Our Mission: Become a Talent Hotbed for Golf in China
by Dr. Ron Cruickshank
At Phoenix Golf Academy (PGA) our quest in China is really quite simple. We want to become a ‘talent hotbed’ for golf in China. That is an explicit goal for our young company and we are constantly adjusting our programs and practices to help create the first generation of skilled golfers in China. We define a skilled golfer as one that has mastered the PGA Seven Foundations of Golf:
- The full power single plane swing- able to hit any club in the bag proficiently
- Short game – chipping, pitching and bunker – 70% up and down
- Putting- 30 or less putts per round
- Proper fitting equipment- getting and using equipment properly fitted
- Course management- Know how to think your way around the golf course to optimize results
- Knowledge of how to practice and learn – we call this perfect practice
- Management of Self – optimizing both mental and emotional states for peak performance both on and off the course.
Our approach to developing a skilled golfer is a whole systems model. One just needs to look at the Phoenix Golf 7 foundations and you will readily see that four of the seven foundations deal with ‘soft’ issues (club fitting, course management, how to practice and mental game). It is NOT enough to just master the mechanics of swing movement on the path to being a skilled golfer (albeit a great start). Our experience in China has reinforced strongly the need to approach both the teaching and learning within the context of the entire game.
The mammoth challenge and opportunity is that here in China the majority of our students are young, with our median student age around 8 years old. This is because there is not a lengthy history or culture of golf in this country. This compares to an average age of over 55 for similar markets in the US and Canada. This is a major difference as it affects every aspect of our business from marketing to training design and regimen. When you add in the significant challenges of doing all this in Mandarin you can begin to appreciate the necessity of developing programs that are simple, clear and effective.
To aid our mission we have adopted a key suggestion recommended by existing talent hotbeds around the world: We steal ideas and insights whenever we find them – adopting and integrating as many good ideas into our programs as we can. Alternatively, we will discard them quickly if they don’t produce results.
One of the best sources from which we steal unapologetically (and with permission) is the author Dan Coyle. His two best-selling books The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent are treasure troves of insights as to the mechanics of building a ‘talent hotbed’. In addition, he writes an informative blog that I’d encourage all interested in this subject to read.
To keep our brains focused, we have condensed our current experience and research into an internal document we impishly call The Manifesto. The Manifesto is used to guide the training decisions at Phoenix Golf Academy (PGA), and the only fixed rule is #1. Everything in the Manifesto can change if we find something that works better.
What follows is our current version of the Manifesto. We hope you will find it useful in helping to create your own talent hotbed wherever you find yourself.
The Talent Hotbed Manifesto: Phoenix golf
- Everything in the Manifesto can change if we find something that works better. We believe a hall mark of success is behavioral flexibility. If what you are doing isn’t producing results, change it as soon as you recognize it.
- We search for instructors/coaches that love teaching and are passionate about the subject matter. For us, that means we want teachers that live and breathe the single plane golf swing and that find personal meaning and value in teaching others how to play the game golf.
- Teaching is a learned skill just like playing the game itself. Just because you can do it, doesn’t insure you know how to teach it. We find the inverse is often true. Make sure you know what you are talking about before making suggestions to a student. The only true measure of a master teacher is the results demonstrated by his students.
- A good teacher will help students develop a passion for the game. However, if possible seek students that demonstrate a passion for the subject matter. Even if they haven’t been heavily exposed to the game of golf, we have found that a student with passion is easily identified if you just watch. They will be the ones that want to stay late and practice, during breaks they will actively engage on their own and they are always asking questions and talking to their friends about golf to continue their learning.
- Recognize that talent is built and learned one distinction at a time. Mastery results from total competence of the basics. Natural talent is NOT the best predictor of success in our opinion; motivation, mastery of the fundamental mechanics and continuous high quality repetitions will win out over natural talent given enough time. This does not deny the advantage of superior physical attributes. If a student has natural hand speed, great eye-hand coordination and superior core strength she generally has higher initial potential. In the presence of strong motivation to achieve, this kind of student can make faster progress. If not motivated, this type of student will get by for a while, and then be passed over quickly by the steady turtle.
- Note: In our world of golf coaching, “Natural talent” is code for “started earlier and practiced harder.” — I don’t recall where we stole this one, but we all love this thought and believe it.
- A great coach is focused on relationship and building competent and confident human beings grounded in solid core values. We call this relationship-based coaching. It’s an approach where the coach puts intentional effort and focus on building relationships — creating identity, trust, and a sense of belonging for the student. This is true for all ages. For adults it is being a part of the single plane community and accomplishing beyond personal expectations. For kids it can be a golf team or a class they are part of.
- Recognize that the internal subjective benefit a student gets from the game is what his real driver is. Find out what that is and constantly appeal to it. Golf means many things to different people. Figure out what the attraction is to your student and make sure he gets plenty of reinforcement.
- Urge your students to set BIG personal goals, write them down and file them away in a private place for review down the line. People that make big commitments to themselves will work hard to achieve them.
- Follow the ULFT© model. This means to insure Understanding, then Learn the skill, Develop Feel via repetition and then train to maintain it. When teaching youth:
- UNDERSTAND: always demonstrate first, have them ask questions to make sure they understand what you are trying to teach them. Adults in particular will often have an internal model of what a golf swing should ‘look like’ and you must teach and affirm the proper and new version.
- LEARN: have them practice using the multiple principles of deep practice while giving constant teacher feedback until they can do it slowly, precisely and correctly.
- FEEL: the only way to build proper motor patterns and create feel is through repetition. This means regular and constant practice of BASIC correct patterns.
- OUR MOST IMPORTANT WORK IS NOT ACCOMPLISHED ON THE RANGE: After the basic introductory phase (up to 21 weeks) each golfer/athlete is provided a laminated sheet of practice exercises that take them around the training facility and they are never on one training aid or position for more than 20 minutes. These training regimens are individualized based on the coaches’ assessments which are done DAILY.
- After the age of 10 years old, we will mix up juniors with elite players on a regular basis. We believe this promotes highly effective modeling. This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally we find until the kids reach an age of 10 they have significant differences in emotional and physical development that impede the learning process to the detriment of the older students. If questioning, refer to Rule #1.
- Benchmarking: We do a version of “testing” on a regular basis- generally monthly. We don’t position this as such with our students, but we find benchmarking progress is an essential part of getting better. The kids recognize that “last month I couldn’t do this and this month I can”. This awareness provides motivation for the student and hard data for the coaches.
- We seek to eliminate the use of the word “WRONG”. We now understand that NEW HABITS must be built and reinforced. Old habits are ineffective motor patterns that can be made more effective by establishing new patterns and intense repetitions over time. This is true ALL the time and for ALL people.
- Encourage students to PRACTICE EVERY DAY. Period! This can be standing in front of a mirror and checking set up angles or it can be doing 10-12 minutes of PVC drill. Help instill this habit in every student. Remember, frequent, intensive, high-quality practice is the path to improvement and satisfaction.
- In your self- talk, use “You” and not “I.” Research shows that self-talk is significantly more effective when you use the second person. When looking in the mirror, it is more effective to say. “You can do this.”…. consider this a brain hack that works.
- Keep really good records. It is difficult to gauge progress without an accurate record of progress. At Phoenix Golf Academy (PGA) we keep two kinds of records with great accuracy.
- A record of what was taught and when. Using the information from the previous lesson we then design each lesson to take into account the needs of the individual and the group. Every single practice day we hold a short group meeting of all coaches to determine the lesson plan for that day. We find having all the coaches participate in this process both informs and aids our thinking about what each individual student needs to focus on. This is often a spirited debate as each coach brings their own observation into the discussion.
- Regular quantitative recording of skills. This is to include a putting, chipping, pitching, bunker and iron and driving accuracy.
- It takes a village. We practice Team Coaching. While each student just naturally seems to develop a bond with a particular coach we find it useful to have ‘lots of eyes’ on the students. Individual mentors are assigned to an individual student to insure nothing falls through the cracks logistically, but all the coaches are encouraged to watch, observe and offer suggestions for each student if they see a need. We are ALL responsible for our students getting better, even if one coach has the lead. We are a big team or family in many ways, all going through a similar training process such that we have shared ‘trial by fire’.
- Monitor the Emotional Temperature! – Consider the emotional energy state present in the individual and the group at all times. Nothing positive happens when rapport and emotional energy turns negative. All energy must be accounted for and appropriate adjustments made. This requires that all staff be regularly observing the emotional tone of both themselves and their students, and gain the skills to support the necessary adjustments.
- Constantly address critical sports learning and performance areas such as mental readiness, concentration, motivation, teamwork, communication, and how to consistently access the zone. Sports psychology is a field with huge potential, one that can provide untold benefits to people as they experience sports and physical activity. It can help people maximize their sport experiences and bring more meaning to their lives through higher quality experiences in sports, fitness, health, and movement.However, an important caveat. Every discipline and field of human endeavor labors under numerous myths and misunderstandings. Sports psychology is no exception. Peak mental performance is but one aspect of high performance in sport. No one discipline, technique or method can guarantee that an athlete can or will perform on command or win on command. There are too many intangibles and factors other than psychological with which to contend.
- Institutionalize personal emotional temperature taking. We want our students to understand that emotional management of self is as important as having technical proficiency. If the human internal system is out of whack it ALWAYS impacts performance. It is not only OK to recognize and deal with emotions; it is imperative to high performance.
- We use the New Zealand Black’s model of RED HEAD/ BLUE HEAD. Dan Coyle had this to say about their process:
- Red Head is the negative state, when you are heated, overwhelmed, and tense (H.O.T., in the parlance). Your emotional engine is smoking, your perceptions are slow, the game feels too fast, and your decision making is rushed.
- Blue Head, on the other hand, is the precise opposite: the cool, controlled, pattern-seeing state, when you retain your awareness and your decision-making power. This is the state that enables top performance.
The key is doing three things:
- Seek to stay in Blue Head as your default setting
- Sense cues when you are entering Red-Head mode
- Use a physical or mental trigger to get yourself back into Blue Head.
- Refer to Rule #1 – We are always looking for more effective ways to train. We are committed to hacking the brain and body systems as we create great golfers.
This is a work in progress at all times. We don’t claim to be the best, however that is our aspiration and inspiration. In the end we will all be judged by our students. In my experience, the best leaders are always measured by the level of followership that they create. The common denominator is that positive results are produced regardless of personalities, environment or short term inhibitors.
In our most ambitious dreams we have visions of our young charges winning a major or being in the Ryder Cup. But that will have to wait for a while as we build competent young golfers with a sound grounding in the fundamentals of the game. Still, we can’t deny that even from the back burner the dreams are omnipresent and undeniable.
Here at Phoenix Golf Academy we are singularly focused on having our students maximize their potential in golf and in life. Please join us in this pursuit of excellence.
About the Author: Ron Cruickshank, Ph.D., is the developer of the PGA A1K Natural Swing and the Founder and CEO of Phoenix Golf Academy in China. He is also a GGA Master Instructor and Mental Game Coach. The mission for Phoenix Golf Academy (PGA) is to become a ‘hotbed of talent’ for golf training in China. Ron is surrounded with other top professionals like Nigel Lane, PGA Tour Player, Blade Cruickshank, GGA Certified Coach, Mike Currie, PGA China Tour Player and Michael MacVane, Certified PGA A1K and GGA Swing Coach.