The Hierarchy ofElite Player Learning

Sun, Feb 13th, 2022
The Hierarchy ofElite Player Learning - Jonathan Wallett The Hierarchy ofElite Player Learning - Jonathan Wallett

Many players have a burning desire to play and perform at a higher level than they are currently playing. But how to make this transition and accelerate your progress?

A research project I conducted a number of years ago of 50 Tour Players (including 7 x former World No 1s) and then 30 years as a Golf Coach including 20 years working almost exclusively with Elite Players, and 10 Years with Tour Players has led me to the current thinking of how elite players learn best. And it’s not on the ‘lesson tee’!

I remember one of the most well-known Golf Coaches in the World once relaying to me, that although he charges 10,000 USD for a 0.5 day coaching session, he has queues of players in a desperate quest to find the silver bullet – this ‘missing bolt’ in their swing that will suddenly make the big difference. He said that unfortunately many players go home dissatisfied as the expectations were totally unrealistic .

As a result I stopped many years ago doing ‘lesson tee lessons’. I believe that as a Coach our job is to ‘facilitate’ a players learning. That involves:

  1. Self-Reflection  - the biggest opportunity for learning is reflection on your own experiences. Adam Scott was poised to win his first major after over a decade of trying at the 2012 British Open, only to bogey the last 4 holes and lose by one shot to Erine Els. However, his reflection on that bitter experience, led  him to winning his first major championship very soon after – the 2013 Masters. Learning from the past to create a better future is critical, and reflection is the vehicle for this.
  2. Vicarious Experience – in essence this means ‘if you can do it, so can I’. Players gain confidence, and motivation, from seeing players within their circle achieving and succeeding, and this propels them to do the same or in most cases exceed these successes. Young Danish European Tour Players Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard are a great example of this, and their coach Kenneth Hansen recited to me that they have been trumping each other since they are 12 years old.
  3. Top Players – I can remember watching Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman when I was young, and watching top players play and perform often leaves a deep and indelible mark on ambitious players. I was recently at a top pro tournament with a young 21 year old player and he had opportunity to play with a former Masters Champion and the learning for him in those 4 hours on the course together was massive.
  4. Mentors/Role Models – In my research interviewing 50 Tour Players, Mentors and Role Models were a common theme. Being able to have someone who is knowledgeable and experienced to confide in, to use as a sounding board, and to softly nurture and shape a players learning shortens the road to success. Role models create a beacon in which acts as a guiding light in which to emulate.
  5. Coaching – Often people ask me what the difference is between ‘Coaching’ and ‘Instructing’. For me the difference can be defined that Coaching is ‘asking questions’ whereas Instructing is ‘telling or the giving of information’. To be the best player that you can be, I believe is about the empowerment and embodiment of the ‘self’s’ – for example self-reliance, self-trust, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-belief to name just a few. Through quality coaching questions, these ‘self’s can be developed and progressed.
  6. Instruction – Often this is the least powerful of the different spheres of learning. That does not mean it is not still very relevant and important – all of these elements play a part in the development of a successful player.

When a Player, and Coach, is able to get these multiple layers of learning working for a player, it creates a greenhouse for player growth. Some of these learning spheres happen organically, but nearly always most of these learning spheres need to be stage managed in order to create the optimal experiences and environments. And that is very much the job and role of a Coach.

 

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