Win vs Develop: Setting your Golf Agenda

I recently came across an interesting paper titled How Do Coaches Operationalise Long-Term Technical Training in Elite Golf?

The researchers explored how an elite coach sets goals and structures practice to help a high-level golfer improve their technique.

The coaches interviewed for this research project were the crème de la crème:

All amateur players discussed were world ranked inside the top 100 and the two professional players discussed were inside the top 50 in the official world golf rankings at the time of coaching. Furthermore, two of the coaches had coached recent Major champions. Two other coaches had also coached recent Ryder Cup players/European Tour winners. Four coaches had coached multiple Curtis Cup and Walker Cup players.
- How Do Coaches Operationalise Long-Term Technical Training in Elite Golf?

Surprisingly, though, these highly experienced (and highly paid!) coaches did not answer as I expected (spoiler alert: you are about to be positively disillusioned). One would expect to hear about carefully thought-out routines for golfers during tournament seasons, ideally leaning towards consistency and habit, but, shockingly, this is not the case:

A lack of knowledge of timescales for completion of work and a lack of perceived value in long-term planning created a short-term approach to technical work. Moreover, a busy tournament schedule, the need for regular and immediate performance, and the players’ readiness for change, all influenced the coach’s rationale. . . . [T]here is a low level of coherence and consistency across the macro, meso, and micro levels. Put another way, there appeared to be little translation from what the coach was trying to achieve over the season (macro level) to what the coach did during blocks of the season (meso level), or to individual sessions or tournament support (micro level).
- How Do Coaches Operationalise Long-Term Technical Training in Elite Golf?

What struck me was that a systematic approach to technique changes seems to be lacking even among elite coaches and players.

The bottom line is that the process of fine-tuning over a long period will separate the average golfer from the professional golfer, and little to none of this work will make tournament seasons their undoing.

Practice Makes “Professional” 

When you are in the comfort of your own environment, it is much easier to develop a plan and stick to it. There is no traveling involved; you sleep uninterrupted in your own comfortable bed and have the benefit of being able to prepare healthy meals and regularly hit the gym.

A golfer’s eating habits, sleeping schedule, workout regime, and mental health all have significant effects.

Every habit a professional golfer develops while training and living in their own hub is designed to keep them on top of their game and tournament, but when those habits are disrupted, golfers are slowly thrown off course, which can negatively impact their success and ability to play the often underrecognized mental game.

It’s difficult to make changes that might result in performance improvements when players are constantly competing and forced to regress in terms of good habits.

The disconnect between what some elite coaches advocate for (fewer tournaments) and their actions (or lack thereof) is surprising: 

Several coaches expressed a desire for their players to have played less to undertake important technical work. Tournament golf “was a distraction”. Coach 10 even stressed that “valuing those gaps in your year when you are periodizing things to leave space to address these factors in your game is golden time”. However, whilst stressing the importance of this, none of the coaches encouraged their players to remove events and intentionally orchestrate these gaps in their schedule to achieve the aforementioned aims.
- How Do Coaches Operationalise Long-Term Technical Training in Elite Golf?

What’s On The Agenda?

Setting a “win” or “develop” agenda for a tournament is crucial for elite golfers. In other words:

We can win today by relying on skills we know won’t work at the next level. This means there are times when we must sacrifice winning today to prioritize developing the capability we need to win tomorrow.
- James A. King

One of the elite coaches touched on this idea, setting the agenda by prioritizing his goals based on the level of the event:

Coach 7 based the goals of tournament week on the level of importance of the event; in lower-level events, therefore, goals other than immediate performance were emphasized.
- How Do Coaches Operationalise Long-Term Technical Training in Elite Golf?

A good coach will know to choose the right agenda at the right time.

Playing The Long Game

Naturally, the human tendency (especially in competitive sports) is to want to reach the highest potential and succeed every time.

We’re not against winning—believe me, we’re all about it—but, in reality, taking our “win vs. develop” approach might mean you have more wins in the long term. 

Firstly, let’s define the two agendas. 

  1. Win Agenda: the goal is to win at all costs.
  2. Develop Agenda: practice new skills in a safe environment. 

We can classify certain competitions or time periods with either a “development” or “win” agenda. We can set clear development periods which give us opportunities for experimentation without fear of failing. We can intersperse these periods with clear “win” agendas. The “win” agenda reminds us that things are real and there are times we have to decide to become confident, grit our teeth, and grind out a result. There are consequences for the results we produce, and we have to be able to turn it on when it counts.
- James A. King

Establishing the appropriate agenda for different parts of the season requires long-term planning.

Unfortunately, the researchers’ findings suggest that long-term planning is largely missing, even among the most esteemed coaches.

What’s The Plan, Stan?

This information might be as shocking for you as it was for us, but all is not lost. Anyone can choose to get back on track and learn from the—dare we say it—mistakes of others.

Here are a few things elite golfers (and every golfer) should consider during tournament seasons and off seasons.

1.    Establish a long-term development plan

  • What technical changes do you and your coach want to make in the next three, six, and 12 months?
  • Does your tournament schedule allow you to make the desired changes?
  • Do you need to adjust your tournament schedule to allow for the technical changes in your long-term plan to take place? 

2.    Establish “Win” and “Development” Agendas 

  • Review your tournament schedule.
  • Identify which tournaments are opportunities to develop your skills and which are those you want to win.

Every golfer needs a routine that fits their unique lifestyle and fitness level—no two golfers are the same.

Our specialists will help you get on track to developing realistic habits that will gradually improve your game. They will also guide you toward improving your mental performance, so you are professionally trained and prepared to meet the challenges you’ll face on the course.

Contact us today to schedule an assessment with our experts and level up on your golf game!

Noah Sachs
Mental Performance Coach
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