Today in Advanced Teaching with PGA Professional Jay Friedman, we were talking about what it means to a be a great golf instructor. As I’ve alluded to recently, I’m leaning toward pursing a career in golf instruction. I enjoy being outdoors and working with people, especially juniors. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when teaching someone how to hit a golf shot.
While great teachers will be great anywhere, there there are certain attributes or qualities that all great teachers have in common. Think about the great teachers you’ve had in your life. Then think about the lousy ones. What separated the memorable from the mediocre? Before you can be a great golf instructor, you have to be a great teacher. Here are some of the attributes one should possess in order to be a great golf teacher:
Knowledge of the subject matter or field = Never stop learning. The more you know, the better you will be. This means watching instructional videos, reading books, magazines, or other materials, and attending educational seminars whenever possible.
Passion = If you’re passionate about what you do, it shows! That attitude and energy will rub-off on your students. The faculty at the Golf Academy of America Phoenix averages 20 years of PGA experience, and some have been in the golf industry for 30-40 years.
Take pride in what you do = This means doing your best even if you’re not the best at what you do. If you take pride in what you do, you will never stop learning because you will strive to be the very best.
Organized = When you’re a golf instructor, the driving range or hitting bay is your office. Keep it looking clean and neat! No one likes to practice or learn in a chaotic environment.
On-time/prompt = I can’t tell you how many times a golf instructor of mine has shown up late to a lesson. Nothing is more disrespectful, especially when you’re paying for the service. And if you’re excited about taking a lesson, it’s a real buzzkill when your instructor shows up later than you expected.
Sincere desire to help others = Some people have what I call a “servant’s heart.” You can tell when someone is sincere about helping others or when they’re just in it for the money or to help themselves. We can all smell a rat.
Compassionate/cares about students = This is about creating customer relationships. We all like it when someone takes an interest in us, what we like, or what we do. All you have to do is ask. And a good instructor does.
Humility = Nobody likes someone who thinks they’re better than other people. Modesty goes a long way.
Sensitive to work/life balance = Jay brings up a good point. You can’t work more than 40 hours a week without sacrificing family time. If you work too much, there are things you will miss at home, but you don’t want to be home all the time either. Balance is key.
Creative = Human beings are all very different. They learn in different ways. The sooner you can figure out the best way to teach someone, the better. You have to try to find a way to tailor what you’re teaching to every student individually.
Teaches by example (use of experimental knowledge) = To me, this means you have the ability to hit all the shots you’re teaching. If you can’t demonstrate the motion necessary to produce the desired shot, you lose credibility.
Ability to bring out the best in a student = Set reasonable goals. Keep it simple at first. You might say, “Our goal today is to hit two shots up in the air” and then start by getting them to hit shots off a tee. Try lowering the tee, and then removing the tee altogether. Before you know it, your students are hitting balls off the ground and into the air! The students feel successful because they were able to achieve a very realistic goal.
Excellent communication skills = The ability to explain what you want your student to do is key. Find a way to relate the golf motion to another sport your students have played before. Get them to feel in the golf swing what they’ve felt when they’ve performed another action before.
Good listener = I’m convinced we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. It’s okay to be excited and passionate about what you’re teaching. But it’s okay to listen to your students when they’re trying to give you honest feedback.
Great motivator = Golf is hard. You have to keep your students motivated enough to want to continue to practice and get better.
Enthusiastic = I think this goes hand-in-hand with passion. Like passion, enthusiasm is infectious. If you’re enthusiastic about what you’re doing, it’ll show.
Inspirational = Along with motivating students to get better, a good teacher inspires students to get better. Tell them a story about the hardships you’ve had to overcome in your life. Tell them how you kept going. It may inspire them not to give up.
Sense of humor = At the right time and place. It’s not about being funny or cracking jokes. It’s about knowing when to bring a little levity to the situation, especially when someone is struggling or getting frustrated.
Patience = All of the great teachers have patience. If you’ve ever taught anyone anything, you know what a key attribute this is. Teaching and learning golf takes more patience than any other sport I’ve ever known.
Empathy = Put yourself in your students’ shoes. Tell them how you’ve been where they’ve been. Remember how hard it was to learn how to play golf – and never forget it!
Do your best and give your best attitude = Attitude is everything. Even if you’re having a bad day, don’t let it show. Having a positive attitude goes a long way.
Compassionate = While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. I like that. Empathy is the emotion. Compassion is the desire to act on those feelings.
Accepting (non-judgmental) = We’ve all seen a golf swing that could use a little work. A good instructor doesn’t laugh at a bad golf swing; s/he works to help the student improve.
Gently corrects mistakes = This is big. No one likes a yeller or someone who tries to jerk us into different swing positions. There’s no reason to raise your voice when correcting a student.
Allows mistakes while encouraging independence and ownership of the learning process = At some point, you want intellectual curiosity take over. Encourage self-discovery. Allow the students to explore while they’re practicing and then guide them in a particular direction based on their own observations.
Empowers your students = Empowerment is trust. A good teacher empowers students to take the initiative to learn. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process.
Allows discovery = You have to let your students learn what’s best for them. Maybe they can do what you’re asking but in a slightly different way. Allowing and encouraging the freedom to discover cannot be overstated.
Stay true to yourself = What do you believe? Act in accordance with this belief.
Have fun and enjoy the process = Teaching is and should be fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s time to find another profession. Life is too short.