The most important goal for parents introducing their kids to junior golf is to instill a love of the game that will last through their adult lives. Research has shown that most kids in a competitive sport leave it by the age of 13. This is primarily due to taking the sport too seriously early on, over-specializing and getting too technical. It is critical to keep it simple and fun when first starting out.
If kids ultimately want to play increasingly competitive tournaments and perhaps even college golf, they have plenty of time into their teens to take the sport more seriously. This article is focused on the young junior golfer just starting out and not the teenager trying to place in national tournaments and getting ready for college golf.
Why and When Does Your Junior Need an Instructor?
For a child younger than approx. 5 or 6 years old you should focus on making golf fun as opposed to providing instruction. Providing the minimum amount of instruction while still ensuring a somewhat sound mechanical action is ideal. It is easy for parents to become overly obsessed with mechanics at an early age, do not fall into this trap! We have witnessed far too many juniors with promising golf careers crying on the course and falling out of love with the game by the time they are 10 years old.
For very young kids just starting out, fun is usually playing mini golf, riding in the cart, whacking a ball around without necessarily keeping score, taking 10 shots out the bunker, and yes, even buying a snack and a drink. Just as important as learning the mechanics of the golf swing is learning the principles of the game of golf including the rules and etiquette. The beauty of the game of golf is that it is a game of honor, integrity, responsibility, sportsmanship and respect for the course and others - all core values that permeate through everyday life and thus are great values for a junior to learn at a young age.
Once kids reach the age of approx. 5 or 6 years old you can consider seeking out a qualified teaching professional. Note that this is not the "best age" but rather the minimum age for professional instruction. In fact, most kids will only start with instruction much later on and even into their early teens. It is important to provide the right equipment to junior golfers as clubs that are too long or too heavy can result in poor mechanics through a bad (flat) swing plane and being off balance.
When your child is ready to start formal instruction you can start looking for a good junior program and/or a good junior coach. It is important to remember that children require different teaching techniques as compared to adults. U.S.Kids Golf helps train golf instructors to become a qualified junior instructor and has a link on their website to qualified junior instructors in your area. Be aware that this is a not a complete list of good junior instructors but is a good starting point. Word of mouth and asking other junior golfers and their parents about their experience with their golf instructors in your area is also a great way to find a good junior golf coach. Another excellent resource is the PGA website (see below).
The following are some of the most important aspects on selecting a good instructor for your junior. Not all of these are required and it is up to parents to decide which of these are most important in selection a junior golf instructor.
- Good interpersonal skills with juniors. Do they coach other juniors who respect them and have fun learning? Ask if you can visit to watch a junior golf lesson or junior golf academy and observe the instructor's interaction with juniors. Have your junior meet the potential coach to see if they "click".
- Communication. The ability to communicate with juniors and also parents is critical. Does the instructor talk to juniors on the same "level" - in the way they explain concepts, the use of easily understandable terms vs. overly technical terms, even getting down to the same physical level (e.g. kneeling down on the putting green) as young juniors. What are their preferred methods, tools and frequency of communication with parents?
- Technical knowledge and tools. Is the instructor a qualified PGA professional, do they have club fitting knowledge, do they have and use trackman, video or other tools, do they have knowledge of junior equipment, junior tournaments, how do they measure skills progression, do they use tournament results and statistics like "strokes gained" etc.?
Opt For A Certified PGA or LPGA Professional Instructor
If your child is passionate about pursuing golf, in the long run, it is highly recommended that you select a certified PGA or LPGA instructor. These individuals have received extensive training and generally have a lot of teaching experience. A certified instructor will provide your child a solid technical foundation that will benefit them in the future.
Follow The Happy Children
A great junior golf instructor is likely to be surrounded by a bunch of happy children. Many certified instructors have worked hard to develop a learning environment that will cater to the needs of each child and have sizable junior academies as well as coaching children individually. Throughout the years, many instructors have earned a reputable name and have developed a sizable following based on their popularity and have been able to create a safe and fun environment for kids to learn.
Ask For Recommendation
There are many similarities in the nuances of finding a good tutor, doctor and a good golf coach. In the same way as you would ask for recommendations if you were looking for a tutor or a new doctor, so should you ask around for recommendations on a good golf instructor.
Fellow parents will be able to provide you with detailed feedback on how much their child has improved under the guidance of an instructor or junior program. If you have the parent’s permission, talk to the child and pay attention to their feedback as well. Children are often surprisingly more honest than adults and will thus provide valuable insight of how experienced the instructor is and how they relate to kids.
Observe the Learning Environment
Take the time out to observe the instructor's performance to get an idea of the quality of their teaching. Ask for permission since you don't want to be caught sneaking up on someone. Observing how your child's potential instructor behaves around children is especially important if your child is very young as many golf instructors do not deal with younger children on a day to day basis.
Young children are influenced easily, so it's best you choose someone who will be a good role model for your child. The instructor needs to be able to engage with young children who typically have shorter spans of attention, or else your child is likely to become bored very quickly. If the golf instructor is habitual of cheering the tiniest of milestones achieved by his students, this is a good indicator of being able to relate to young kids.
Pay Attention To Chemistry
The coach/student chemistry often proves to be more important than the instructor's technical skills. If your child fails to enjoy his or her golf lessons, you will be wasting your time and money. It is critical that the instructor be able to relate to your junior and can communicate and inspire them.
Communication Is The Key To Success
How do you explain arithmetic sums to your kid? You break the equation into small parts so that your kid can comprehend the ‘big numbers.' Like math, golf is full of difficult terms and technicalities in which your kid probably isn't that interested. Choose an instructor that is capable of communicating with your child on their level with easily understandable terminology and is comfortable around kids.
It's the instructor's job to get creative and explain what ‘swing plane’ or ‘balanced finish’ are. Bombarding a young child with too many technical terms will bore them quickly and may cause them to lose interest. An instructor who likes kids and can relate to them is essential.
Pay attention to areas that your child needs improvement in. If you're a golfer and regularly take your child out for practice and watch or caddie for them in tournaments, you will be in the best position to determine what parts of the game they need to improve on. For more experienced juniors you may want to consider specialty instruction on areas such as short game and putting. There are a number of tools available for tracking an analyzing a golf game that can assist in the assessment of areas to focus on.
Basic tracking such as fairways hit, greens in regulation (GIR) and number of putts will assist your child's coach in focusing on the right areas to improve. For more advanced analysis, an excellent free tool is myRoundPro by Taylormade. Get Real Golf Stats (GRGS) offers a good basic free tool with paid options. Shot by Shot is another great tool and offers strokes gained analysis but only has a paid option. A number of golf apps offer both GPS functionality and also analysis ranging from basic to advanced options.
Taylormade have partnered with Samsung to offer free software on Samsung's wearable devices including the Samsung Gear S3 and Gear Fit2 Pro. In addition to GPS yardages, the device and software can provide a summary of key statistics immediately after the round’s completion.
These are just a few instructions you should keep in mind in choosing a golf instructor for your child. Good luck and let us know your thoughts!