When my wife and I made the decision to have a child, we knew that there would be things we wouldn’t agree on. But one thing we could both agree on was that our child wouldn’t play football. As I’ve written about previously, the recent controversies in several major sports have lead parents to gravitate toward sports with less physical contact and danger of head injuries – sports like golf. Of course, I never doubted my children would play golf. My first son is now five years old, and there have been plenty of afternoons spent on the golf range and at courses. I recently thought I should take the time to document some important ideas to keep in mind when it comes to teaching very young players – 3 to 6 years old – how to play golf.
- “Get the sillies out”
At the start of any lesson with either a group or a single young child, realize that they are going to have a ton of energy. It’s tough to listen to someone who wants to show them the proper grip when they can’t sit still and are in constant motion. I’ve found it’s extremely helpful at the start of a lesson with a young child to provide them with an outlet for some of that pent-up energy. For example, you might take a minute to have them do some jumping jacks, a couple of push-ups, or even a short sprint.
- Emphasize safety and model golf etiquette
Whenever you coach young players, you’re going to have accept that they’re going to break golf etiquette. In fact, it’s probably going to happen often. They’re almost certainly going to run on the green and be loud around other golfers. Realize that golf has an entire set of different (often unspoken) rules that a child is going to be unfamiliar with. Rather than spend a great deal of time explaining these rules, simply model them and point out how other golfers are behaving.
Safety should also be modeled throughout the lesson. A four-year-old has no concept of the kind of danger they’re in if they run into the golf range to grab a tee or a mis-hit ball. If you spend all of the child’s attention span on etiquette, they’re not going to be able to prioritize which rules are truly important. That’s why it’s best to put safety first and etiquette second.
- Chunk your lesson into 5-8 minute intervals
Kids have short attention spans. Keep it moving!
- Emphasize the process and use specific praise when appropriate.
Very few three-year-olds are going to hit the ball like Tiger in those famous home videos. There will be a lot of missed balls and chewed-up turf. It’s not uncommon for teachers (and parents) to heap praise on a child no matter how badly they’re performing. “Great job, little Conner! Keep up it up!” Research has shown that this type of general, undeserved praise can actually be detrimental to a child’s development. Children as young as three can sense when they are being patronized. Instead, focus on what the child is doing right and offer specific praise. This in turn lays the groundwork for developing the child’s internal motivation.
Remember the fun!
Golf requires a great deal of fine motor skills, and young children develop those abilities at different rates. For some kids, it might take a couple years until they can effectively swing a golf club. That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun on a golf course. Whether they take up golf seriously later in life may depend on memories and impressions they form in their early years. The worst thing you can do is place negative memories of golf in a child’s mind. One day they’ll grow up and they may only associate golf with being repeatedly corrected and shushed. When I first brought my son to a golf course, all he wanted to do was chase down the balls I putted on the practice green and bring them back to me. If that’s fun for him, why would I stop him if it helps create positive memories of being on the golf course?
Teaching young kids how to play golf is really a lot of fun. They don’t have all the hang-ups grown-ups have, none of the bad habits, and they don’t mind making mistakes. As a golf teacher or coach, you get to emphasize the positive aspects of golf. It may help even remind you why you love the game so much.
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