The Gateway to The Game
Junior Golfers – Basic guidelines for introducing the game to your son or daughter.
Because of our position as “experts” in the field of junior athletic development, we are often asked the question – “what’s the best way to get my child involved in golf?”
Sometimes, although I’m glad to say very rarely, the question stems more from the delusion that a particular child has uncommon expertise in the game and that with just a little coaching and guidance, the path to fame and fortune is inevitable. To these parents, I must admit that I have little expertise to offer. I would mention to them that we should be careful over “early-specialization” as there is a multitude of convincing research projects which highlight the dangers of having our young athletes focused too acutely on unique skill sets at a young age. (3 examples – Link 1 Link 2 Link 3)
As experienced coaches, we know that there are unspoken pressures at work on parents – for instance “will my son or daughter get a scholarship?” “Are they playing enough events?” “Are they improving fast enough?” And we know that there is a culture surrounding junior golf which propagates these questions and feeds on our insecurities as parents (“am I doing enough to help my child succeed?”). But from where we sit, our sagest advice to you is as follows – relax, enjoy watching your child develop at their own pace through sport, and be grateful that at the end of the road your child will love a game they can play (well) with friends and family for life. If we define success as the “things we get” we never get enough, but if we define success as the journey to mastery then we can always get what we earn.
And to be fair, most of the time the question of when and how to get their child into golf is posed from a mother or father who is passionate about the game and who wishes that their child could share that passion – maybe even while playing with them. They really just want their child to be happy and to get some fulfillment from the game that they themselves love.
This post is geared to parents who are considering the pathway for junior golfers and are asking us the following:
1) “How can I ensure that my child enjoys this beautiful game for many decades to come?” Or;
2)“How can I best support my child as they seek out personal excellence within the game of golf in the search of deeper understanding of themselves and ultimately with a goal of making them a better citizen of the world – one who is balanced and who understands the correlation between hard work and achievement?”
Happily, I can attest that the previous questions are what motivate the majority of the parents we work with. All of the coaches within the Golf Performance Coaches team are now parents themselves so, more than ever, we can appreciate where the parents of our athletes are coming from. To these parents, and because you’ve asked, we offer the following guidelines for introducing the game to your son or daughter:
Ages Three to Five
Trust me, we’ve heard it all before. Your son or daughter has an unbelievable swing which is seemingly innate and just begging for some polish. With a few good lessons you are certain that your child may be the top three-year-old golfer in the universe.
Just relax a bit. The fact that Tiger Woods and many other “prodigies” are supposedly swinging by the age of two does not mean that your child is “falling behind” if you enroll them in a multitude of other developmental activities at the expense of golf lessons. At this age, learning to run, ride a bike, play an instrument, and add and subtract are skills that will all help and which will guarantee that your child lives a healthy and balanced childhood.
What you can do
If you do need to bring golf into their lives at this age, try to bring your son or daughter out to a very welcoming facility and enjoy playing little games with them. Let them tell you what they would like to do, and try your best to resist telling them what you think they should do.
No need for coaches or instructors at this point. Your child will be learning all they can handle just by watching their surroundings and spending time with you.
Remember, the winner of events at age seven is unlikely to be playing the game by the time they are a teenager…
Ages Six to Nine
We see some variance in learning styles and learning abilities in this age range, so the guidance for this age group can vary. If your child could be considered as a “young” six or seven year old I would hold off on registering for any organized golf activities for this year. It is important that your child is capable of following rules and guidelines as the rules of the game are critical to safety, enjoyment and playing fairly. Learning golf requires a degree of structure, and too often we see immature kids enrolling before they are ready, and this gives them an unpleasant experience while also detracting from the group as a whole.
What you can do:
At this age, and again assuming you feel they are ready for somewhat structured golf training, you can begin to consider enrolling them in organized activities. Clinics, Camps and semi-private Coaching Sessions are all good ideas and will help the young golfers to experience the game with their peers while learning the fundamentals. We recommend that you avoid much one-on-one instruction at this stage, as it usually does little more than showcase the game as fairly boring and extremely difficult.
Without a doubt, the best option at this stage is to enroll your son or daughter in a registered “PGA Junior League”. This is a brilliant innovation coming to Canada this year in which young players are introduced to the game by actually playing the game. No line-ups of kids on the range beating balls, but rather teams of young players who play age appropriate courses with teammates and chaperones to guide the etiquette and rules. In the leagues we run, we offer a few “seasons” of 5 games and 5 practices, so players get everything they would ever need – from coaching of skills to playing the game with their friends. Please follow this link to get more information, and do not hesitate to contact us for more details about our programs.
Ages Ten to Fourteen
If you are a parent of this age of athlete rest assured you haven’t missed any critical steps. Golf is what we call a “late-maturation” sport, and I must tell you that over my past decade in coaching I’ve noticed that the players who achieve the greatest heights in the game are rarely the ones who were winning at this young age. It’s tempting to imagine that the winner at age thirteen is going to be the winner at age thirty three, but nothing could be further from the truth.
This age is really an ideal age for starting in the game. In terms of “windows of trainability”, this age is critical for developing a combination of mechanical skills and speed development which will be much harder to train in later years.
Players at this stage are often very capable learners who have the capacity to embrace the difficulty of the game with a more mature approach than if they were just young kids. Usually this age group have many other sports or skills to draw from as well, and this enables them to learn from analogy based on the sports they previously excelled in. Also, their experience with other games and sports usually means that they have been coached, and this helps them in their relationships with their new golf coaches.
What you can do
The best options for this age group are varied
The option of Camps and semi-private Coaching Sessions definitely works well at this age. This is also a great age to unite players from an existing sports team together as they get introduced to golf.
Even better options are programs which are fairly comprehensive – in our programs we offer one called “New Competitive Golfer” (NCG) which runs year round and is divided into semesters. The curriculum is designed to simultaneously reinforce the fundamentals of the game while also introducing the players to the joys of competitive golf.
Lastly, this age group have enjoyed participating in our PGA Junior League program which we piloted last summer. With the mixture of camaraderie and gentle competition it was a real hit for athletes coming from other sports who were just developing an appreciation for the joys of the game of golf.
Ages Fifteen to Eighteen
Being introduced to the game in this age group is rare, but it is still relevant to mention this class of players. There are many cases of great athletes in other sports turning their attention to golf in the mid-teens and then finding accelerated development. In fact, not too long ago this was more of the norm. Before the recent era, child prodigies in golf weren’t common and young athletes seemed to turn to golf more as a response to leaving another sport in which they’d been immersed through the formative years for training general athletic skill. At the end of the day, these athletes who move to golf in the later teens have often done much work in their younger years developing skills which will be easily transferable to golf.
What you can do
As athletes from other sports, this age group is ready for structured training sessions and private coaching services. Ideally, they would enroll in year-round comprehensive programming which would expose them to varieties of skills and give them an environment to develop their natural skills in the direction of golf skills. A good strategy is to find a good coach and arrange to meet with them to discuss the best options.
Because the game is so complex and requires a degree of maturity to enjoy, it is sometimes too early, but never too late to introduce your child to it. Learning golf is a fascinating journey and one which shouldn’t be missed – no matter what age you finally decide to begin on the path. You might be surprised at how many skills transfer from other realms. Ultimately, the key is that I can’t think of a better game, and I’ve played most of them, which offers us such a perfect canvas for the type of holistic development in young people that almost any parent would wish for…
Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss further. We will be happy to meet with you to chat about your child’s wishes and to provide more details about the plethora of programs we offer for junior aged players.