Golf Lessons: Part 1 – Results Matter!

I’m currently in my second year of having a “serious” relationship with golf. I am more attentive to my play and strive to perform better with every swing. This involves studying books about the game, watching training videos on swing mechanics, and putting balls into a coffee cup in my office.

Golf is the ultimate game of personal development. There are an infinite number of skill points to master, and always room for improvement. Each round on the course and every bucket at the driving range present a new learning experience, increasing both physical and mental acumen. For example, a brief practice session may focus on improving 50-yard pitch shots, but it also includes a subconscious lesson on concentration and restraint.

Besides the direct personal benefits that come from learning a sport, golf can teach us how to be better trainers and presenters. Here is the first in a series of three lessons from the fairway to help us iron out our efforts in the classroom. You can also read Lesson #2 and Lesson #3.

(If you’re completely unfamiliar with golf, check out this intro video from YouTube)

Golf Lesson #1: Results Matter

Everyone’s heard the common phrase, “it ain’t rocket science!” But for golf, it actually is! Dave Pelz, a former NASA space researcher, is regarded as one of the best golf teachers in the world, particularly when it comes to the short game (150 yards or less, and putting – the more “finesse” shots). He analyzed hundreds of professional golfers and thousands of golf shots, and engineered science-based methods for improving the average golfer’s game. In his most popular book, Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible, he begins with an important mantra: the score is what matters.

According to Pelz, golf swings can be different depending on the player’s size and physical capabilities; there is no one perfect swing. Some players use a traditional swing style, while other players (including professionals) have forms that yield mind-bogglingly straight shots. As the video below says, “There’s more than one way to get the ball to go straight.”

Pelz has made a career out of the assumption that anyone, regardless of size and talent, can learn to hit the ball better (and smarter) to improve their score. Pelz says, in essence, that at the end of the round all that counts is the score, not how good or bad the swings looked. Nobody thinks about how the winning golfer looked on the fifth hole – what matters is only the golfer’s low score that won the tournament.

Results matter, especially in training – this is why we spend so much effort and time on summative evaluation processes! We want to know how much learning took place, and how effective the delivery was for our learners. The training room might have been too hot and we might have bumbled a few sentences, but did good learning happen? A training that has bumps and awkward moments but effectively transfers knowledge is immensely better than the perfectly-executed presentation that leaves its participants behind.

Often we spend time beating ourselves up after a less-than-perfect execution without recognizing that we may have nonetheless achieved our learning goals. Summative evaluation is vital to understanding how our efforts impact learning. For example, a technology failure halfway through a session may be embarrassing, but everything is great as long as your participants still walk away with the necessary knowledge and skills you set out to teach.

What do your participants say about your effectiveness?
What does your evaluation process show you?

If the results are not good (i.e. the knowledge transfer is not happening), then it is time to assess the training program and your process (formative evaluation) to see where the train went off the rails. It is possible to have a golf swing so terrible that you miss the ball completely; that swing needs to be changed. In the same vein, a training module may need some retooling in order to properly address any unmet trainee needs.

When we design a training program, we first decide on the intended outcomes of that program, and develop around those objectives. At the start of every session we tell our participants the session’s intended outcomes. And when the training is completed, we test to see if those intended outcomes have been achieved. Our methodology as training and development specialists is indicative of that same mantra from golf: results matter.

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