I’ve had a fun few weeks this summer running junior coaching classes at Newburgh, Ellon and Murcar Links Golf Clubs. It’s been fantastic to have all the classes full and to see lots of enthusiasm from the youngsters.
I know many parents and grandparents, especially those who enjoy golf themselves, would like their kids to grow up with golf in their lives. Giving kids a good start into the game will hopefully grab their interest and give them a hobby that they can enjoy throughout their youth and into adult life.
Here are my 10 top tips for helping kids get started.
1. Start small: If your local club has a short game area and/or putting green then that is the best place to start. Putting doesn’t require strength so it can be enjoyed by even the youngest of golfers. There also isn’t the worry of getting the ball in the air. And there is a very clear task – putting the ball into the hole – and a result – holing or missing – to grab their interest. Start with very short putts and work back from there.
2. A few balls and random targets: 3 or 4 balls going to different targets, always moving around – that is the way to develop golf skills. Standing in one spot, hitting the same club to the same target over and over will lead to boredom.
3. Always have a target: Even with the youngest of kids, make sure they have a target. The task is to “hit the ball to the target” not “hit the ball” – a hugely significant distinction. A target is imperative; it gives direction, shape and purpose to the swing; provides crucial feedback from which they can learn; and gives a sense of achievement. There must be something to aim for, both physically and mentally.
4. Learn through playing games: Where possible, use games and tasks to make learning more interesting. Very simple examples would be putting or chipping into a circle of tees. Or N, S, E and W from 2 foot around a cup, can they hole all 4? Let them come up with their own games. Anything that will provide a challenge and stimulate their imagination.
5. Keep instruction to an absolute minimum: As they’re doing these tasks and games, avoid the temptation to show them how to do it. Give them space to figure it out themselves. Simply make sure that they’re focused on performing the task and then let them get on with it. Let them make mistakes. For example, when they’re learning to ride a bike, you wouldn’t tell them how to do it or explain to them what they did wrong when they fell off – you’d simply help them back on and give some encouragement. Do the same with golf!
6. The power of external focus: Encourage a focus on something outside the body i.e. the club, ball or target, NOT on moving body parts in certain ways-internal focus. So, for example, on chip shots, “let the bottom of the wedge brush the grass”. An unhelpful internal focus would be “keep your wrist stiff”. Again, avoid how-to instruction.
7. Let them develop their hand-eye coordination: Why does a kid, or a learning adult, mishit a shot? For the most part, simply because they’re human, new to the game and need space and time to develop their hand eye coordination. That’s all! There doesn't have to be a "technical" explanation every time they mishit a shot. Give them space to make mistakes and learn.
8. Don’t worry about “bad habits”: I hear this a lot from parents but so long as they keep their focus on the target and performing a specific task then they can’t develop bad habits.
9. Get onto a course: As soon as possible venture onto a course. Ideally, a short par-3 course, but otherwise your home course at a quiet time and start off a 100-yards or so away and play in from there. The game will make more sense once they get onto a course.
10. Invest in suitable clubs: Junior clubs are made at a length, weight and grip size to fit specific age groups. You don’t need many; a hybrid/lofted wood, a mid iron (7 iron or so) a lofted iron (a wedge) and putter will be all they need. Your local pro can advise on this.
Overall, the most important aspect is that kids enjoy what they’re doing. If they enjoy it then they’ll stick with it. And the more they get out to play the more skilled they’ll become.
If you’d like to organise lessons for juniors, or would like any help with your own game, then please contact me.