The Pesky National Coach

“I’ve been coaching them for 10 years and all of a sudden they go to a few national trainings and this national coach gets in their ear and they leave me! I can’t believe it!”

If you’ve been coaching for long enough then undoubtedly you would have heard this from one of your coaching counterparts. A young player “leaving” the coach that they grew up with to move on with the county/state/national coach. And on paper, a logical next step. National is bigger than club. National is more prestigious than club. National level is better than club level. Point blank. 

However, it may not always be that simple. A player may feel like they have come to the end of the road with the club coach and be swayed by the prestige and allure of working with a national coach. But is it really the end of the road? Is a different set of eyes a better set of eyes for that player?

But by the same token, is it really the national coach’s fault if a player wants to listen to them? I mean, they’re doing their job, aren’t they?

I do honestly believe that as a community (even though I really hate using that word) we as coaches should look to work together. Coaching is about the player and less about us so we really should keep our player’s best interests at heart. With that in mind, a few thoughts that may be useful for both club and national coach alike when dealing with this delicate situation.

For the club coaches:

  • First and foremost, the player isn’t YOUR player. You don’t own them. They have complete liberty to work with whomever they feel will progress their golf effectively. It may sting, especially if you have known them for a long time and have created a firm bond with them, but at the end of the day, they’re in the driver’s seat and they make the choices.
  • As alluded to earlier, keep your ego out of it. You might have done what you feel is a brilliant job with the player but who’s to say that getting a different opinion might progress them even more efficiently?
  • Likewise, try not to take it to heart. Beating yourself up over it and how you could have been better isn’t necessary. It’s not about right and wrong, better or worse, It’s just different.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the national coach; what are they supposed to do? Not work with anyone who they don’t already work with? They have a job that they are paid to do by their organisation and the player has been selected to represent it. It would effectively be malpractice if they refuse to not give their all to the players who are under their care. If the coach works ethically and doesn’t look to denigrate your own work then they are not really at fault for anything.

For the national coaches:

  • Be aware that the situation is delicate. Personal bonds with both the player and the player’s family may have been formed for years by the club coach and you’re the new coach in town. Be sensitive to that.
  • If you’re both working with the player at the same time, keep the club coach informed constantly. The fact of the matter is that you have worked with this player for a much shorter time than the other coach. Likewise, they might only see you 2 weeks a year whilst the club coach will be around them for the other 50. Try to see them as an ally. Ring them up to tell them what you’ve been working on or your thoughts. Quiz them about what they think is the best way to work with the player. Two links are stronger than one.
  • Don’t criticise or contradict the other coach. This is sort of Rule Number 1 in the imaginary coach’s handbook. If you disagree with the practices of the other coach, don’t let this be known to the player:

“Yeh, basically the same thing but what about if you thought about it this way…”

“I completely agree with that. I might just put it like this…”

Quite honestly, you can say something that has very little in common with what the coach was saying or, dare I say it, completely contradict it, but if you’re clever with how you phrase it, the player does not feel that they’re getting conflicting messages. 

  • Put the player first. Yes, be sensitive to the situation. Yes, take the other coach’s thoughts on board. But fundamentally you are there to do a job. If you feel like the player could benefit from your work, whilst seemingly swimming in the same direction as the other coach, then you must do it.

• • •

It’s always a touchy one; the pesky national coach dilemma. The writing of a new chapter can often leave the previous pages that took years and years to formulate, faded and twisted with every passing day. Out with the old and in with the new I suppose.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be club coach vs national coach more than any other restrictive notion in golf. Rather than us vs them, I think it’s just US. Us as coaches. Us as coaches doing our best for the players that we work with. They are not OUR players but rather individuals that we are helping to overcome their own personal barriers and achieve their own potential. 

We can’t expect players to stay with us their whole lives as much as we can’t expect our children to live with us their whole lives. They must find their own way; their own path. It might mean that they leave and come back. It might mean that they leave, never to be seen again. But at the end of the day, it is their life and, in this instance, their sport.

All we can really do is try our best with them, be true to who we are and be there for them if they ever stumble along the way.

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