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Poor Instruction Is Very Common. Why?


Jack Watson
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I will admit that there are bad instructors out there, just like there are bad people in every profession.  However, for me the bulk of the bad in golf training comes from the students.  No doubt if you are not taught well it does not help, but once you have been taught it takes a lot of hard work to improve.  It took pro's like Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods between one to two years to dismantle and recreate their swings.  These are guys who hit balls at least 8 hours a day for 6 days a week.  What chance do amateurs have who practice maybe once or twice a week and play once or twice a week and expect a few lessons to get them to stop an ingrained error from popping up.

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As a student wanting to get better a few decadeds ago, I was pretty picky as to who I wanted as a swing instructor. I also knew where I wanted my game to be at during the the instruction. I expected a lot for my money. 

After a few failed meetings, I was lucky enough to find the right guy, who could help me score better. Not only was he good for my golf swing, he was also a very qualified club builder. He knew how to tweak the clubs so his students could get the most out of their games. This was, and still is the best of both worlds when it comes to swing instruction. 

My swing guru had about 20 or so students who used his knowledge on a regular basis. I would see him, on average 3 times a month. Our arrangement lasted several years until his untimely passing.

My point is to get the best instruction after finding an instructor, the student needs to really think about a long term partnership with that instructor. Especially if a student wants to get down to single digit or better handicap. 

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8 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

I will admit that there are bad instructors out there, just like there are bad people in every profession.  However, for me the bulk of the bad in golf training comes from the students.  No doubt if you are not taught well it does not help, but once you have been taught it takes a lot of hard work to improve.  It took pro's like Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods between one to two years to dismantle and recreate their swings.  These are guys who hit balls at least 8 hours a day for 6 days a week.  What chance do amateurs have who practice maybe once or twice a week and play once or twice a week and expect a few lessons to get them to stop an ingrained error from popping up.

Yes, but it shouldn't be hard to make immediate small improvements at ANY level given proper prioritization for THAT particular student.

Regression for lack of practice is not unique to golf. In my own experience good prioritization reduces regression significantly.  

As to why there is so much 'bad' instruction - I guess, good points have been already made on the thread and one thing that stands out is that the entry bar to golf instruction is very low.  

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23 hours ago, JonMA1 said:

I am simply a poor student...not saying this to be modest or self-deprecating. And while I may the worst of the worst, there are many others of varying degrees who have trouble comprehending, or trouble putting into action that which they do understand.

I have trouble also. I don't grasp spatial/physical concepts right away. It takes me a long time, and sometimes weeks to "get it".

I played with a guy on Sunday who told me he is the same me. He will take a lesson, his swing will become worse for a couple of weeks, and in frustration he will regress to his old swing. Then, something magically clicks in his head, and he will understand the point of the lesson.   

I don't like the canned method of teaching, where everybody gets the same medicine, the same drills, and so forth. "I want to watch you hit 10 7-irons", etc. I would like to find an instructor that can show me things that I am curious about learning, in the order that I want to learn them. Because the truth is, I want to have fun playing now - I want to compete with the guys I'm playing with this week, not in 2 years. 

 

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For some instructors there is a conflict of interest: if they teach you too quickly they'll be out of a job sooner.  Thus they will teach you just slow enough that you won't lose interest. I've seen it happen.

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Sorry, this response is going to be pretty long. I'm catching up, and want to respond to a few posts…

11 hours ago, ssbn611 said:

What are your thoughts on indoor lessons from places like Golf Galaxy? They seem to have technology, but is the indoor experience lacking somehow. I've not taken indoor lessons, but am considering doing so. Primarily because of the access to video and other swing analysis tech. 

I could make the case that indoor lessons are better than outdoor lessons:

And I have in the past. :-)

8 hours ago, DeadMan said:

Another reason is that it is really hard to tell, as an average Joe golfer, who is a good instructor and who isn't.

That's true. It's difficult to tell. There's a local guy who has a reputation as a "good junior golf instructor." He has that reputation largely because he's kinda always had it. So juniors go to see him, and because the kids get older, taller, stronger, and play more golf… they get a little better. But he doesn't actually teach much. What he does teach is a bit goofy.

We teach fewer players… but our players are better, and our players improve at a significantly faster rate.

But if you ask around here, who you should take your kid to for lessons… they're gonna say that guy, in large part because that's who people have always gone to.

8 hours ago, DeadMan said:

Just by having decent hand-eye coordination, for example, you can cobble together enough of a swing to play some decent golf. So you might improve just by practicing and picking up a few band-aids from your pro. And you don't realize you could get really good really quick with a better instructor.

Yep.

5 hours ago, lastings said:

As far a revenue streams go, there are certain avenues that I think golf instructors are missing, and I think are necessary.

I don't know if this goes against an instructors "code" or whatnot, but I really think that good instructors should be actively in the club fitting/sales side of the industry.

I disagree. Club fitting can lose a pro money if they're not really, really dedicated to it. A lot of equipment companies require you to carry enough stock on hand that you may never sell, they lease for a cost the carts to you sometimes, etc.

Most golfers aren't looking to get fit, and a golf instructor who is also a fitter risks being a "jack of all trades, master of none."

A better approach is to build a team of qualified people - a nutritionist, a fitness expert, a club fitter, etc. - and to be just smart enough to know when to reach out to them, and to let them be the experts in their fields while you focus on being the expert in yours.

5 hours ago, lastings said:

when I went to a club fitter this year, and a good fitter at that, I still walked away thinking that I would rather have had a good instructor do that work for me.   I mean, a good fitter will fit your clubs (length, lie angle, shaft) to your current swing.  excellent.   but, swings change.

I think you'd find that they change a bit less than you might imagine. Tempo and swing speed (for shafts) doesn't change much. Real change takes a long time… and people often buy new clubs after a few years, too. It's not like you get fit to your "current swing" and then need new clubs in eight months. Doesn't happen very often.

4 hours ago, Golfingdad said:

I can see why, as an instructor, you would base your judgment of the students on their behavior during the lesson, however, I think as an outside observer, I would absolutely include "refuses to practice" in my definition of a poor student.

I get what you're saying.

4 hours ago, Golfingdad said:

For those who weren't at a lesson, then all we have to go by are results.  So, for me, if I'm not taking the clinic alongside my dad and father-in-law (and I also pretend that I didn't know you or Mike either) then all I know is that they sucked before the clinic and they sucked afterwards.

If they weren't honest with themselves, then they might say that the lesson didn't give them anything and give people the impression that the instructor(s) weren't any good.

Yeah… well, those were some particularly bad students. ;-) Especially considering how GOOD they got! And how simple the "goodness" was. :-P

3 hours ago, todgot said:

I think a large part of golf instruction is centered around beginners and getting them started playing the game.

Really?

Most beginners don't take lessons, IMO. They sign up for some classes… $20 group clinics or something.

3 hours ago, todgot said:

That is where the biggest gains can be made and the biggest bang for your buck so to speak.  It's more difficult to turn an average golfer into a good or great golfer.  I think it more of a matter of old dogs and new tricks.

I don't know that I agree with that at all. We've had a ton of success helping golfers of all ages and playing histories.

3 hours ago, todgot said:

I've wanted to improve my short game for years and have taken lessons which were more suited to beginners. I went to a golf school in San Diego a couple years in a row and it was again more suited for beginners. Yes, I can get out of a bunker 90+% of the time... but how do I improve my sand saves... How can I adjust the shot or hit different type bunker shots. This seems out of the realm of most instructors.

This could be because of two reasons:

  • You're choosing the wrong schools or settings.
  • You're choosing the wrong instructors.

There's no reason a competent instructor couldn't help you with your bunker game.

3 hours ago, todgot said:

I know there are instructors out there who specialize in better players but the cost is prohibitive.

Huh?

I charge the same regardless of the student's ability. My ability is the same. My knowledge and skills are the same.

3 hours ago, todgot said:

That is why I like the concept of having a golf coach versus a golf instructor.  I need someone to help me analyze my game, find the holes and come up with a plan to fill them in.

Those two words can be synonyms. I do the same thing. It's "nouveau" to call yourself a "coach" these days, though…

Glad you found someone you seem happy with.

2 hours ago, pganapathy said:

It took pro's like Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods between one to two years to dismantle and recreate their swings.  

That's a very, very different thing. That's playing the game at the highest level. That's not "eliminating my slice."

2 hours ago, Kalnoky said:

I don't like the canned method of teaching, where everybody gets the same medicine, the same drills, and so forth. "I want to watch you hit 10 7-irons", etc.

I'm not sure what you mean, but yeah… "canned instruction" is not good, but…

2 hours ago, Kalnoky said:

I would like to find an instructor that can show me things that I am curious about learning, in the order that I want to learn them. Because the truth is, I want to have fun playing now - I want to compete with the guys I'm playing with this week, not in 2 years. 

Sometimes that can work, but other times… what you want to learn or the questions you may want to have answered are not what is advisable to have the biggest impact right now. What then?

I've had students come to me and say "I want to work on x, y, and z." Sometimes they're so far off base that I don't know how they've assessed their own game. Sometimes they're close. It's a delicate situation either way, because they're coming to me as an expert that can help them, and sometimes they don't know what they may really want, or why you may want to go a different direction, but at the same time, you have to kind of honor their request, too. Or at least get them to understand why you want to go direction D instead of X, Y, or Z.

22 minutes ago, arturo28mx said:

For some instructors there is a conflict of interest: if they teach you too quickly they'll be out of a job sooner.  Thus they will teach you just slow enough that you won't lose interest. I've seen it happen.

I don't think that happens. I really don't… if players are improving that quickly, then they'll become addicted to improvement. They'll want to see how good they can get.

Teaching most people is a very, very slow process. Few students put in the time to actually work on what they should, so they improve slowly, as you drag them along. I have two students that I've told they don't need any lessons (maybe short game, putting, etc.) because it's one of two or three things, and that's all they should focus on the rest of their lives.

But that's pretty rare, and I am looking for a challenge, too, so giving them the same lessons over and over again isn't interesting. But that's two out of a few thousand, too.

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3 hours ago, Kalnoky said:

I have trouble also. I don't grasp spatial/physical concepts right away. It takes me a long time, and sometimes weeks to "get it".

That's a good description of what I experience... well, if you changed "weeks" to "years".:-D


I don't know enough about golf instruction to identify anything but the very poorest (which I'd been suckered into years ago). I'll compromise and say that there are instructors who, given the opportunity to learn a different teaching methodology, could become very good instructors. In other words, they have a lot of passion and desire to help students.

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I'll sum up the "bad instructor/student" thing like this:

A good instructor gives a good lesson to any student in front of them. Whether that student practices or not is irrelevant to whether the instructor is "good."*

A bad instructor gives a bad lesson to almost every student in front of them.

* (Though, of course, better instructors help their students practice by making clear what to practice, how to practice, how to judge their practice, etc.)

What's a "bad" lesson versus a "good" lesson? Off the top of my head…

  • The proper piece.
  • Fixed the right way.
  • Simple and specific.
  • Clear understanding conveyed to the student on not only the why, but the how, the when, the where, etc.
  • Clear understanding conveyed on how to practice it (drills, etc.).

Except for "the instructor is a good dude and I enjoy spending time with him" (some people care about that, some people don't care at all), that list pretty much has everything in it, right?

Students are what they are, and regardless of how many good or bad students are out there, there are still more bad instructors than good ones. And a good instructor can, by the bullet points above, help a bad student become a better student. Which is kinda like what I said in the asterisk…

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4 minutes ago, iacas said:

Those two words can be synonyms. I do the same thing. It's "nouveau" to call yourself a "coach" these days, though…

I agree it's nouveau... but I like the concept.  An instructor is someone you take a class from at school.  A coach is Walter Matthau in the Bad News Bears...   okay, bad example.  Instructor says, "I'm the teacher, you're the student"... coach says, "we're a team... let's get better!". 

 

20 minutes ago, iacas said:

This could be because of two reasons:

  • You're choosing the wrong schools or settings.
  • You're choosing the wrong instructors.

I would say I was not an aggressive student... I just went with the program.  If I was to do something like that again I would try to tailor a program specifically for my needs. 

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1 hour ago, todgot said:

I agree it's nouveau... but I like the concept.  An instructor is someone you take a class from at school.  A coach is Walter Matthau in the Bad News Bears...   okay, bad example.  Instructor says, "I'm the teacher, you're the student"... coach says, "we're a team... let's get better!".

Eh. They're the same word to me. People have re-branded themselves as "coaches" because it "sounds good." Many are just doing the same things they were doing before.

Just judge a guy based on what he actually does, not what he chooses to put on his own business card or Twitter profile.

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@iacas - My point is this:  Eliminating a slice is not simple.  If it takes supremely talented players like Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods a year to rebuild a swing what chance do amateurs have of taking two lessons, undoing ingrained habits over years by practicing once a week and playing a round once a week.  I have no doubt there are a lot of bad teachers out there but I believe both teachers and students need to take the responsibility.  Assuming the teacher sticks to one approach, good or not, and the student practices that properly, you will have a consistent swing.  I have a friend I played with who aimed 60* off the line he hit at but every shot went in the same direction because his swing was so ingrained in him.

The truth is you also need to do your part and pick a coach wisely.

But I concur with you when you say a good coach is one who:

  • The proper piece.
  • Simple and specific.
  • Clear understanding conveyed to the student on not only the why, but the how, the when, the where, etc.
  • Clear understanding conveyed on how to practice it (drills, etc.).
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11 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

@iacas - My point is this:  Eliminating a slice is not simple.

That depends, but… I've fixed a bunch of slices in one lesson. I use the "cheater" lesson, not because it cheats the student, but because I once remarked to @david_wedzik that it feels like "cheating" how easily you can fix a student who has never hit a draw in their lives to hit draws.

I'll chalk that up to a bad example. "Stopping flipping" would have been a better one.

11 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

If it takes supremely talented players like Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods a year to rebuild a swing what chance do amateurs have of taking two lessons, undoing ingrained habits over years by practicing once a week and playing a round once a week.

Far better than you seem to think.

Again, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods are worried about 1/10th or 2/10ths of a degree. The average amateur is not, nor have they ingrained it under the pressure that Faldo/Woods types have.

It's much easier to change a regular guy's swing than Tiger Woods'. He has not only a history of doing that move a few million times, he has the trust that it performs under at least some high level of pressure. The average amateur WANTS to change, ultimately, if they're even close to a good student. They know they slice. They don't trust their current move to help them win on the European or PGA Tour.

11 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

I have no doubt there are a lot of bad teachers out there but I believe both teachers and students need to take the responsibility.

I've never said differently.

11 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

Assuming the teacher sticks to one approach, good or not, and the student practices that properly, you will have a consistent swing.

As you know, I could counter with "their swing is consistent already."

11 minutes ago, pganapathy said:

But I concur with you when you say a good coach is one who:

  • The proper piece.
  • Simple and specific.
  • Clear understanding conveyed to the student on not only the why, but the how, the when, the where, etc.
  • Clear understanding conveyed on how to practice it (drills, etc.).

Thanks. I wrote that in a hurry, but nothing else occurs to me given a bit more thought, so… I like the list I wrote.

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I've experienced good and bad lessons locally.  The best most effective lesson I have had was from a younger pro who I noticed was not doing much in the pro shop one day after I had hit a bucket and I was hitting pretty well,  but I had this one frustrating miss that kept popping up and I had no idea why it was happening.

I asked him if he had time to come take a look.  So he came out and watched and I was like see that's the shot I can't explain when it happened.

He really didn't say anything for maybe ten minutes.  Then he told me what he saw and it was one simple thing.   Really after that he just monitored and I would ask if I got it right and he'd basically say yes or no.  After more practice the miss was gone.

He moved out of my area shortly after this or I would have stuck with him.  He kept things simple.

The worst lesson I have had was from an older guy with a bunch of tech stuff in his studio.   He tried to get me to do a couple things I won't get into but he had me all screwed up and I even went back two more times.  He never really seemed to have a plan or simple prescription.  Dumped him.

For myself I have found that when I have been told to work on something that ended up sticking and helping it's always felt funny at first but there were a few shots mixed in that showed the potential.

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3 hours ago, iacas said:

That depends, but… I've fixed a bunch of slices in one lesson. I use the "cheater" lesson, not because it cheats the student, but because I once remarked to @david_wedzik that it feels like "cheating" how easily you can fix a student who has never hit a draw in their lives to hit draws.

My second instructor did permanently fix my slice. Without this fix, I wouldn't be playing golf anymore... So credit where credit is due: whatever I paid him, he probably saved my golf career.

FWIW I'm still taking lessons, and I have another one on Thursday. Despite some of my misgivings, I would counsel anyone just starting out that lessons are a must. The only way to grow in this game is to leave your comfort zone. 

 

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19 hours ago, iacas said:

I'll sum up the "bad instructor/student" thing like this:

A good instructor gives a good lesson to any student in front of them. Whether that student practices or not is irrelevant to whether the instructor is "good."*

A bad instructor gives a bad lesson to almost every student in front of them.

* (Though, of course, better instructors help their students practice by making clear what to practice, how to practice, how to judge their practice, etc.)

What's a "bad" lesson versus a "good" lesson? Off the top of my head…

  • The proper piece.
  • Simple and specific.
  • Clear understanding conveyed to the student on not only the why, but the how, the when, the where, etc.
  • Clear understanding conveyed on how to practice it (drills, etc.).

Except for "the instructor is a good dude and I enjoy spending time with him" (some people care about that, some people don't care at all), that list pretty much has everything in it, right?

Students are what they are, and regardless of how many good or bad students are out there, there are still more bad instructors than good ones. And a good instructor can, by the bullet points above, help a bad student become a better student. Which is kinda like what I said in the asterisk…

I'd add to your list for a good lesson, unless the proper piece covers it, teaching the correct things. For example bad instruction would be keeping your trail knee bent in the backswing.

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For me. I've had a lot of bad lessons because the instructor's focused on the wrong parts of my swing. Telling me to fix my club path 8 million times never did anything, no matter how hard I tried and practiced. Having me change my backswing fixed most of my path problems without ever thinking about downswing path. 

I also think some students lack the strength and flexibility required but maybe don't know it. My fingers in my left hand were weak, it absolutely had a large affect on my position at the top of my backswing and likely all the other positions I needed to get into. Until I got them stronger (and my core stronger), I couldn't make as good of a golf swing as I do now

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In any large group 1/2 are above and half below average. The best professions have raised the bar of what average is by raising the minimum standard, doctors for example. Years of school and real, but monitored experience. Only then can you put a shingle on your door. I really don't know what it takes to call yourself a golf instructor to the public. if its too easy then average is going to be low.

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16 minutes ago, Papa Steve 55 said:

In any large group 1/2 are above and half below average. The best professions have raised the bar of what average is by raising the minimum standard, doctors for example. Years of school and real, but monitored experience. Only then can you put a shingle on your door. I really don't know what it takes to call yourself a golf instructor to the public. if its too easy then average is going to be low.

It takes saying "I'm a golf instructor." Literally nothing more.

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  • iacas changed the title to Poor Instruction Is Very Common. Why?
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