Coaching and Golf

Coaching and Golf

The last two weeks of June were very memorable for me. My daughter graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and I also took the opportunity to play two rounds of golf at the world famous Old Course. Bucket list checked.

The Old Course is a links course. A links course is built on a sandy area, normally near coastlines. This was my first experience as a golfer playing on such a course. While I have received some tips on how one would play on such a course, what I was told and what I experienced were worlds apart! I thought I could handle it, but I was wrong! Playing in a course where winds could reach 10-20 mph and with bunkers (sand pits) 10 feet or higher were beyond my experience. My game on that first day was a total wreck. Learning from that experience, my score for the second round there, two days later, was not so humiliating.

Upon reflection, I see a lot of parallels from this golfing experience with coaching. Coaching, like golf, is a skill that cannot be mastered by understanding it intellectually. It has to be experienced and, leveraging on those hours of experience, our approach must be refined and modified to be effective with our clients.

While I have been coaching for more than 18 years and golfing even longer, those experiences do not matter at all if we encounter a totally new situation for first time. What our past experiences have taught us can only help us be more adaptive and flexible. For example, I take pride in hitting my driver beyond 220 meters (considering my age!). But on that day, I could not use it effectively at all. In fact, that strength became my weakness. Those four hours of golf in VUCA conditions humbled me!

This golfing experience has reminded me not to be too presumptuous of my abilities, whether in coaching or golf. My modest golfing skills, which have served me well all this time, became totally ineffective, and it required a whole new approach. What truly helped me in those two rounds of golf was the local caddie. He asked me to do things in the game that I would not have normally done. I usually tee up high; he suggested that I don’t. I normally chip my shots from 20-30 meters to the green while he recommended that I putted instead! I normally would hit my ball out of the bunker forward and closer to the hole, but he suggested that I hit the ball back further away from the hole! I would aim straight at the green, but he suggested that I aim 20-30 meters away and let the wind carry my ball onto the green. Without my caddie mentoring me, I would have had an even more frustrating experience.

This golfing experience reinforced the importance of working with a mentor coach and getting supervised in our work in order to sharpen our coaching skills. For me, the game of golf is a good metaphor for coaching. We need to be totally present and focused on hitting one shot at a time. We need to have a clear outcome for every shot. When we hit a bad shot, we can’t let it affect us. We need to let it go, learn from it and play the next shot. We constantly ask ourselves after the game what we did well and what we can do differently to produce different results.

I know, as coaches, we have been trained and are constantly learning how to embrace the qualities of growth, development, proactivity, intentionality, change, agility and flexibility, in order to keep ourselves on top of our game. As a board director, these are the same qualities that we remind ourselves of through our board promises at the start of every board meeting. Let us be role models of these qualities to inspire our clients to be their best.

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