The ripple effect – how golf coaches stir growth in others

Recently, a kind neighbour of mine dropped across some fruit and vegetables she had grown. She is an avid gardener and a fountain of knowledge on all things green. As she passed on some of her beautiful apples, potatoes and rhubarb, she remarked that many of her plants were originally offshoots gifted to her by a long since deceased gardener she used to know in Edinburgh. I remarked that it was amazing to know that her plants had such a rich lineage. She smiled and responded, ‘but that is what gardening is really about, passing on that gift to others’. Her words stuck with me – not just in terms of gardening, but how our small actions can have consequences for growth far beyond what we can understand and expect. 

The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom calls these consequences ‘ripples’. Yalom states: ‘Rippling refers to the fact that each of us creates, often without our conscious intent or knowledge, circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations. That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as the ripples in a pond go on and on.’ So, like the conscientious gardener, our actions ripple out from one person to another – it reminds us that our words and deeds can have implications far beyond what we consciously perceive. Educators, amongst others, understand this idea of ‘ripples’ quite well. They know that if they can create the right conditions for someone to learn and grow in a positive manner, it ‘ripples out’ impacting many others to grow and learn as well. 

Within golf, there is no doubt coaches pride themselves on educating others on the technical side of the game. However, their work extends far beyond imparting swing tips to golfers. One Scottish golf coach recently remarked to me that their focus was, ‘helping players learn more about golf, but also I want to use golf to help people become better learners.’ Golf coaches intuitively get Yalom’s idea of rippling, even if they do not use that term. In particular, they understand how their teaching philosophy is informed by those who have come before them. See the legendary golf coach Butch Harmon speaking on this influence here. Investment in the process of learning rather than simply its outcome has numerous health benefits too. 

Studies also have shown that many golf coaches regularly embrace the rippling effect. Research by David Grecic and Dave Collins, on how the educational beliefs of golf coaches informs their decision making, supports this notion. In this study, one coach states, ‘Everyone‟s learning will be slightly different but it is about creating those self learners, those people that can make the decisions, decide and feel and hit the shots.’ Golf coaches, like many educators, are eager to help the golfer to learn how to learn. Perhaps for any educator, all we can do is gently stir up the waters of learning to create some ripples. It is then up to the golfer, or student, to turn these ripples into their own waves of growth.