What Makes Best Teachers “Best”

During an interview on “Morning Drive,” Golf Digest senior writer Matthew Rudy explained how the magazine compiled its annual guide of the best teachers in the U.S.  He said that the teachers selected are “best” not simply because they have a keen understanding of the physics of a golf swing.  They’re “best” because in addition to their knowledge and skill they have the ability to inspire their players to believe that they can do better – that they can do it.

Who were your best teachers – in school and on the green?  What made them “best” for you?

I’ve been both a student and a teacher and I’m now convinced that genuine teachers do two things really well: they engage and they connect.  A true teacher engages with the facts and mechanics of the skill they’re teaching.  Because they’re engaged, they continually find ways to make their knowledge understandable.  In addition, a true teacher connects with students through trust.

Skill + engagement + trust = an outstanding teacher and coach.  All three are important in equal measure.  A teacher with technical know-how but who is unable to connect and inspire is simply an instruction manual, while a teacher who can motivate but who has an average skill-set is a well-intentioned cheerleader!

The criteria for assessing teachers’ know-how are more established than for assessing their ability to inspire.  Oftentimes it’s a case of “I’ll know it when I see it.”  But how is connection made?  How is trust established?

The surest way to connect with someone you’re teaching or coaching is to make them feel recognized.  Connection is made when the person you’re teaching believes that you understand them – their goals, their fears and their confusions.  They sense that you “see” what’s working and what’s not so you can lay out a strategy for their success in a way they can understand.

Recognition brings about connection – and trust.  Trust is also secured through passion, or can I say, love?

Displaying your passion for the sport, your love for the game, creates trust because we like to be with people we like and it’s hard to resist someone whose love for the game is so evident.  Showing your passion for the sport translates into players believing that you are passionate about helping them succeed.

Here’s the thing.  Not to be crass, but – people buy people.  You’ve acquired strong technical skills and so have a lot of other instructors.  What will set you apart is your ability to connect and to create trust.

Connection and trust are shaped by your ability to communicate in smart, healthy and effective ways.  The quality of your teaching is in direct proportion to the quality of your communication.

All of communication is about two things: psychology and strategy.  If you can understand what makes the person you’re teaching “tick,” you’ll be able to choose how best to communicate and make yourself understood.  Great teachers know and are guided by this truth.

To play a game of golf, you need more than one club - a 9-iron on the putting green won’t do you any good. So too, in order to communicate effectively you need a bag of techniques that you can choose from depending on the player you’re teaching and your goal. 

The best teachers are the best communicators.  In future articles I’ll get into the specifics of particular tips, tricks and techniques you can practice so you can continue to inspire the best in your players and in yourself.

Padraig Dooley

JP REYNOLDS is a sought after facilitator in communication and life skills coaching.  He shows people how to present themselves and their ideas with insight and confidence.  In addition, JP presents on issues of public speaking and communication at UCLA Extension and has been listed four times in the “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.”  For more information please visit:

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