Coaching & Clowns in Happy Gilmore

By Alexandria Nunweiler, Business Development Manager

If you’re a fan of Adam Sandler, chances are you’ve seen his classic hockey golf movie, Happy Gilmore. If you haven’t, I sure hope Netflix stocks this one, because my only copy is a used VHS from the since-gone Blockbuster video rental store. Happy, determined to win back his grandmother’s house, unlaces his ice skates and picks up a golf club to enter a local tournament and hopefully win the cash prize. Donned in a Boston Bruins jersey, Happy fights putt-putt clowns and Bob Barker to pull off some of golf’s most amazing tricks. Luckily for Grandma, who is babysat by a creepy version of Ben Stiller in the world’s worst nursing home, Happy wins the tournament and peace is restored.

But how?

The little birdie on Happy’s shoulder is one of L&D’s most talked about subjects: an effective coach.

Chubbs Peterson, a retired one-handed golfer, is the first person to believe that Happy could set his temper aside and learn to golf like a champion.

Realizing talent in others, while not always the easiest thing to do in practice, is one of the key attributes in an effective coach. Studies show that people, by nature, feel the need to succeed at new challenges and engage in interesting activities. In this case, playing golf allowed Happy to try something new and find success in an activity outside of his comfort zone. Fulfilling these internal needs, Chubbs was able to draw out Happy’s existing talent, such as his incredibly powerful line drive, and leverage other coaching techniques to improve Happy’s latent skills in putting.

In an all-too-memorable scene, Happy, on a mini-golf course, putts his way to the most difficult hole. Shaped like a clown’s face with a long tongue leading up to its mouth, this hole is nothing short of a nightmare. Happy attempts to makes the ball into the mouth only to have the clown’s teeth drop over the opening—letting out an infuriating laugh. This happens three times in a row. As Happy hulks out, Chubbs, calmly in the background, reminds Happy that his real foe is Shooter McGavin and not the clown; he needs to improve his putt in order to beat Shooter in the competition. Happy is willing to give it another try and, as he applies the feedback from Chubbs, makes the shot. The clown breaks into the coaching session here and spits the ball back at Happy to which he replies, “You’re gonna die, clown!” (this has nothing to do with coaching, it’s just my favorite part of the movie). Chubbs pulls Happy away from this hole and coaches him to clear his head and create a “happy place” in order to accept the things he cannot control on the golf course and keep the big picture in mind. Later, we see Happy master his putting skills to beat Shooter on the final hole and win back Grandma’s house.

Active coaches, like Chubbs, realize talent and give need-based feedback effectively. They are able to build trust under pressure and in complex situations to shape a more motivational workplace or, in this case, golf course.

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