Dear Golfer,

I’ve started riding my bike to get fitter and lose some weight. I usually ride around the Yarra River here in inner city Melbourne. It’s a lot of fun, there’s always plenty of people about and some great landmarks like the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), city skyline and Tennis Centre to take my mind off the lactic acid build up.

The other day I was riding past some of the back courts at Melbourne Park (where the Australian Open tennis is played) and noticed a young kid being coached. It was obvious that the young fella was a good player and with my obsession for anything coaching I decided to stop and have a look. Luckily my snooping was hidden by some well placed shade cloth so I had a perfect view without upsetting anyone.

The junior player was being taught (or shown) how to make an agressive stroke from the back court and then move into the net. A good move, and if well executed could probably win him many points. His first few tries I saw were excellent, he performed them well and the coach was please. Then something disturbing happened…

He missed a big forehand. The coach stopped the session and half berated the little guy saying, “You can’t miss that shot! You have to minimise mistakes and keep the ball in play”. My opinion is that this is poor coaching. This type of play is a calculated risk – sometimes you are going to miss the big shot. It’s part of the game. This point was missed by the tennis coach. He was trying to turn this kid into a robot. When they went back to the drill the next two forehands were dumped into the net. The kid was playing safe and his confidence and free flowing swing were damaged.

I didn’t hang around any longer, I had seen enough. My thinking is that the junior player would do far better if he was encouraged to hit the ball hard and not worry about getting every shot into the court. Playing safe is hardly going to make him a great player. His natural style could win him many points (and matches) but he would have to be prepared to miss the odd shot or two – you can’t have it both ways.

I witnessed something similar on the golf course yesterday while playing with a potential long drive champion. He was swinging safely, trying to get the ball into play. He was struggling badly. When I told him to forget about hitting the fairway and “let it rip” he was a new golfer. He instantly relaxed and returned to his natural hard hitting style.

Sometimes you have to give up control to gain control. It’s a bit paradoxical but it is the only way. You also have to be prepared for a mistake or two.

Mistakes are good, learn from them.

Good golfing,

Cameron Strachan