While the rest of the country stepped back and shut down in the face of COVID-19, the Gloucestershire Golf Union took the pandemic as an opportunity to grow- and thanks to the strong foundation of the coaching programme and years of dedication and focus, 2020 became its most successful year to date.
The strong community the union has built over the past 114 years, the dedication of the players, and the effort that Dave Hares, Mark Powell, Tom Gillespie, James Tuck, and the rest of the coaching team have always made, saw them all go above and beyond in these exceptional times.
“Everyone else appeared to pull the plug on coaching for the year, but we were adamant to adapt and keep going, and especially at the junior level, a year of coaching makes a massive difference.
“We’ve now got such a jump when next year comes, when everything opens up again, our boys will be a year ahead of everybody else”, the Under 16’s performance coach James Tuck said.
Maintaining motivation and development despite being unable to use the golf courses was key to this continued growth, and in late March, the coaching team gathered on Zoom to try and figure out the best way to keep the programme going.
Through their weekly virtual sessions, the team came up with different ways to keep their junior players engaged, active, and entertained through lockdown.
“We had the Lockdown Lounge that Mark Powell ran, every week he would interview up-and-coming players, and coaches were doing virtual get-togethers with their squads, having quizzes, and doing challenges to keep the players involved,” Dave Hares explained.
The Lockdown Lounge started as a video interview series, primarily interviewing top players over zoom, which were then shared on the Gloucestershire Golf Union’s Facebook page, and these then evolved into a series of blogs on the website about up-and-coming players, exec members, and coaches, to continue providing inspiration and make sure the content was accessible to all.
James Tuck put together daily videos and fitness challenges for the juniors, giving the boys a sense of structure and focus in their at-home routines, a way to keep competing with each other, and to continue honing in on their physical and mental skills.
“We did fitness, trick shots, putting, covering anything we could to get better at golf. We did some mental training too, and they absolutely loved it”, he said.
“Since we did all this work, as soon as lockdown finished, our boys showed massive improvement and performed head and shoulders above everybody else."
Moving the coaching programme online and organizing virtual activities, the dedication of the players was just as important.
James said, “The boys are so committed to the programme, and you can see that through their work in extraordinary circumstances like these.”
The ability to push through during the pandemic is thanks to the structure of coaching, which takes a holistic approach and provides training in technique, nutrition, physical conditioning, and mental resilience, and focuses on developing players as well-rounded individuals to enable the boys to golf at their best.
Under 14’s coach Tom Gillespie works closely with the boys and their parents to introduce them to the competition world, and the potential struggles that come with it.
“Progress is like a bowl of spaghetti, there are no straight lines. So the earlier they can get into a growth mindset and not be afraid to take risks, the better.”
Even though the pandemic and lockdown themselves could have never been anticipated or prepared for, the mental skills and work ethic the coaches have worked to build in the boys have paid off through it.
“If we get the lads mentally strong at an early age, the tougher stuff as they get older becomes easier to cope with,” Tom added.
When the first lockdown ended, the Gloucestershire Golf Union saw four players placing in national and international competitions, and the junior players going from strength to strength.
Mark Powell said, “Gloucestershire has not been set back by COVID, and we’ve stood out by trying to maintain as much consistency as we could for the players.”
That bravery has kept its hold in the GGU community through the recent second lockdown, and the coaching team is ever-confident that they can finish the year on a high note.
Mark added, “We’ve evolved continuously. During the last lockdown, we built the framework for virtual coaching, and the players have figured out the best work methods for them at home. We’re still pushing on, and look forward to working with our new coaching squad next year.”
Dave Hares agreed: “In terms of the performance of our best players, and from a player development point of view, it has been an amazing year.”