GFAA Best Practice: Assess a Student’s Movement Before Giving a Golf Lesson

Mark Blackburn, the 2020 PGA Teacher of the Year, is the PGA Director of Instruction at the Blackburn Golf Academy at Greystone Golf & Country Club, in Birmingham, Alabama

Mark Blackburn on the importance of assessing a student’s movement before giving a golf lesson:

I’m a big fan of assessing people’s movement before you give them a golf lesson. Understanding how movement affects one’s ability to play golf at a desired level is vital to helping students attain their goals. Teaching students of all skill levels, age, and body types, I can attest that the degree of movement each is able to reach can differ greatly. The way the student moves will have a huge influence on what he or she will be able to do with the club. There is no cookie-cutter lesson plan to prescribe – one must gauge the student’s mobility, stability, and ability to move their body to achieve desired positions, swing speeds, and power. Before proceeding with the golf lesson, I run a sixteen-screen functional movement assessment without the use of a golf club, quickly following the evaluation with further analysis using a club. There may be many ways to swing a golf club; but there is usually just one way to swing a club that works best for the student in front of me. Working backwards, I ask the student what type of shot he or she wants to hit – high, low, fade, or draw. From there I assess what their body is predetermined to do so I don’t ask them to do something they physically can’t do. Once you create that narrative for them, they usually become pretty receptive to it. On highly-skilled players, we use 3D motion capture and power testing. Ultimately, the specificity of the testing will escalate with a more competent player. However, our coaching culture is that you need to understand the student’s movement first, regardless of their skill level. The testing results in a pass/fail outcome based on anatomical norms, which differ based on the anatomical makeup of the student.

Mark Blackburn on the business impact of assessing a student’s movement before giving a golf lesson:

It is important to communicate honestly and make sure your students understand that they may not look like the players they see on the PGA Tour. Once those realities are grasped, you can proceed with the work that is most appropriate for your student. Lesser-skilled players may actually need to implement more movements within their swing to facilitate a motion that allows them to hit the ball better and farther. It may not look as pretty as the pros on TV, but if it works for the student, you’re doing your job. Everything is about teaching around the limitations. When it comes to the golf swing, I am completely agnostic – I just want the student’s swing to be the best it can be for him or her. We connect the dots of movement, ability, restrictions, and results. We don’t just apply band aids or look for the quick fix – assessing movement is the first step in the long haul. To continually gauge their progress, I conduct a movement assessment prior to each lesson. The physical screening is very empowering to students, as it helps them understand that their golf skills may be less than desired not necessarily because they are bad golfers, but because they are physically limited in what they can do with a golf ball. We strive to improve those abilities through assessment and a personal prescription for progress. I like to say that I’m the chef and my students bring the ingredients – we work with what they have to offer.

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