How Do You Motivate Students When They Get Frustrated and Discouraged?

How Do You Motivate Students When They Get Frustrated and Discouraged?
John Callahan, PGA, Golf Magazine Adjunct Top 100 Teacher
Golf Program Instructor
Keiser University College of Golf

Winston Churchill once expressed his frustration with golf with the hyperbolic statement,

“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

Anyone who has ever played the game understands the sentiment expressed in Churchill’s charge. If you play golf, there are times that the game seems more confounding than a Rubik’s Cube. So, how can a golf instructor motivate a student when, inevitably, he or she gets frustrated and discouraged?

There are many frustrations playing the game—a missed two-foot putt, an unlucky bounce or a dog barking as you start your downswing—to name a few. However, this article will discuss the frustration experienced by a player who is learning the golf swing for the first time, or making changes to his/her current swing, and is not seeing the progress he or she anticipated. ‘I’m working hard and not getting any better’ is the recurring refrain of this frustrated golfer. A golf professional needs to know how to motivate a student when he or she is confronted with this common type of frustration.

There have been books written on this subject, so, for the sake of brevity, let us assume the most common circumstance, i.e., the golfer frustrated by “not getting any better” based on the conclusion that his/her full swing is not sending the golf ball where he/she wants it to go often enough to fit the perception of his/her athletic ability, given how much time has been spent trying. Inherent in that perception are two issues: unrealistic time frames and feedback based on how often the ball goes where the golfer wants it to go. There are lots of reasons why these issues are prevalent in what I call the “culture of golf.” However, that is a discussion for another day. The immediate question is what is the golf professional going to do in the short time he/she is in front of this discouraged golfer?

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Number one—Unrealistic Time Frames: The professional must be sincere and honest. The golf swing, like any motor skill, takes time to learn or change. How long will depend on each individual golfer, but one thing is certain, it is not going to happen overnight. This may sound discouraging, but couched in the proper manner, it is reassuring to a student to know the truth. The fact that the game is challenging is a reason to embrace the game, not shy away from it—human beings love a challenge. Give the student a realistic time frame.

Number two: The professional must change the golfer’s feedback away from how often the ball goes where the golfer wants it to go. Even the most inefficient swing will occasionally send the ball the correct distance and direction. However, the “how often” element will change only incrementally if a golf swing remains unchanged. To build or change a golf swing, the golf professional must explain to the student what my colleague, Dr. T. J. Tomasi calls “the laws of antecedents” or simply, first-things-first. Feedback, therefore, is not based on ball flight, but how well the student performs a swing task; a task that is evaluated by both the professional and the student. In that manner, the swing is learned one task at a time. The old saw of “plan the work and work the plan” is applicable here. As Dr. Tomasi says further, “Some think this is the long way home, but it is actually the short route to learning a golf swing.”

One final thought: While guiding students through each task and giving them feedback on how well they are performing a task, be positive by using praise and compliments more than criticism. As Dr. Gary Wiren states in his PGA Teaching Manual, “An honest compliment will help establish a good teacher-student relationship and will keep the student relaxed; it will also reinforce the student’s self-esteem.”

If you’d like to study with John Callahan and other PGA Master Professionals, contact The College of Golf today.