According to some golf is in crisis. Some statistics show that participation is greatly reduced and small clubs are closing at an unprecedented rate. They are worried that our sport is on a permanent downward trend.
I am not of that view. Perhaps located in Scotland I am biased. I am surrounded by great courses, great enthusiasm and easy accessibility for those wanting to play our sport.
I think our sport is simply facing the inevitable lull after the boom of the Tiger years. Only recently has our sport become mainstream. Further discussion on this topic merits it’s own blog post.
This article will discuss junior golf and what can be done for juniors to make them passionate about the game and remain lifelong participants. It is important for the game in general. This includes the health and sustainability of golf club memberships.
NORTH AMERICA VERSUS THE UK
Much of my research and inspiration for this article has come from the USA and Canada. They can boast of many nationwide initiatives designed solely around junior golf. These include the First Tee Program, US Kids Golf and many other junior golf academies.
Most interesting to me though as a professional is the difference in attitude to juniors amongst pros in North America. They have a top junior teacher list which is highly competitive. Some pros in the UK see junior golf as an afterthought or at worst an inconvenience.
Yes this is a bit of a generalisation and completely my own interpretation of the situation. Its a collection of thoughts and ideas that perhaps help parents and coaches to have a more productive time with junior golf.
THE PURPOSE OF JUNIOR COACHING
It is obvious to everyone that making it as a tour player is a very tough task indeed. Yet so many sessions are technically orientated, designed to give juniors the perfect swing.
How might these sessions look if none of the juniors wanted to be tour players? (Famously Colin Montgomerie never considered a playing career until completing his university degree!).
If the juniors decided not to be tour players, the focus would switch from being the best player possible. What would they learn instead? How do they benefit:
- The joy of group participation – friendship and teamwork
- The importance of communication – different visual and verbal cues
- Learning the game teaches self-discipline
- To be active and spend hours outdoors
- To learn movement and physical awareness
- A positive attitude for dealing with success and failure
- Teaches problem solving techniques and rewards creativity
A group of juniors learning the game from an enthusiastic and knowledgeable adult can lead to a whole host of physical and mental benefits.
Sport has become a cornerstone of modern society for many reasons. For juniors sport in general can be a chance to shine and utilise skills not normally rewarded in the environment of school and study.
The most popular TED TALK (TED is a non-profit orginasition dedicated to showcasing original and valuable views) with over 31 million views discusses the importance of creativity in learning. Some children possess frantic energy and do not excel in the classroom.
This only means that they do not excel at one type of learning. A reduced attention span in the classroom is very common amongst creative people. Sport can be a fantastic outlet for expression in this instance.
THE SKILLS OF AN ATHLETE
Golf constantly challenges creativity (every shot is different) and enforces a huge level of awareness. Although not as fast a sport as others golf requires serious concentration. In this environment the junior with the greatest spacial awareness, feel and perception and creativity will prevail.
They probably possess a superior ability to visualise the performance. Many elite athletes who experience peak performance recall that everything felt in slow motion or that they were able to think a step ahead.
This peak performance or success at a junior level may hint at a potential professional of the future. It does not matter. What matters is the confidence and belief they gain from the experience in themselves. It will transfer to other situations.
TEACHING STYLES: ADULTS V JUNIORS
As a rookie coach I begun with teaching juniors. It is common practice in golf for rookie’s to be assigned to junior coaching. Generally speaking the more youthful and enthusiastic coach has more patience with juniors. They also have the reduced pressure and expectations of junior lessons. Adult’s do not enjoy failing and expect you to fix them. Juniors do not bring this expectation or pressure to a lesson.
What was interesting for me though as I transitioned into coaching adults was that my rookie junior style teaching worked well with adults too. Adults can comprehend more complex language but golf is not played with language. It is played with imagery, feel and awareness. This applies to both adults and juniors. If you want to help your child or coach your junior group successfully, focus on these areas.