Golf = Fun + Benefits
Develop A Love For The Game
In today's fast paced, over booked society, golf is actually the perfect game for kids to play. I know you are thinking "golf takes too long, we could not possibly fit that into our schedule." That is actually not a problem with golf, it's a problem with our modern lifestyles.
Parents are way over booked between their work schedules, their household duties and trying to keep up with their kids schedules. Kids are unfortunately involved in too many activities themselves and all at the same time. I coach junior basketball on the side and I have kids that are playing on 3 other teams simultaneously. Some of them are basketball teams, some are a mix of basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball and futsol. It has made developing my team into strong, skilled basketball players almost impossible.
Golf on the other hand allows both parents and kids to have time. When a round of golf takes either 2 hours for 9 holes or 4-5 hours for 18 holes, kids are allowed to slow down, breath, bond with someone and relax. Parents are either out doing the same with the kids or are able to get a ton of errands wrapped up before they have to turn around and head back up to the course.
The Need To Bond
Slowing down and becoming human again is not the only reason golf is good for kids and parents. There are many benefits which we will discuss in a moment, but just look at what it affords families. Nothing is more precious than seeing a junior walking down the links with their mom, dad or grandparent. It is truly a game for the whole family and allows quality time together without all the hustle and bustle and the interruptions of email, phone calls, texting and video games. Golf is often a level playing field especially when juniors reach the age of 12 and can start to out hit their parents. Aging doesn't get in the way either, because it is quite literally the game of a lifetime. In general, there are no turned ankles, tackles or concussions, so it's unlikely you will have to give it up unless there are other unforseen health issues. Juniors can actually bond more closely with their friends as well than they can when they are running on a field, battling another team or hanging at each other's houses with their faces stuck in video games. Let's look more closely though at what golf can add to a child's life.
An Unbeatable Education
Golf's Benefits For Kids:
- Patience - Golf is a slow paced game. It's quite different from our "want it fast, easy and now" society. Playing a game that takes precision, time and patience waiting on others and playing in turn, teaches kids to learn to wait.
- Honesty - In the end you are your own referee with golf. There is plenty of opportunity to bend the rules when other aren't looking, but kids that due this quickly learn that it's not honerable and it actually doesn't pay off.
- Integrity - Learning to play honors, keep your opponent's score, help your opponent find their ball, assist with rules and such builds a strong character in kids that is hard to learn with team sports.
- Manners - Golf has always been "a gentleman's game." It just naturally demands that you have good manners to be able to play with others. Learning to stay out of other's vision, not step in their line, tend the flag and say thank you when others do it for you helps kids to learn to interact in a polite and respectful way.
- Social Skills - With team sports, kids don't really get much of a chance to interact with their opponents. With golf they have hours on end to spend with their new friends and get to know them.
- Physical Fitness - Don't think golf is a sport? Wrong. Walking the average 18 hole course is close to about 7 miles. Add carrying a heavy bag full of clubs and it's quite the work out. You would not believe the amount of force and exertion that is put out at the moment of impact if I told you. Just look at the PGA and LPGA tour players and their level of fitness training now a days. Junior golf fitness programs are now becoming mainstream as well.
- Mental Focus - To be competing at something for 2-5 hours takes a heck of a lot of focus. When you are the only one on the team, there is a lot of pressure and that demands a strong mind and the ability to not let little distractions (and there are many on the course) get in your way. Junior learn to zone in and stay in the zone for extended periods of time when they play golf.
- Self Control - When kids hit a bad shot in golf they can't simply run across the fairway and tackle their opponent. Again, it is a game of manners and bad language, throwing clubs and other outbursts are not tolerated in tournament play on the links.
- Math Skills - Although you may think it's basic, adding up scores, seeing where they stand in relation to par and keeping track of penalties is good practice for kids and their math skills.
It's Nothing If It's Not Fun!
How To Make It Fun:
- Don't Helicopter - When parents hound their kids an hover over their lessons, practice and play, it only detracts from the fun and growth that golf naturally provides. Parent's don't walk onto the basketball court when their kids are playing so be sure to give them space on the links. It's o.k. to watch of course, but hang way back and stay out of their vision. Just let them know you are out there because you enjoy watching them play so much, but you are not dissecting their every move. If they have a lesson with a trusted professional be sure to allow that professional to do their job. The lesson is for the junior golfer, not for you. Kids listen to instructors and focus way better when they are not worried about or distracted by what their parents are doing or thinking.
- Don't Criticize - Seriously, would you like your kid standing over you yelling at you to keep your head down? Would you like them walking up to you after you get off the course telling you that you made a bad choice in club on one hole or that you were coming over the top again? Who wants that? Leave them alone and let them play.
- Don't Ask Score - Way back when I did my GolfPsych training we were taught that parents should never ask a child's score. Don't base everything on a number. We all have bad days. Rather, ask them how they thought they did. Ask them if they achieved their goals for that day. Ask them what they'd like to improve on next time. Ask them if they had fun, but don't focus on a number.
- Let Them Ask To Play - All too often kids are forced to play golf. They are pressured by over zealous parents that buy them custom fit clubs, fancy bags, expensive clothes, etc. when really they weren't all that interested or weren't interested at all. If they ask to play, take them out. If they ask for lessons, sign them up. Don't force them just because you want them to play. That will backfire and cost you a pretty penny. It's an easy way to get them to hate the game.
- Play Games - Golf is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. It's not about going out and hitting a monotonous bucket of 100 balls. Spice up practice and play with games. Kids like to compete and they love to beat their parents. Throw down a little bet with them or a challenge and see how much more fun they will have.
- Don't Put Them In Over Their Head - If kids are thrown into competition and outmatched it can be demoralizing. Make sure you know what you are signing them up for and have them adequately prepared. If they don't know basic rules, etiquette and scoring golf can be a bad experience. Prep them with practice, rounds and lessons before signing them up to compete.
Juniors are and have always been the future of the game. It's up to parents and instructors to nurture their learning and their love for the game. If you are a junior golfer reading this article you can see the benefits that golf can afford you and those benefits will last a lifetime. If you are a parent or a coach, use the above guide to help your junior golfer not only learn the game in a positive and progressive manner, but also to fall in love with the greatest game ever played.
Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.