The title sounds like a description that could apply to any walk of life, from a cricket team to a successful business. The last few years of coaching and learning has been a subtle revelation for me as a High Performance coach. At first hand I’ve witnessed the power and influence an athlete’s surroundings play on their progress. Initially, I was only marginally aware of how the most successful young players like Rory McIlroy would play practice rounds with Clarke and Westwood, but the more I began to immerse myself in elite sport, the more examples I saw of the best performers (and their coaches) skilfully engineering their environments to enhance their learning. And it’s a design feature I very much use to inspire and educate my students.

Just as Michael Hoey has taken time to share with Chris Selfridge, Chris has then given up his time to attend Xmas sessions where the younger generation can pick his brain, watch him hit shots and be inspired by his trophies.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago JFGA student Niall Turner (one of Irish golf’s current success stories) spent a day with the NUIM squad during winter training in Portugal which proved to be immensely beneficial to the students. The feedback afterwards was excellent in terms of being extra motivated as they realised Niall had overcome difficulties and prospered in the face of adversity. ‘If he can do it, so can I!’.

You'll get as far as your chosen surroundingsThere is a real value in this ‘sharing’ and it was again so powerfully evident when I got the chance to spend some time with Kevin Phelan and Mark McCumber recently in Jacksonville, FL. It was fascinating for me to watch an entirely non technical element of coaching, one that I hadn’t really seen before – the role of a previously successful player guide and ‘mentor’ another one at the beginning of his own journey.

As the three of us chatted, I became very aware of how much of Mark’s experience in Ryder Cups and Majors was so precious in helping Kevin make sense and understand the situations he finds himself in as he moves through pro golf.

You'll get as far as your chosen surroundingsI read once a coach is an ‘environmentalist’. Initially, I had no clue what that meant. I thought a coach ‘fixed problems’ or ‘dispensed relevant information’, but now I realise an important part of any coaching role is to design the conditions for the learning to happen and the talent to thrive.

I’ve watched it bloom before my very eyes with all the top juniors at our academy, and all the time I’ve restricted what I first thought ‘traditional’ coaching was. Of course, I understand the need for constant education and accumulated technical knowledge. But it has proven itself over the last few years how important the surroundings of any athlete are ie. family, role models, training partners, where they live, schools etc.

Now, it’s always a judgement call, but I’m acquiring the wisdom slowly of what I can and can’t affect in regard to these external factors, but Chris and I always try our upmost to expose the students to those who are the best influences. That can be Tour pros, other coaches, psychologists, supportive parents, strength & conditioning experts….anyone who sets a good example and positively influences the situation.

You'll get as far as your chosen surroundingsSo, if you’re a coach looking for some new ideas, consider bringing someone in to chat to your students, just to be around them and leave a lasting memory. The better the person, the bigger the impact. Or even, spend some time around other ambitious coaches.

I can honestly say a lot of my most valuable lessons haven’t come from CPDs or books, but in conversations with other more experienced teachers. And if you’re an aspiring player, take a look at the people who you spend most time with and ask yourself ‘how do they shape my life?’ Or look at your role models and ask ‘why do I look up to them?’ The answers may surprise you. Are you surrounding yourself with negative or positive values?

Our feelings at the JFGA are that the student is like a small acorn when they arrive – loaded with potential but with much growing ahead. It’s exciting. Our environment is the soil in which the seed is planted. We will provide the necessary conditions to thrive and grow, both from outside and inside our academy.

Light, nourishment and water are all available. Rough weather is also occasionally desirable to strengthen the growing oak and prepare it for storms ahead. The rest is up to nature and the student’s journey. No matter how hard the parents and ourselves try, we can’t make the acorn grow any faster than it wants to. All we can do is provide the correct environment, be patient and see how it responds and how tall the oak wishes to become…

Thanks for reading and check out our next blog coming soon.


Content originally posted by Johnny Foster Golf Academy in

About Johnny Foster: As a player and now a coach, Johnny have learned many important lessons about what it takes to succeed and find contentment in doing something you truly enjoy.


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