An Unexpected Shift In Understanding And A Brand New Strategy For My Coaching Toolbox
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with clients, potential clients, colleagues and fellow golfing enthusiasts how my PGA Level 4 journey has changed they way I view coaching. Using clips from my final presentation, I'm excited to share key messages that link into my coaching philosophy and influence the way I coach now.
Everything is based on our own experiences, which makes complete sense, but if your own perception of hard or good or success is what you set as your threshold, you may never truley understand just how much you can achieve. Regardless of age, experience or ability, whether you play midweek or weekends, once a week or once a month, whatever your game, whatever your goals, I want to help you see beyond your own threshold, push beyond your perceptions and explore no limits.
Thank you for reading
‘We see things not as they are, but as we are.’
Taken from Mark's Level 4 presentation delivered in 2015, this clip highlights Mark's awareness of how to provide experiences and lessons that support students learning and improved performance through the dichotomy of reducing errors and uncertainty plus increasing insights.
I start this section of my presentation with an introduction to Gary Klein’s work and how it has influenced my coaching. I now understand that improved performance will come through a reduction in errors and uncertainty but also through an increase in insights. I’ll confess now, before studying Klein’s work, I sadley mistook my sharing of knowledge as student receiving insight.
I was culturally inducted into a coaching world rife of secrets, solutions and steps to more successful golf. As a result, my previous work was generally driven towards reducing errors and creating more certainty for students. This was the way I was trained to coach, this was my understanding of the coaching transaction. Sell the solution. Do this and stop this, give a check list of do’s and don'ts, offer a set of procedures to follow and put controls in place with the intention of reducing errors and providing the certainty so craved.
However, I now understand that promoting certainty and a reduction in errors is very much a different experience to promoting insight. They really aren’t two sides of the same coin. I had a spot of bother getting it out in the presentation but the idea that improved performance comes from a reduction in errors 'plus' an increase in insights was a real flash of illumination for me. This immediately got me reflecting on my current coaching practice and consider coaching opportunities for the future.
Improving technique (reduction in errors, create certainty) is definitely one way to lower scores. But not the only way. Technical intervention is dead easy for a coach to get results in a driving/practice range environment and within a short space of time there's often a quick feel good factor for the student. However, this win-win rarely extends beyond the moment.
And that used to bug me....
Maybe those quick wins aren't the best investment for coaching? Maybe the coaching transaction doesn't have to be that way?
If a coach isn't there to provide answers or solutions then what should they do? That’s what we (coach’s) do right? That’s what is expected of us (coach’s)? A coach is there to give you solutions, to give you practice plans that result in reduced errors, that’s what you're paying us (coach's) for, right?
Before my Level 4 journey I never really understood role in coaching and all the amazing opportunities it provided me with different golfers, in different contexts, for different reasons. I have always understood my role to be expert and to demonstrate my knowledge and expertise as the giver'er of all answers.
With the students permission, I can now play a role as coach that provides, promotes and encourages a different way of learning. As well as giving solutions, I can now facilitate insight. Facilitating insight, has been a really impactful, meaningful and personal experience for both myself and more importantly, my students.
So, what is an insight?
According to Gary Klein, insights shift us toward a new story, a new set of beliefs that are more accurate, more comprehensive, and more useful. Our insights transform us in several ways. They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire. (Seeing What Others Don't)
That's my goal, my passion and my purpose.... I want to change stories and support students with a shift onto a better path.
What really interests me is that insight can never really be given. It can be offered, but it can’t be given. Insight is something that only the receiver can take. For example, if I gave the same lesson to 10 different people they would all take different things from it. Each player, based on their previous experience, their openness to change, their current beliefs and how active and playful they want to be with the information would all influence what, when and even if they have an insight at all.
I want to go to where the magic happens
The interesting dichotomy between reducing errors and gaining insights is that error reduction provides a level of certainty. Insights require a level of uncertainty. We all crave being cradled in the safe hands of security and prediction of outcome. Yet, golf is played in an ever changing environment. Golf by its problem solving and unpredictable nature is about dealing with uncertainty and I want my lessons to reflect this. I want my students to become independent and flexible thinkers, to be great problem solvers. With the very good fortune of being based at Whipsnade Park Golf Club (Hertfordshire) I have the facilities and opportunity to encourage my students to step into that place where the magic happens... to step outside their comfort zone and encourage me as their coach to join them.
So, how can or does this idea transfer into Coaching?
How can we manage and balance the idea that improved performance is both a reduction in errors and uncertainty plus an increase in insights.
Well, I guess an element of this and a great starting point, is making sure you the student knows that these opportunities exist. That the coaching transaction doesn't have to be me (coach) providing the solution for you (student) to repeat over and over in a de-contextualised and predictable environment (such as the driving range). Yeah of course, there will be some of that when appropriate, but not always. Maybe, we could collaborate together? Maybe, we could explore ideas and concepts that encourage learning, understanding through experience and flexible thinking skills.
Since my Level 4 Journey, working ‘with’ a student rather than working ‘on’ a student has become a particular interest of mine (I’ll talk more about this in a future blog). For example... instead of telling a student to change their ball position based on my knowledge and understanding, maybe I’ll support that student through an exploration of ball position and let them experience for themselves what happens. Then explore how this transfers or needs to be adapted on the field of play. I will guide a student where to look but I might not tell them what to see.
How do I encourage insight to happen??
Klein explains in his book Seeing What Others Don't, that insights occur through contradiction, connections, coincidences, curiosity, creative desperation and even argues, any combination of the aforementioned. Each of Klein’s 5 C’s has its own little story but the important thing for me is to always ask myself, where is the opportunity to encourage such contradiction, connections, coincidences, curiosity and/or creative desperation with my students?
Arguably, the best anecdote for creative desperation is the late great Seve Ballesteros. While he was growing up, Seve played to learn golf with one club on the beach. Through his desperation to play golf he became very creative and developed unique skills and solutions to overcome unique problems.
For him to be successful with those constraints he had to be different, he couldn’t follow a formula and there was no value to practicing 'a' solution. Every shot provided brand new problems for him to solve with ill fitted and inappropriate equipment. I wonder how many times he got it wrong, got curious and had another go? I wonder how often he investigated contradictions he noticed?... and I wonder how much fun he had making connections and noticing coincidences? Quite a different way of learning to play than is commonly experienced in today’s world of swing engineering.
Seve didn’t practice 'the solution', he practiced 'finding solutions', he practiced problem solving and he was awesome at demonstrating adaptive expertise. He loved the challenge and it was arguably the challenge that excited Seve more than the outcome. In simple terms, Seve practiced uncertainty, increasing insights and in turn developed incredible skill.
This is a classic example of Seve's genius problem solving skills and adaptive expertise developed through insight.
As a coach, I want to share the exciting, unpredictable and problem solving beauty of golf as well as helping students enjoy the sweet sense of strike when ball meets middle of clubface. In the presentation, I talk about how using a constraints led approach has helped me shape insight for players. I now design games with a clear intention to impact on a meaningful skill. These games help create the unpredictability, the problem solving skills and adaptive expertise that Seve himself developed in his own game (I’ll talk more about how I use constraints in a future blog).
So Mark, as a coach how do you measure insight?
This has been a challenging yet really exciting development in my coaching and has moved so far beyond the student echoing back to me key words or phrases I've used during that session. Yeah, I still ask the question but I'm more open to what is said and how it's said. That's the difference. I’ll know an insight has occurred when an understanding has changed, when a goal has moved, when behaviors start to shift and when feelings are expressed differently.
I might not know immediately that an understanding has occurred or that a goal has been changed but I can generally get a sense of shift in someones feeling and can observe changes in behaviour. Unless specified and agreed with a student, I no longer feel under pressure to get a 'result' in a limited 30 minute or 1 hour lesson. Insight may happen in a flash of illumination or it may be a slow burning candle. So, regular support and communication away from face to face lessons is always encouraged. I’ve often received a text days or even weeks after a session, with a student sharing their ‘aha’ moment with me. One of the best feelings is when that text comes through.
I measure my impact on students and the insights they’ve gained by changes in their feelings, behaviors, goals and understanding. So I wonder, have you made any connections, spotted any contradictions or feeling curious?
Maybe you'll go and play with the idea of encouraging insight through creative desperation? Maybe you'll play the Seve game and score 9 holes with one club or don’t allow yourself to use any wedges inside 50 yards? What strategies do you come up with? What insights did you gain?
As with many of my lessons, I hope for these writings to be unfinished. For both me as the author and you as the reader to have further thoughts and reflections on the content. To have raised questions that are unanswered. Questions that need to be explored.
If you'd like to share any questions or want to get in touch I'd love to hear from you... but in the meantime, be curious, practice reflection and embrace the chaos.