One of my mother’s most impressive talents is music. She can play the piano. She loves to sing. She can read music in like seven different languages. She has a master’s degree in music. If there’s something that involves some sort of musical comprehension, she probably has it. She also didn’t pass on any of these gifts to me. Oh well. 

This past summer, my parents sold our childhood home. My mom moved down and joined by father in central Florida. It’s quite the scenery change from south central Pennsylvania. Some would call it a slightly upgrade. It’s a hair warmer. The people are nicer. It’s a little more enjoyable to be outdoors more than eight months out of the year. For my mom, this has been exciting. She’s joining different classes, meeting new people, and taking up something new she’s never tried out before: Golf.

Yeah, I guess we’re both novices at golf now. 

My parents currently live in a 55 and older community. Where old people live, golf is sure to follow. The community they live in just recently purchased two different golf courses. If you’re lucky enough, your house just might line up on one of the fairways. There’s also a chance one of my golf balls from Christmas came a couple feet from hitting your house (swing is still a work in progress).  

My mom’s background is in music. It isn’t really in sports, let alone golf. When we learned she was going to take it up, we were pleasantly surprised. She has no prior playing experience. At all. She’s a blank slate. It’s actually really cool. Not often do people have the interest, curiosity, or desire to pick up something completely fresh well into their life. Whether she got better or not, we didn’t really care. It was just awesome to see her try out something brand new. 

My mom has started to take golf lessons through an instructor. The instructor runs group sessions that can handle anywhere from 4-6 people. The sessions are split into half hour to hour blocks. You show up with your clubs, get set up on the driving range, and get some tips from the instructor as you work on your swing. No one is blocked by age or ability. At one point, you can have four different golfers or completely different skill sets. The instructor’s job is to individualize. In many ways, it reminded me of how we train baseball players. We operate in group environments, we train athletes of different skill sets at the same time, and we have to learn how to individualize to each player throughout the course of the session. It’s not an easy thing, but it creates a really impactful training environment.

Her previous instructor had quite the resume. She had professional experience from a playing and coaching perspective. When my mom first showed up, she took a look at her swing – well, lack of in this situation. Seeing where my mom struggled, she gave her specific instructions. She was to use a low iron hand learn how to chip the ball in the air. The biggest thing she did, however, was teach her to swing with her feet together. If you’ve coached golfers or hitters, you know this set up is a great way to prevent shifting or swaying at the hips. My mom struggled with this big time. She did not have a great feel for rotation. Her hips wanted to shift and slide instead of stop and turn. Putting her feet together prevented her from doing this. She would lose her center of balance if she did.

My mom practiced this religiously, until she got a new instructor. Both were great teachers. Both, however, had slightly different ideas. One day, my mom’s new instructor gave her a new piece of advice. He asked my mom to slightly spread her feet apart. Sure enough, she started to hit the ball better. I remember talking to her after the lesson. She told me: “Andrew, (my old instructor) was wrong!” I laughed, but then I remembered her background was not mine. I quickly reminded her: “No, she was right. Your new instructor was also right. They’re both right.”

Let’s think about why.

Her old instructor saw a common issue, prescribed drill work to correct that issue, and gave my mom time and reps to work at it. This was good coaching. My mom didn’t have the understanding or coordination to synchronize the different parts of the swing. She needed to break it down into manageable chunks. Adjusting her base was a great way to do this. It obviously wasn’t going to be how she swung a club forever, but it was how she needed to swing a club when she first started.

When the new instructor saw her, he more than likely saw a different – and improved swing. Instead of having her continue to take swings with her feet together, he probably thought it would be of benefit to make a simple – and strategic – progression. This was also good coaching. The point of doing drills isn’t to get good at the drill. It’s to get good at swinging. Once you can execute the drill with proficiency, you need to move on from it. The drill should assist a in creating a better swing. It shouldn’t be a crutch to the swing.

This is what I explained to my mom. Her old instructor was right by giving her a prescribed drill designed to eradicate a specific movement flaw. Her new instructor was right for giving her guidance on when she should move on from that drill. The only issue was my mom did not understand why. This wasn’t her fault. It was the fault of her coaches. They didn’t explain to her why she was doing what she was doing. While it seems like an innocent part of the puzzle, it’s one of the most important things we need to address. We can’t just tell players what to do. We need to educate them. We need to explain why. This is critical. If it’s not addressed in the right situation, you can create a significant – and unintended – barrier to long term development and retention.

As coaches, we’re constantly under constraints. One of the biggest is time. We only have so much time we can spend and invest into our athletes. A large chunk of their development happens outside of our watchful eye. When we coach athletes, we can’t just focus on the short term. We need to keep the long term in mind. If we want to create meaningful changes, we need to build long term habits. This starts by educating our athletes. They need to know the purpose behind our coaching. We can’t bank on them doing something just because we told them to do it. We need to educate them on why so they’ll do it when we’re not looking. 

Athletes today have more information at their fingertips than ever before. They have more coaches. They have more voices in their ear. Just telling them what to do isn’t good enough. Someone else is going to explain what they should do. If you haven’t educated them on exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, they won’t stick to it. They won’t make the most of it. They’re not doing it because they know how it impacts their swing. They’re doing it just to please you. This might be a good short term solution, but it’s not a great long term fix. Not everyone is going to need the same explanation, but everyone deserves an explanation. 

If you’re trying to create a movement change with one of your players, take the time to educate them on their issue. Explain what’s wrong. Show them how it has a negative impact on performance. Give them a visual aid. Ask for their input. Get them to understand how they can feel what’s right from what’s wrong. Guide them through the blending process. Making long term movement changes isn’t easy. It’s not a step by step process. It’s complex. It’s messy. It takes more time than you’d like. It requires more patience than you’re willing to give. It becomes a lot easier when you take the time to explain why. 

Don’t skip this step.

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