United States Sports Academy
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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Coaches Need to Create a Personal Learning Environment

As a golf professional, I am constantly updating my teaching philosophy to match my own values and thoughts on the game. While my knowledge base expands and my opinions are changed and enhanced, so does my teaching philosophy. Once I began coaching college golf four years ago, it was equally important to establish a coaching philosophy and style.

On the “Official Mike Krzyzewski Web Site,” Coach K is described as a coach, friend, leader, mentor, motivator, student and teacher. One of my favorite quotes from Coach K is, “A leader may be the most knowledgeable person in the world, but if the players on his team cannot translate that knowledge into action, it means nothing.” This quote, to me, is the very heart of coaching and teaching. My job, as a coach, is to figure out how to create an environment conducive for learning, fun and growth in a secure atmosphere, while continuing to stay current with trends in my sport.

I have developed somewhat divergent philosophies for practice and actual game situations. Practice involves preparation for game situations, and can include skill development, fun activities, team building, “chalk talk”, and other teaching methods that involve knowing learning styles, personality traits, and motivational triggers.

Game situations require more coaching than teaching, along with many forms of psychology. I personally am very interested in how people learn, so I implement a coaching style where I ask a variety of questions that require feedback from the student. This enables them to recognize that I am very curious about what they think.

An example of a learning study that assists me in game situations is “counterfactual thinking.” The theory explains that focusing on how past decisions were made affects current decisions, which is very relevant to golf. Many times I will ask questions that the player can answer to themselves, based on past experiences. For instance, if a player had a particular hole that gave them problems the day before, I might ask the student to envision playing the hole in a desired way, then comparing those thoughts to what they did the day before.

Similar to my style of coaching individual students, I try to treat my teams according to their “personality” as well The first team I coached was full of veterans who had traditions, routines and their own ways of doing almost everything. They went about their work in a business-like manner, however, they did their job and were good at it.

On the contrary, my last two teams were polar opposites of my first. I have to work very hard at letting them know that I will be there to teach them any time they need me, but at some point they have to start thinking for themselves. I have to structure everything that I “need” them to do. They are a fun-loving bunch, and are better athletes than those on my first team. They perform better when they are allowed to have fun, as illustrated at the NCAA Championships last year. We hosted the finals and had played the golf course enough times that we were comfortable with it. We did not have to spend a lot of time on our practice round, so we ended up hitting balls, then playing whiffle ball afterwards. It was quite a scene, but it was the true personality of this team and they performed as well as the first, just in a different style.

The Official Mike Krzyzewski Web Site; http://www.coachk.com/meet-coachk.htm.

Information on counterfactual thinking can be found on University of Illinois professor Neal Roese’s website, http://www.psych.uiuc.edu/~roese/research.htm