Why being a coach is a rewarding experience
Coaches play an important role in building a healthier community. At Georgian, they help our varsity athletes stay in shape and at the top of their respective games. Ontario Coaches Week takes place April 9 to 17 this year and we asked Greg Hickey, coach of the men’s and women’s golf teams, about the upcoming season.
How long have you been coaching at Georgian?
I’ve coached both golf teams for five years.
Are there assistant coaches who also help?
We’ve had many assistant coaches. They make a huge difference and they’re important to our overall success. In 2016, my assistant Esmond Clouthier played a significant role and was virtually head coach of the women’s team. He guided the athletes on and around the course for each event and they ultimately won a national championship.
How did you get into coaching?
As a professional athlete in both hockey and golf, coaching has always been something I’ve thought about. As a Canadian golf professional for over 30 years, I thought it was a way I could give back. Georgian has an Honours Bachelor of Business Administration (Golf Management) degree that prepares graduates to become Professional Golf Association (PGA) or Canada golf professional and I felt this would be a good professional development opportunity. I also felt I could give students some insight as well as help develop their golf game.
How early do you start practising with the team?
Due to the nature of the college golf season, the players begin the second day they’re back in school in September. We hope they’ve practised and prepared throughout the summer. Since I also run a golf course, I allow the players who make the first cut the opportunity to work on their game at my course. Competition begins right away, so we work with the skills they have, concentrating on fundamentals and course management.
Who do you consider your main competition this year?
The golf course itself is always the main competition followed by each individual self. Sometimes we beat ourselves first. The Ontario college team we love to beat has always been Humber. However, they’re also the team we get along with the best on the road! It makes for great sportsmanship.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a coach?
For me, it’s knowing the students on my teams respect each other and that we’re there for each other, win or lose. I also want us to learn lessons together and become the best teammates we can be. It’s simple: we win and lose together, but we all know winning together is the icing on the cake!
What’s the hardest part?
Witnessing the disappointment on a player’s face after a difficult round.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from your team? I’ve been at this for so many years that there’s not just one lesson learned. There will be success as well as failure, but knowing you get to play and be part of a team will only expand your family (and there’s nothing better in this life than family). The bigger the better! So enjoy your teammates and do everything you can – not only to be the best you can be but to help everyone around you be their best.
Do you think styles differ between coaching an individual sport like golf versus a team sport like basketball?
You prepare a team by setting a system – both defensive and offensive. In golf, certainly at this level, players like to be aggressive (offence) and rarely defensive. Players must remember that the golf course is their opponent – not the other players. As a coach, I lay out a plan depending on the golf course, then break it down by each hole. This will change depending on weather conditions. Preparing for Mother Nature is almost impossible – one major reason golf is unique.
What values do you set for yourself as a coach?
Basically, just to work hard, work together and promote individual excellence. Be honest and play by the rules. Let the players understand the value of sportsmanship.
How do you know you’re doing an effective job as a coach?
If I can see the athlete is more confident and their golf is improving. When they enjoy their team members and when the team stays responsible to each other.
What do you enjoy most about working as part of a team?
Coaching a team early in the school term makes this role enjoyable since the students are very keen to be part of college life, and the pressures of academics hasn’t overtaken their joy to compete, socialize and study. It’s always a new beginning. To see the veteran players take the first year students under their wings and guide them along through their tournaments and studies is very rewarding.
How important is winning to you?
It’s very important but not as important as giving it all you have. A desire to win will always keep the drive to be better alive. We all learn about life when we win or lose. Knowing we will experience both will teach us many different lessons. So “play hard and study harder.” Life is always better on a golf course.
What would you like to achieve by the end of this season?
I always want to see that each player is a better person for having participated on the team, and that their friendships have developed to the point I know that many will be friends for life.
What are some of your favourite memories coaching at Georgian?
My favourite memories are all about our travels together – from Vancouver Island to the prairies, to Quebec and as far as PEI where our women won the national championship in 2016. Another one is from 2017 when our men’s team, after a miserable day on the course, were required to sing karaoke! No one was left out – even the shy ones. They had such a fun time that they all sang a song to their coach as a group! See, even having fun on a bad day can be a great day as long as you’re with your teammates.
Do you keep in touch with any former athletes?
I do — mostly with those pursuing a golf career but also with many still in school or who have moved on to working in other industries. I’ve hired numerous players to help me out at my Braestone Club as well.
What do you do outside coaching? I love golf, travel and watching the NFL!
Who do you consider the most exciting golfer today?
There are so many I enjoy, but no one player in particular. I believe the golf courses these great players are playing today are the major stars. I also think the upcoming Masters and British Open are the stars (he laughs).
Speaking of the Masters, who is your pick to win this year?
Dustin Johnson or Kevin Kisner.
How do you think changes in equipment have impacted the game over the years?
I think golf balls have been designed to go both straighter and longer – this has caused golf courses to become shorter. I don’t think redesigning a golf course should be required to adapt to the golf balls and equipment. It should be the other way around. The fitting and video equipment is now state of the art and helps improve the game of each player. It also helps them understand their swing better.
Manufacturers have made the game far too expensive for the average person and I think we need to dial back some of the technology for the time being. The game will never grow if it’s out of reach for our children – and ourselves. It’s such a great game with a long tradition.
Do you think we’ll ever see another Canadian win the Masters? Why not?
We’ve seen it once. I think it will happen in the next decade. Golf Canada has as great a national program as any other country. It could happen this year with Adam Hadwin or Mackenzie Hughes.
Any golf courses on your bucket play list?
My dream courses to play would be Pebble Beach and Augusta National. Funny story: I did have the opportunity to play Augusta in the early 80s at the tail end of my hockey career and had to turn it down. A fan in Roanoke, Virginia, had a membership and invited me to play with his family. Unfortunately, being a newlywed and with my golf career just beginning, I had to make a choice – head back to Ontario or go play Augusta. I only had enough money to get home, so guess what I did? Life is like that. Sometimes choices are difficult. I’m still with my wife after all these years so I know I made the right choice.