Coaching the individual athlete

By: Jim Linsdau Placer Herald/News Messenger Sports Editor
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There are a number of sports where the athlete performs as an individual but is a member of a team as well. Some of those are cross country running, track and field, wrestling, swimming and golf. These sports are intriguing since they require the coach to serve both as a personal trainer and team coordinator as well. I began to think about this last week while covering the Del Oro vs. Rocklin golf match at Turkey Creek Golf Club. I had a long talk with Thunder head coach Tim Hurrianko as to techniques he used to both help his players as individuals and position them so as to promote team success. He confessed it wasn’t easy, but with the years of experience he’s had as a coach he’s learned a few tricks. “Golf is such an odd sport for (preparation),” Hurrianko said. “It’s not like you can do extra drills like in other sports. It’s such a mental game just trying to get them to relax and focus on what they are doing.” In fact, much of the actual golf fundamentals the players get comes from professional golf instructors. In some cases, players might even get personal training to help them improve both their swings and their mental approach to the game. He said one of the advantages to coaching golfers is they are individualistic by nature. He said for that reason they often excel in the classroom but don’t always have that “team” concept athletes in other sports have. Hurrianko said the circumstance of six individuals playing as a team can manifest itself in bizarre ways. Behavior he didn’t see when he coached sports like basketball and volleyball. “This is the only sport where (the players) get done and they say, ‘OK, coach, I’m out of here,’” Hurrianko said. “And I say, “Wait a second, the team’s not done.’” Golf requires a great deal of maturity to conquer it. It requires precision on every shot. And one can’t follow a bad shot with a makeup shot as can be done in basketball. In fact, if that next shot is as bad as the first the player is in big trouble. That often leads to frustration and that can be overwhelming for a teenager. In fact, to the point some have resorted to behavior on the course unbecoming to the game, and sportsmanship. That is probably the most difficult thing for a coach to overcome. Hurrianko said there is no official on the golf course to see to it all players play by the rules. It’s a “gentleman’s” game in which the players not only have to police themselves, but others as well. Some of the younger players don’t always understand the rules as they should and it’s up to the more experienced players to correct them – on the course. “You’ve got to address it but they don’t want to do it,” said Hurrianko. “Calling your buddy on a penalty or a score is really hard for these guys to do because that takes a mature level some of them don’t have yet.” Although failure to respond to an infraction might not affect one’s individual standing, it could mean the difference between advancing as a team and having to go it alone.