As junior golf programs continue to flourish around the country, the question continues to be, what captures a child’s attention and keeps them captivated with the game? Stacks and stacks of research have shown the following simple clues to the heart of every child:
- Make it fun to learn and practice;
- Create something that kids can do together;
- Provide a rewards system of advancement.
In the old days, both adults and juniors would take private lessons from the local club or range pro. For kids especially, that meant the instructor had to make it fun and interesting. Private lessons meant that the child was alone with the teacher (c’mon, how many of us enjoyed being stuck with a teacher for even a few minutes, let alone for a half hour or an hour!). Any ‘rewards’ came through self-discovery: a well struck shot, the first time on a hole, then a golf course, the first par or birdie. Yet, many potential junior golfers never got to that point because of a lack of interest in a game ‘played by old guys in funny clothes.’
More and more, thriving junior programs focus on supervised coaching and practice programs. Instructors have gone through training curricula (two of the best are the U.S. Kids Golf Certified Instructor program and the Titleist Performance Institute Junior Coaching certification) whereby they learn how to create a fun learning environment through skills development games and competitions. Private lessons complement the instruction, using one-on-one time to focus on specific topics that need development. Even advanced junior academies practice in this manner. Practice sessions are filled with challenging and rewarding situations that juniors learn to maneuver and overcome in order to move on to the next phase. The instructors are there to teach and coach the kids through the various drills.
Sounds like a video game, doesn’t it? And that is exactly the point. In this day and age of the latest Xbox/PS4/iPhone/Samsung offerings, children are inherently looking for stimulation and gratification in the activities they choose to follow. Recent studies into various forms of ADD, or ADHD, for instance, suggest that some children who have been diagnosed with these ‘disorders’ may simply have not found something that interests them yet.
As an example, instructors endlessly emphasize the importance of short game development, and yet, it is ridiculously boring to practice. Through supervised practices, the kids have learned that short game practice is actually a lot of fun. A putting game that I introduced to the juniors in one of my programs was supposed to take around 15-20 minutes to do, simply to help them work on 2-to-5 foot putts. The kids loved it so much that we ended up spending the entire two-hour session playing this one game. Not one of the fourteen kids involved asked about hitting balls, drivers, or doing anything else. For the next class, they all wanted to play the same game again.
As a group, the children develop friendships and a competitive camaraderie that they have traditionally found in team sports, such as baseball, soccer, and football, and even individual sports like tennis. Supervised practice and coaching programs, like the ones here at Harbor Links, also provide an opportunity for kids to bring their friends along so that they can learn and play together, something that was not encouraged in the old days of golf instruction.
Martial arts dojos have been successful in part because of the belt system that shows both kids and parents their level of development and advancement. The U.S. Kids Golf program, and the Titleist Performance Institute junior program, substitute belts with colored hats that signify the level of progress the junior golfer – of ALL levels of experience – has achieved. This form of advancement was, in the past, usually limited to the high level, tournament tested junior golfer. In today’s modern era of junior golf programs, the beginner through intermediate and casual junior is more than welcomed into the process.
If you want your child to truly embrace and enjoy this game that we all love to play and teach, do some research and check into the local programs in your area. When you find something that fits those three simple keys, go ahead and give it a try!