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Coaching a Phenomenon – Exciting or Terrifying

SCUK Blogger, Michael Hopkinson, has authored an interested blog we’d like to share with you about coaching athletes at the very top of their game.

To mark the start of the Open, Research Consultant, Michael Hopkinson, looks at talent coaching, the rise of Jordan Spieth and his coach Cameron McCormick:

Around this time last year people outside of golf started to take notice of Jordan Spieth. He’d finished second in his first ever Masters, aged just 20, and American golf writers were struggling to stop themselves comparing him to ‘you-know-who’.

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Fast forward twelve months and everyone knows Jordan Spieth. Two majors in a row and half way through the revered major Grand Slam (or Spieth Slam if you prefer). Now 21 and with the golfing world at his feet, all the talk is of a mouthwatering potential rivalry with the UK’s own world no 1 Rory McIlroy.

But Spieth’s rise to the top has not been as out-of-the-blue as some might believe. Having won the US Amateur Championship twice (joining ‘you-know-who’ as the only multiple winner) he had already logged some impressive finishes on the PGA Tour before his breakthrough win and Masters exploits.

However his coach, Cameron McCormick, knew he was destined for the top long before that. He was gobsmacked when introduced to a then 12 year old boy who told him he had just shot 62 in a recent tournament. One coaching session later McCormick knew he had to tell Spieth’s dad that he wanted to work with him full-time.

But how does a coach feel when they are given the opportunity to work with a potential superstar?

“I was excited and had a little trepidation — what if I go about changing his style and he doesn’t hit it as well? I could destroy this ultra-talent.”

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McCormick spoke to his mentor about how he should approach it:

“His advice was ‘whatever you do, do it confidently and see it through in such a confident manner that you have no doubt that the athlete and the parent will have no doubt.’ With a very special player, it’s a challenge. I needed the reassurance.”

Mentoring and dealing with parents are two topics that come up in our research a lot. Coaches feeling nervous and needing reassurance when they finally get what they’ve been waiting for their whole coaching career, less so.

We’ve all heard about the child prodigies who never go on to fulfil their potential, but it’s interesting to hear a coach talk about it from their point of view, given they are in position to shape the individual’s destiny.

In this case, Spieth made the transition from child prodigy to superstar easy for McCormick:

“He’s developed into a very self-sufficient player. I see Jordan every week he comes home, but he doesn’t require much of an overhaul.”

They also use technology in their coaching sessions, something we’ll be taking a closer look at in our upcoming research:

“Sometimes, he’ll have his caddie shoot video on the range. Sometimes, he’ll email me a video.”

And of course, given his age, there was a need for McCormick to coach patiently while Spieth developed from boy to man:

“We had to be patient and wait for him to grow into that size. I said, “Jordan, here’s what I want you to do, but this will be a whole lot easier if in doing this, you’re strong enough to support what I’m asking you do to.’ He got involved in physical training and became a big, strong, strapping kid. He hit it farther and could control it better.”

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Now, as Spieth himself put it after last month’s US Open win, they have the “winning formula.” Within twelve months it’s all come together and the next stop for Spieth (and me) is the Open Championship at the home of golf, St Andrews.

Needless to say we’re both excited, and the man himself can’t wait:

“I remember walking around the clubhouse, it’s one of my favourite places in the world.”

I for one won’t be betting against a third major of the year.

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