Thursday, February 10, 2011

Educator verses Instructor: How to Get Children Involved in Golf Early On

A few weeks ago I went to the PGA show in Orlando. It was a wonderful experience and I got to see and catch up with so many of you face to face. I was sent to cover SNAG (Starting New at Golf) and the conversation quickly turned to something I believe we’re all concerned about in the industry: how to get and keep children involved and interested in the game of golf.

So many children are dropping out of the game. Numbers are on the fall and most programs don’t even have children beginning to come to the sport until seven years old. I see this as a big flaw. I know from my own experience with Kate Tempesta’s Urban Golf Academy that four, five and six are key years in golf development. Let me explain.

Most sports programs offer classes and instruction for children four and up. Four, five, and six are incredibly pivotal and formative years in a child’s development cycle and I believe golf is missing out on an incredible opportunity to capture the attention of youth. If a child comes to the game of soccer at four, by seven they are already a seasoned pro, and love the sport as their own.

It has always been my goal to create a program that was not only child-centric, but early child centric. This means that while golf is the lesson, it is not always the focus. Again, let me explain.

Teaching children sports is about so much more than being skilled in the arena ourselves. This is one of the things I focused on at the PGA shows. In order to be a great golf instructor, you must be a great golf educator. Education is about understanding development levels, the way a child’s brain works at four, or five, or eight. It is about getting on their level and transforming a sport into a playground---putting everything, from the rules of the game to the way you hold your club, into child context.

For instance I was teaching my five year olds trajectory the other day but I didn’t use that word. We played a game called “Over the Alligator,” where they chipped the ball over, you guessed it, an alligator. Bonus if the alligator might swallow a missed ball!

I teach all the traditional concepts of golf but in a way they understand, and have fun with. The name of the game is fun. When there is joy in what children are doing, they put themselves into it, and the results are outstanding.

As sports professionals we often talk about “being in the zone.” That magic place where we’re synced up--mind and body--and things just work. For children, that zone is play. It’s fun. When children experience joy they perform better, and learn more. And when they have fun and learn more, they enjoy their experience…and want to stick with golf for years to come.

The goal of my program is not to make mini golf pros. My goal is to get children, from an early age, thinking about and loving a sport I believe in. A sport that teaches so many life skills right alongside athletic ones.

I’ve always said I think golf is the paradigm sport, one that exists at the fulcrum of the mind-body connection. It is my greatest joy to offer this game up to children, and to create opportunities for newcomers to fall in love with the game for years to come.

One thing I want to stress to you, my fellow professionals, is that teaching golf is about understanding our children—how they think, what makes them happy, and where they are at in any given moment. I would encourage you all to approach your teaching in terms of an education, taking the sport you love and transcribing it into terms children will understand, and respond to.

I’ve listed two links for reading resources that have greatly helped me in my own educational development. I hope they will provide some insight to you, as well.

Have a wonderful week and PLAY golf,