique roadmap to lower scores. As with any travel endeavor, a roadmap requires two things – a starting position and an ending point. Prioritizing the collection of the key details driving current performance over providing a short-term technical correction— represents a crucial distinction in highly effective evaluations. Moreover, it provides both parties with a clearly defined starting point from which to grow. Expert coaches are able to balance the immediate needs of the student with what we know will be most beneficial in the long-term.
Decoding the Self Report.
Most coaches begin that first lesson with a few interview questions as they watch them ‘hit a few’. This is where we get our new student’s self-evaluation. And while their report can reveal some crucial insights into their mindset, history, and recent performance— it rarely offers a true picture of what’s been going on in their games. Everyone filters their appraisal of performance through their own bias and emotions, consequently– it’s incredibly difficult to get an objective evaluation. Given that to be the case, a comprehensive plan for assessing new students is paramount – one that captures the reality of the current performance and provides some indication of how they will go about the day-to-day activities that will lead them to their goals. In the end, hearing out their most immediate concerns points us in the right direction, but an objective measure of skills is the only way to gain an accurate assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.
Evaluating the Whole Athlete.
As many of us have experienced through golf or other endeavors, the path to where you want to go is littered with setbacks, adversity, nirvana, and other forms of experience. To that end, we need to get a full picture of the person – not just the golfer. If we don’t, we run the risk of making the wrong turn and stifling the process entirely. Examining things like their mindset, perceptions of abilities, and willingness to persist can be predictive of how committed they’ll be to the process. Discoveries we making regarding their personality and mindsets can also provide crucial clues into how to best structure their learning experience moving forward.
With that last point in mind, we want to share with you our basic template for evaluating a new client. Through trial and error and guidance from some great coaches, we have organized a structured process for assessing new students. That being said, we are in a continual state of adjustment and refinement– each time we take someone through it, we end up making an adjustment. In short, this is by no means the only way to do it, nor does it necessarily encompass everything we would try to assess.
We like to break our evaluation down into 4 distinct categories:
- The Human: Who are they? What makes them tick?
- The Actions: What are they currently doing to make progress in their games?
- The Skills: Where are their strengths and weaknesses? What skill areas represent the greatest opportunity for improvement?
- The Mechanics: Based on our assessment of their skill, what aspects of their technique will require changes?
We can evaluate how effective our assessment has been when we examine the quality of answers we’ve uncovered within these key areas. Within each of the categories, there are specific questions that we seek to answer, as these will define our starting point from which we’ll map out their unique roadmap to mastery.
Through a combination of interviewing, observing, and testing— we get a 360 degree look at the person in front of us – and are better positioned to deliver a more learner centric experience.
As a disclaimer, not all clients are the same, so the process needs to remain somewhat flexible. However, the examples provided below should initiate some ideas on how you may modify your current process to better address all of the areas that contribute to performance.
When assessing the human characteristics, we are trying to figure out what makes the student tick. If we can discover their motivations, we can successfully design an improvement plan that engages them in a meaningful way. We also get an idea for their attitudes regarding learning— the big answers we need are are related to Growth Mindset and their Achievement Orientation.
What we ask:
- What is the main reason you decided to seek out instruction?
- What is the most important short-term outcome that you would like to work towards over the next few weeks/months together?
- What are your top of the mountain goals?
- Rate your current confidence level in each skill area.
- What is your ‘magic wand’ wish— if you could get rid of one ‘miss’ forever, what would it be?
- What type of shot scares you the most?
- What drives you to keep working on your game?
What we observe:
As they hit shots and complete skills assessment we observe the following:
- How do they handle failure— what’s their reaction to poor shots?
- What is their reaction to an increase in challenge level?
- As they receive instruction, how open-minded are they to change?
- How much does confidence seem to fluctuate throughout the skills assessment?
- How analytical are they in evaluating unsuccessful trials– do failed attempts elicit a more internal focus?
- Can we decipher any clues on learning strategies they employ– internal vs external, implicit vs explicit, etc.?
- Do they depend more on declarative or procedural knowledge to perform each skill?
How the student goes about attacking the improvement process, combined with the human characteristics we already addressed, play a huge role in achievement. We need to take inventory of their current habits so that we can determine how to positively influence their future actions in pursuit of their big goals.
What we ask:
- How often do you practice/play?
- What does a typical practice session look like?
- What fitness/nutritional habits have they developed?
- Do you currently keep any stats or formalized note-taking on your performances?
- How much instruction have they received in the past— what were the benefits/detriments of how it was delivered?
- In detail, tell me about your recent performances and competitive history.
Given the endpoint is usually defined by a quantitative performance measure; we need to take stock of their key golf specific skills. We would encourage every coach to have a detailed regimen for skills assessments that offer an objective snapshot of the current state of the new client’s skills. There are plenty of great resources for this, and possibly in an upcoming post we could detail ours. Ultimately, we need an organized method for measuring key performance indicators as they relate to a.) ball control b.) skill diversity c.) tactical intelligence.
What we observe/measure:
Ball Striking– To assess ball striking, we conduct a modified Trackman Combine. This allows us to measure and observe the following:
- Full Swing Concepts— what are their key ‘swing thoughts’?
- Clubhead speed and distances for a variety of clubs.
- Curve patterns.
- Dominant miss.
- Ability to modify trajectory/curve/distance on command.
Scrambling– To assess their scrambling skills, we conduct a very representative short game task requiring them to hit a variety of different shots as we measure the results. As they complete the task, we ask questions to help us assess their tactical intelligence, as well.
- Short Game Concepts— what are their key ‘swing thoughts’?
- Ability to produce solid strikes from a variety of lies.
- Ability to modify base motion to account for differences in conditions.
- Ability to modify trajectory and distance.
- Ability to identify optimal landing spots and select appropriate trajectories.
Putting– Similar to our short game assessment, we use an 18 hole putting test that provides us with both, an objective analysis of their skill and the opportunity to observe their skills in a variety of situations. The putting subskills we need to evaluate are:
- Putting Concepts- what are their key ‘swing thoughts’?
- Ability to start putts on line.
- Ability to manage speed.
- Ability to read greens.
When evaluating the skills of the golfer, specifically, what the ball does and how adept they are at applying those skills in context– we are inevitably drawn to HOW the golfer produces their shots – their technique. To do this accurately and efficiently, we utilize technology in the form of 3D, Trackman, Video, SAM PuttLab, and Swing Catalyst Balance Plates. Realizing that we all have unique preferences that we look for in a player’s technique– here is a basic overview of what we prioritize first.
Key areas to observe, measure, and record:
- Setup Elements. Does setup match ball flight intents?
- Club Delivery Parameters. Mainly through Trackman, we observe and measure how the club is being delivered. Working our way back from impact, we observe any tendencies throughout the swing that could contribute to less than ideal club delivery tendencies.
- Impact Alignments. Through video or 3D we begin to observe and measure how the body is contributing to club delivery.
- Pivot and Pressure Patterns. Based on impact alignments and club delivery patterns, we begin to look at how the body pivots and pressure is shifted throughout the swing.
So, there it is. Hopefully, it provides us with a comprehensive and well-organized assessment process. Sometimes this takes us up to half a day to conduct. After all that, what do we really have?
Information. Lots of it.
Making sense of it all – and balancing it with what they want in the short term – is our next greatest priority. Inevitably, at the end of the evaluation, we feel indebted to them or sense the need to provide them with something tangible immediately. After all, we’ve certainly developed a clear sense of where they could use some help. So often times, usually in as non-disruptive way as possible, we will offer some simple guidance in these areas before we dig into the real work of developing a more meaningful long-term plan for them.
In closing, we offer a few tips we try to adhere to in managing expectations of the new student and delivering the best possible evaluations.
- Be upfront. If you have a slight pain, do you want the doctor to go right in and perform invasive surgery that may or may not lead to the desired result? Our guess is not. To that end, be upfront with them in advance. Communicate to them that you need to see them perform a variety of tasks so you have the necessary data to provide them with a course of action that leads to sustainable change.
- Be objective. Judgment clouds reality. How often does someone come to you ‘knowing’ what they need to change? Often times this judgment ends up being an impediment to long term growth. When we are able to collect and communicate objective information related to their skills– it creates buy-in and inspires action in a constructive fashion – in the direction of the areas that will lead to the greatest, and often fastest, gains in performance.
- Present a Plan. A goal without a plan is just a wish. The blind pursuit of something, while noble, isn’t productive. After being upfront and objective about your process and in identifying what they need to improve, we need to communicate our plan of action. Otherwise, the same pattern – a search and destroy mission based on preconceptions – will persist. In our experience, by presenting a detailed plan, we’ve differentiated ourselves from what they have come to expect in golf instruction. While they may have been hesitant in the early stages of the assessment– wondering when we were going to offer some tangible advice– once they see the work, wisdom, and sophistication of the big-picture plan– they are ALL IN.
Only after a thorough assessment of the golfer– their skills, form, and habits, can we present an appropriate ‘solution’ that helps bridge the gap between current and desired performance. By setting the appropriate expectation, remaining objective, and formalizing the plan, the pathway towards achieving their standard of excellence emerges.
– COREY LUNDBERG & MATT WILSON
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