Trust, understanding, and taking a balanced approach.
These words are easy to read and comprehend at first but if facing your first experience with a golfer with a disability, what do you say? What can you say? How should you say it? When it comes to students with disabilities and adaptive golf, it’s exactly that – adaptive. Take a deep breath.
It may seem daunting at first to teach students with disabilities, and your adrenaline might be pumping with anxiousness, but it’s still golf and it doesn’t change other than how you may change your approach with any golfer that you teach … every student is different with their skill level, experience and capabilities, whether disabled or not.
As is the case with any student, a golfer with a disability will have unique movement and physical activity capabilities and may have communication or intellectual barriers that contribute to their learning style so it’s important to keep an open mind and be flexible with the training plan.
Below is but one example of some simple things you can do to get started with a student with a prosthetic lower leg who walked into the pro shop ready for lessons. It's important to engage with the student as you would with any other. Communication is key, but as a golf instructor, in this example, you are already likely thinking, “balance” is going to be one of the primary areas to focus on related to this student’s success.
First, it is crucial to make a firm introduction – look straight into your student’s eyes and offer a handshake and introduction such as, “I’m Joe Pro, so glad you’re here and look forward to working together. I’ll be asking you some questions about your golf game and if it’s OK with you, your prosthetic, so I have a better understanding of what you can do and from here we can begin to build a swing for you.”
Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask questions – building an understanding of the student’s specific situation leads to the student trusting you to help them. Ask the student how long they’ve had their prosthetic and get a sense of their comfort level if they, for example, needed to climb in and out of a bunker. Get an overall sense of their physical abilities. Create a relaxed atmosphere and focus on the student’s capabilities rather than disabilities so together you can successfully build a golf swing their way with their abilities.
Stay composed and positive as the student is completely reliant on your teachings and attitude - remind the student to ask questions and express any opinions they may have during the lesson. While it may be difficult for you, the instructor, remember the student is exuding an incredible amount of strength and also testing their own capabilities.
In closing, when teaching adaptive golf, remember to focus on the fundamentals and keep a relaxed attitude and atmosphere – help the student mold their swing to what fits their capabilities and prior knowledge. Zone in on what physical movements are needed to successfully hit the golf ball properly while avoiding any injury or discomfort.
There’s no need for you or the student to feel like a deer in the headlights. Don’t rush the process and allow the student, as you would with any student, to help drive successful outcomes and a positive experience for both the student, and you.
About the Author:
Jacob Fagan is a PGA WORKS Fellow at the Northern California Section of the PGA of America