After spending some fabulous time with so many amazing Super Junior golfers this summer, I thought I’d share some views with all parents who are wondering what the best ways are to encourage your young golfers to be enthusiastic and love the game of golf. The key is to make sure your kids associate FUN to being at a golf course, whether that is hitting tennis balls with oversized plastic golf clubs or spelling their names with golf balls on the grass, the idea of fun should always be encouraged. The moment the kids no longer associate golf with fun, we lose them from the game…
Most kids age 3 to 6 are not ready for traditional golf instruction. Here are some rules that every parent and instructors should apply in a child’s formative years of learning golf.
Make it Fun – “Golf Digest” advocates for a “more-play, less-teaching” approach for parents with young kids. Lessons should be 30 minutes or less and only 10 minutes should be devoted to actual teaching. Be creative with the way you teach. Invent silly competitions. Do whatever you can to associate the game of golf with fun, so your son or daughter will want to be around the game even more and want to become better.
Over the past 8 seasons of teaching our Junior Summer Camps, without a doubt the most common reoccurring question from our Juniors is… “Can I drive the golf cart?…I know how!!, my parents taught me!!” I still laugh every time I hear this and I am by no means condoning kids driving golf carts but this is exactly what we encourage parents to keep doing as your children have begun to associate fun with being at a golf course.
Teaching young children is a privilege and a huge responsibility. The challenge is to cultivate their skills while sustaining their interest and preserving the joy.
Here are some rules that every parent and instructor should apply when teaching their ‘Super Juniors.’ The reward is a happy smile and the knowledge you’ve given them a game they’ll enjoy for a lifetime.
1. Let the child call the shots. We all want our children to learn the game the right way. As golfers, we also have firm notions as to what the “right” way is and tend to teach by rote, as if we were in school. For a young child, this is not the way to go. Your child just wants to have fun. Let them explore the game on their own at the outset. Follow them around and explain the things they’re curious about. The rule of thumb is this: You are there to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.
2. Do more ‘playing’ than teaching. A 3 to 6-year-old’s attention span is excruciatingly short. They don’t really focus until the ball is on the tee, waiting to be struck. With that, as mentioned before the lesson should not last longer than 30 minutes with more than half the time devoted to ‘playing’ and not playing in the golf sense; playing as in drawing faces on your golf gloves or playing catch with a golf ball. Again, the idea is for the child to equate going to the golf course with amusement.
3. Share the joy of a job a well done. Act like a kid again. Simply do what a child does — smile and laugh a lot. I leave nothing in the bag; get into a Velcro suit, and let them throw tennis balls at you…anything to make being with the instructor, and learning how to play golf, more appealing for the child.
4. Communicate on their level. Everything you say should be expressed at the child’s level, and I mean that literally. Don’t stand when you talk; kneel down and look the child in the eye. Watch what you say, and how you say it. Even adults struggle with terminology For example rather than say “wide arc,” I say “big circle.” Children must comprehend an idea before they can execute it.
5. Safety first, last and always. Children tend to act first and think later. In golf, the consequences of a misstep can be dire.
– Keep the child in your line of sight at all times. On the range, the child should occupy the stall in front of you, never the one behind.
– Draw an imaginary line three feet in front of the spot the child is hitting from, and tell the child, emphatically, never to walk in front of it.
– Although my previous remark about kids driving golf carts can be misleading…I want to emphasize that kids don’t drive the cart. They don’t sit alone on the passenger side. They sit right next to you or on your lap.
6. There is no such thing as criticism. In a child’s simplistic world; events are classified as either “fun” or “not fun.” Criticism is not fun. It implies the child did something wrong, as opposed to merely doing something incorrectly. In golf as in life, the path forward is paved with praise. If they hit a good shot, you say, “Good shot.” If they hit a bad shot, you say, “Good swing.” When you detect a flaw, you challenge them to make the correct move without verbally identifying the bad one.
7. Emphasize the short game. It’s rare to see an adult who uses the practice green as much as the practice range. This chronic neglect of chipping and putting is a mistake you don’t want to make with a young child. The rule is this: Never walk past the practice green with a child. Walk on it, and then use it. Heighten the child’s curiosity about this vital part of the game, and then let the child pursue it. This is the place to introduce kids to competition. They love chipping and putting contests. You might consider losing on purpose, though with Bing, my best often isn’t good enough.
Ultimately, the outlook that we want our Super Juniors to have is that golf is fun, pure and simple. They are casually unaware of the game’s frustrations… If it is all a joy to them, then they are learning the game the right way!
Have Fun, Matt Truong