Interview with Mark Anderson of The Philadelphia Cricket Club

April 9, 2012

Mark Anderson is a Teaching Professional at The Philadelphia Cricket in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. He is also the Head Golf Coach of the University of Pennsylvania women's golf team. Mark is currently serving as Past President of the Philadelphia Section PGA. He has accomplished much including a Section Bill Strausbaugh award and a Horton Smith award to his name. Mark gives us some great perspective on teaching the game. We hope you enjoy!

I think it’s important for young assistants to hear the perspectives of other professionals. Describe your background in the golf business and how and why you got into it.

I got into the business because of my love for playing the game. I wanted to be a Tour player, so I went to Florida in 1991 to play the Mini-Tours and see how good I was. I made a couple of checks, but not enough to finance another year. I had worked in the bag room at Indiana Country Club in PA my last semester at IUP and became friendly with Dan Braun who was the assistant pro. Dan became the Head Golf Professional in 1992 and asked me to be his 1st assistant. Looking back on this, it was a great example of doing a good job and having it pay off. I could have slacked off on the job seeing that it was my last semester, but I took pride in my job and worked hard cleaning clubs and carts.

What did you do in your early years as a teaching professional to set yourself up for your current success and future success?

I did not get into the business to become a teaching professional, but it was the thing that fascinated me the most about the business. I was always very analytical when it came to the game and read everything I could find about golf instruction when I first started playing. Knowing the golf swing is one thing, but I quickly learned that you had to be very careful when giving that information to a student. With my first few lessons, I told my students everything that was wrong with their golf swings. I felt that if they were paying me to fix their swing then they should learn everything that was wrong with it. After talking to a few teachers, I adopted a simple method of fixing one setup flaw and one swing flaw. It took a great deal of patience to bite my lip and keep it simple, but it really helped with my early lessons.

What are some aspects of your teaching business that if you didn't do them well, it would be detrimental to your business?

It is very important that you really care about your student's improvement. If your student is struggling, it is your job to make sure they understand what they need to do. I have had students that have had difficulty with something and I will give them some extra time to help them make the change. If the lesson runs over into the next one, I will politely explain to my next student that I need a couple of extra minutes to help someone out. We have a 10 minute buffer between lessons and that time is almost always used to give the student a little extra attention if they need it.

I have had 50 minute lessons that have turned into 2 hour lessons (if I didn't have back to back lessons) because the student really needed some extra time. It is very easy to pat someone on the back and send them on their way after the lesson is over, but as an instructor you are part of the team effort that is required for the student to improve. If you have free time between lessons, it is a great idea to see if any of your students are practicing on the range. Stopping by to say hi or giving someone a quick "check up" can really help and shows that you are committed to their improvement.

What are the overarching principles you stand by as a teaching professional and would like other teachers/assistants to stand by?

Very simple - Never stop learning. As I look back on my teaching career, there were times that I thought I had it figured out and that I was pretty good at what I was doing. Every year though, I have continued to learn and have become a better teacher. It is so important to strive to be the BEST that you can be and that won't happen if are not pushing yourself to improve.

In most circumstances, assistant professionals wear all of the hats (tournament operations, merchandising, personnel leadership and management, etc.), some times instruction can get lost in the whirlwind of it all. Considering all of this, how do you think assistant professionals can be better teachers and take steps to really know the craft and teach the game well?

It is very difficult to be good at everything, but teaching is such an important aspect of being a golf professional that you need to devote time to learn. Taking time to watch others teach, reading books and watching videos are great ways to improve as a teacher. Set time every week to watch your Head Professional or a Teaching Professional teach. Take notes and ask them questions after the lesson. You can always learn a different way to fix a swing flaw or a different way to deal with an issue that may arise during a lesson.

If a young apprentice comes to you and says, "I want to be the best teaching professional I can be", what would you tell him/her and how to get there?

Take lessons and learn from the best instructors in your area. Invest some money and travel to attend a seminar or spend time with an excellent instructor. The investment will pay great dividends as you will always pick up something that you can use with your teaching.

Who have been your mentors and what have you learned from them?

The most important mentors in my teaching career have been professionals that I have either taken lessons from or observed teach. I have learned a great deal from watching other pros teach. I was fortunate early in my career to attend a "Teaching the Teacher" seminar at Hank Haney's Ranch. I learned a lot from Hank about the swing plane and how to position yourself to physically move the student to get the club in the correct position. I attended seminars with some very well known teachers and learned something from every instructor. David Leadbetter, Chuck Cook, Rick Smith, Jimmy Ballard, Jim Flick.

Do you have any books you could recommend aspiring teaching professionals to read?

The PGA teaching manual is something that all teachers should to read. I would recommend any book written by a top instructor. It is important to try to understand many different methods of teaching. It will help you develop your own way.

Here are some of my favorite instruction books

Ben Hogan - Hogan's Five Lessons
Alastair Cochran and John Stobbs - The Search for the Perfect Swing
Harvey Penick - Little Red Book
Jack Nicklaus - Golf My Way
Timothy Gallwey - The Inner Game of Golf
Dave Pelz - Short Game Bible

In your experiences as a teaching professional, I'm sure you have seen and worked with your fair share of teaching professionals. What sets the great ones apart from others?

All good teachers teach a method to some degree, but great teachers are able to adapt to what their student is capable of doing and make it work for them. It may be a stronger grip or having them adjust their aim more to the left or right than what is considered normal, but they are able to get them to play better even though it may not be considered "text book".

Can you give assistant professionals any tips towards forming their own teaching philosophy?

The best way to develop your own philosophy is through trial and error. It takes years to become a really good teacher and to develop as an instructor. You should be on the lesson tee watching other teachers teach or teaching students as much as your schedule permits. One of the best things to do as a staff is to teach each other to play lefthanded (if you are all righthanded). It is a great way to understand the frustration that your students may be feeling and to practice your teaching.