Things I’ve Learned as a Coach

As I look back at almost 35 years of coaching, I can’t help but think of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Yes, a coach learns as much, if not more, than you do while assisting you with improving your skills. Whether I was coaching a 3 day golf schools Florida. Or a single 30-minute golf lesson. It’s the lessons coaches learn that keep us motivated. Motivated to get up every day and learn some more.  For the final blog post of 2023 and in tune with the holiday season of giving, I thought I’d share the gifts my clients have provided me throughout the years. Here is a small but sincere list of the things I’ve learned as a coach, from you.

A Little History

In the Fall of 1986, gave my first “lesson” to a golfer who purchased a set of irons at a big box golf retailer where I worked. The lesson was an enticement to purchase the set. And the sales manager was hell bent on providing that to all customers. Regardless of who he employed at the store. I had only been playing golf “seriously” for a little more than a year. Averaging around 80 each round, using nothing more than my athletic ability and intuition.

Based upon the store manager’s mandate, I reasonably concluded that the only 2 lessons I could give someone indoors were about their grip. And about how to align and balance properly.  Each lesson lasted about 15 minutes. And those minutes were pressure packed. I thought I knew enough about each subject to have a customer feel happy about their purchase.  Little did I know how much I was influencing a golfer who likely had more experience than me. If I only knew then what I know now. I do hope all the golfers I spent 15 minutes with then are still playing.

Lesson #1 of the Things I’ve Learned as a Coach

From this experience, you never know enough!  No matter if you’re a coach, a player, a bystander. You must continually learn, each and every day. You should never guess what may or may not happen. it’s a lesson I have tried to accomplish every day. Whether I was teaching at a club. Or building the John Hughes Golf Brand.

When you cease to learn each day, the days to your relevancy as well as your life are numbered. Always wake up each day with the mission to learn something new. Regardless of how uncomfortable it may be for you to do so.

A Little Humility

After a few years roaming the country as a salesman in the golf industry, I played a lot of golf. At a lot of fantastic golf courses. With a lot of the golfers who asked me to help them simply because I played at a high level. When asked to assist, I did. Some for free. While others paid. These experiences showed me that my calling was most likely as a coach. And that I should follow what once was a childhood dream of assisting others.

The humility came when most of these golfers let me know after the fact that I did help them. But only for a short while.  I was assisting them to play like me. Not with the skills they possessed. I took that criticism personally. These golfers’ words kept ringing in my head. And was the inspiration to finally make the commitment to become a PGA of America Professional.

Lesson #2

It was through the training and experience of becoming a “Class A” member of the world’s largest professional sports association, I learned coaching is not about you. It’s about the person you are coaching. Learn what that golfer wants. But providing your athletes what they need. And do so in a manner that they can own with their own minds and body. Of the things I’ve learned as a coach, this lesson rings true each time I encounter a new client. A golfer may come to me wanting something they think will make them a better golfer. It’s my job to show you what will make you a better golfer. And it is most likely in the things you do before you ever make a swing.

What do you Believe In?

Throughout my journey as a golf professional, I’ve always had to believe that I’m in charge of my destiny. And it was I that ultimately determined my success.

At each stop during the journey, there were new people to meet and work with. As well as a different set of golfers to get to know.  I found out quickly that no matter how much I believed in me, my success did hinge upon the success of others. But I did not have control of some of that process.

Related to the golfers I helped, it became very apparent that they needed to experience a positive result, quickly. And with the employers and others I worked for or with, they needed to experience that I was there for their reasons too, not just mine. The golfer’s process I could control somewhat. But without setting a timer on the stove, as my mother did to me as a child practicing a saxophone, I could not be there each day to have all golfers practice what we covered.  I gave it my all for and with each client. And continue to do so.  But I learned I had to believe that they would take ownership of the part of the process that would sustain positive results.

Related to who I worked for and with, I believed in all of them. That they would have my back. And believed in the same things I did.  Hate to say it, but I learned that is not always the case. Which ultimately has led me to work for myself. I know “partner” with those who believe in the same things I do. And when the belief is short lived, moving on to another partner is now so heartbreaking as it was early in my career.

Lesson #3

You must believe in yourself, no matter the process. And you must surround yourself with those who believe in you.  Believing in you isn’t always easy. Remember, you must go to bed with yourself every night. And if you believe in yourself, you’ll go to bed each night knowing you’ve made a difference. And you’ll be proud of yourself for doing so.

You also must believe in the people who surround you. Remember, it’s your choice as to who surrounds you. Your belief in the relationship you have with each of these people should be enough to have your back in any situation.

Of the things I’ve learned as a coach, one that stands out and I have always strive to provide is coaching is a relationship whose barriers go beyond the playing field or golf course.  A good coach believes in the person and their abilities. They have an interest in more than just what goes on at practice or on the course. It’s the coach who believes in you that will have your back, no matter what decisions you make. Or no matter the outcome of any of your performances.

2 Ears, 2 Eyes, and Feedback

One of the things I’ve learned as a coach is not all of us take in all the data presented. Which can sometimes lead to decisions and subsequent performances being less than the desired result.

Throughout the years of learning something new every day, it became apparent to me that learning required certain skills. The skill to listen better than I ever had. The skill to see deeper than I knew I could. And the skill to interpret the amount of feedback left behind after each golf shot.

Listening is more than just hearing a voice or sound. It is the absorption of the message each noise provides us.  It is digesting each sound from its origin. And the meaning behind its messenger’s energy to deliver it. Your ears are connected to one thing, your brain. And it is deep in your brain where you can become a more active listener. To truly understand the nuances to each message processed.

And like the ears, 2 eyes connect to the brain. Where visual interpretation meets the audio data collected. Sometimes 2 eyes can blur one’s vision. Particularly when one eye is distracted. It is the 2 eyes together that create focus. Focus upon the task at hand. And the envisionment to fulfill it.

Each ear and eye have the opportunity to collect the dust left behind each action taken. In the case of golf, it is what each shot provided us, after the ball has landed.  Can we work backwards from landing to recreate what just happened? And can the feedback clues our eyes and ears pick up provide us deeper understanding of who we are as a golfer?

Lesson #4

All coaches are on a never-ending journey to hone their listening and visual skills. And interpret what we see and hear into a message of learning and improvement for the athletes we coach. A deeper sense of responsibility to these skills is required for a coach to have the ability to pass on these skills to our athletes. Because we can’t be in the heat of every moment with our athletes.

One of the things I’ve learned as a coach is that it’s important to pass on these skills to the athlete. And the next generation of coaches. It is from these skills that new methods, adaptations, and creative thoughts occur. In turn, advancing the abilities of the athlete and the coach.

These skills will also create clear and understandable communication between coach and athlete. Without communication, a relationship can’t exist or sustain itself.

The Challenge of Goals and The Perseverance to Achieve

Not all athletes start with a goal. Most start with a dream and what it may feel like to experience the dream. Most world class athletes dream big! Why shouldn’t they? For anyone to reach the top of their craft, it requires dreams that are so big that most humans think those dreams are unachievable.

You and your coach should always dream big, for you!  Yours and your coach’s ability to break down that dream into small achievable goals is what will make your big dreams come true. I’ve written in the past about goal setting. Without goals, there isn’t a plan to success. Or achieving any size dream.  There is a skill involved in developing big dreams into reality. And that is the skill or characteristic of perseverance.

Perseverance has led to my success as a coach. My tenacity to get it done with a “do what it takes” mentality goes back to when I was told I could not be a good soccer player. Or a good golfer.  Tell me I can’t do something, and I’ll prove you wrong.  I’ll learn from my mistakes along the way. And those learning moments further stabilize the goals you set.

Lesson #5

It’s one thing to set goals and learn through persevering that goals can be accomplished. It’s another thing to inspire athletes to do the same.

Coaching is not about motivating. Motivation comes from within. The one emotional responsibility all coaches are charged with is inspiring our athletes to become more self-motivated. And take ownership of their journey. To help guide them with their journeys. And to make sure we’re there to have their backs when goals are not achieved. Or when their tenacity needs recharging.

Of the things I learned as a coach, goals and perseverance are something all athletes and coaches possess. As well as share with each other. Doing so provides the foundation for the athlete to succeed. And the constant reminder to the coach of how simple good coaching can be.

Examples are More Than Just a Demonstration

I’ve always believed that good teachers or instructors can demonstrate. Demonstrate a skill, a technique, or other item that a student can also do.  But one of the things I’ve learned as a coach is there is more to demonstrations than meets the eye.  And great coaching requires more than just an example or demonstration.

In its simplest form, an example can be clipped from a document or image. It can be pointing to someone else’s ability to perform at a certain skill level. I found throughout the years, good and great coaches provide examples as details. Details learned from experience. And there is no short cut for experience. The sharing of details with their athletes is a coach wanting each athlete not to repeat the coach’s mistakes.

Sharing the details is important. I have said time and again that dedication to the discipline of your details is what it takes to achieve your goals.  That phrase has become one of the mantras of John Hughes Golf. It is the dedication, determination, and demonstration of the details, by the coach, is what will inspire the athlete the most.

Lesson #6

Leading by example. Being an empathic leader whose attention to detail goes far beyond the playing field. And living what is being coached as daily practices to the details that matter most.


The things I’ve learned as a coach are probably what most great coaches learn during their journeys. I’ve been fortunate to share conversations with some of this generation’s great coaches. And I wish I could pick the brains of the great coaches that have passed.

I’m certain each coach’s list of things they’ve learned along the way would be different than mine. And some might share and embellish the same list. The 6 concepts above are meant to be short and sweet. While providing a message to all as we round the sun more time.

I hope that by sharing some of the things I’ve learned as a coach will motivate you to inspire yourself. And the next generation. But most importantly, it is a short list meant as a seed in your brain this holiday season. A seed that will germinate into something big for you in the coming years.

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