The Difference Between Teaching or Coaching Golf

Lowering your score in golf is a key to most players. We spend time practicing, reading, watching videos, and taking lessons to improve our game. This post was sparked by a question from a grateful golfer, Sharkgolf13, “Could you explain the difference between coaching and teaching?” Thank you Sharkgolf13 for this very interesting question.

At the same time, golf is a very simple and complex sport. There are many moving parts to a swing, different ways to play a round, and infinite possibilities on how to improve. During the journey to improvement, it is important to understand the difference between being taught and coached. This distinction is important because both can have a positive impact on your game in different ways.Sports is an important and persistent part of my life. Over 40+ years, I was taught and coached in many sports. Once my playing days finished, I became a coach and teacher (of sports, not in a classroom). These experiences have shaped how I approach golf and my views on the difference between teaching and coaching. Knowing the difference is important because there is a time and place for both.

Teaching is about to explaining, demonstrating and imparting knowledge about a skill required to play golf. It focuses on swing mechanics, how to draw or fade the ball, how to pitch or chip, or how to putt a ball. Teaching is rooted in change focused on the physical of a players swing, grip, balance, ball placement, hand release, etc. Teaching is never performed while playing! It is reserved for the time reserved for practice.

Coaching is about course management, maximizing a persons playing ability, or motivation. Coaching is about aiding a player develop a game plan before a player hits the links and in some cases explaining when is the time to change the player’s strategy while playing. A coach will offer advice and motivation that helps lower golf scores. I would consider a caddie a coach, especially at the professional level! Coaching occurs before the round, but has the most benefit during a round of golf.

For most amateurs, they are looking for teachers. Improving their mechanics is what most amateurs should focus on to lower their score. When taking a lesson, they should head to the range with their local pro and work on how to improve their swing. Teaching is difficult; to properly teach golf, training is required. A great teacher will find the root of an individuals challenges and be able to adjust their teaching techniques to the student. Not adjust the student to their teaching techniques. This is something to keep in mind before taking lessons. Lastly, your buddy is not a teacher! He might be able to help a bit, but real change is not found in someone who has the same handicap as you! The following video by David Leadbetter is a good example of teaching how to ‘Hit Solid Iron Shots’.

I do believe that a coach is someone who understands the game of golf and can help a player maximize their playing ability. Coaches are students of the game and understand how to convey course management techniques in several different ways. Coaches can help players understand the difference between playing conservatively or aggressively and why! Caddies, as I said earlier, are coaches. They are the only people able to give advice to a player during a match and are worth their weight in golf if they know their craft. Watch this interaction between Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay, “Bones is definitely shows how to be a good coach.

The difference between teaching and coaching is very important to low golf scores. The challenge for most amateurs is understanding when to be taught or coached. Teaching is conducted on the range and coaching is usually done on the course. Lowering your golf score will happen if we understand the difference between the two and are willing to accept that both have a place in our game!

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!

14 thoughts on “The Difference Between Teaching or Coaching Golf

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  3. Jim, great topic! I apologize in advance for my lengthy response. 🙂

    I believe there is significant overlap between teaching and coaching. Less so at the pro level and more at the amateur. At the pro, Butch Harmon, for example, is/was Tiger and Phil’s “swing coach”. But we all know he was about teaching mechanics. A Bob Rotella is a mental coach and specializes in coaching. Most players have separate teachers and coaches as you have capably pointed out.

    When I was learning, I had the benefit of good swing instruction but no coaching. My instructor always pressured me by asking me if I “broke 80 yet?” I was struggling to break 100 and thought the question was unfair because I was mechanically a sound student but didn’t know how to manage myself from a strategic perspective.

    I think nowadays you’ll find several teachers who offer playing lessons on course management as part of a lesson package and that’s an important aspect to give the learner. In the brief period where I taught, I offered a six lesson package which included four range sessions, one short game, and one playing lesson. I would go out for three holes (about 45 minutes) and discus course management, etiquette, strategy, etc. If the student was struggling to get the ball airborne, I had the option of changing the playing lesson back to mechanics and often did. I think the main takeaway is that the teacher needs to sometimes coach, but the coach doesn’t necessarily need to teach.

    Thanks for the great thought provoking post!


    Liked by 1 person

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