(This article first appeared in the September 2012 edition of Golf Canada Magazine)
"Try starting them off by taking away the highly technical aspects of the game. Allow them to go on the course with skills they already possess. I love playing a hole with our juniors where they kick a soccer ball from the tee box to simulate the drive. Their second shot is a Frisbee, third is rolling a basketball. On the green, I love to get them down on their stomachs with a tennis ball and a backwards golf club acting as a pool cue. This version of the game allows young players to understand scoring, course strategy and how to have fun! Slowly introduce golf clubs as they develop the skills in the practice area." -- Jason Glass, strength and conditioning consultant
"We run a great program here at Banff where we teach under-13 kids for two hours on a Tuesday night, then they play nine holes on a Thursday night. Over-13 kids do the opposite. We found this to work the best for keeping students focused and to have fun with their friends. We follow the CN Future Links program and along with their skills challenges we add our own using some creativity – hitting over rubbish bins, milk crates, den caddies, laundry bins, you name it. We try and use as many different objects to hit to or over or under. We have found this approach to be fun and memorable. People can't remember the chipping lesson they just had but they will remember the night they hit it over the laundry bin. We use this to strengthen the skill and help the student remember success. We try and split our students by age but we also overlap with level of skill so the students keep motivated and they can play with their friends. We also purchased the SNAG system and, no question, all students, young and old, love hitting at our instructors who wear the Velcro suit!" -- Simon Jones, Head Professional, Banff Spring Golf Club
TAKE THEM OUT TO PLAY
"Having kids shakes up life in general, but my husband and I decided right away that we weren't prepared to stop golfing, so we adapted. Car seats fit into golf carts great with the use of bungee cords (of course you have to have permission from the golf course). Our kids had to ride in their car seat in the golf cart until they turned two. "
"At two years old, they got a putter. Then they had to ride in the cart until we got to the green, and if they sat quietly they were allowed to come onto the green and putt. At three years old, they got their first set of clubs and started to hit balls. Once they could get the ball airborne they were allowed to "play". They had to ride quietly in the cart until we came to the 100-yard marker. When they saw the marker it was time to tee it up right there and play in to the green. They would play a hole here, a hole there until they could play nine holes. Once they could make bogeys from 100 yards or almost get their drive onto the green from 100 yards, they moved back to the 150-yard marker. The thing is; they always come with us, so it's become part of our family lifestyle. We can be down at Disney World and when we ask them what they want to do for the day, a lot of times the answer is golf."
"With my students, I love using the CN Future Links program, as well as the Long Term Player Development Guide for kids; it helps me guide my students (and my own kids) through the game of golf and what we need to be working on at what age so there are no unrealistic expectations set." -- Shana Kelly, Kelly's Glen Golf Learning Centre
KEEP IT SOCIAL
"When you're with a child, they don't care about improving their ball flight or their grip or their posture, they want to enjoy themselves. So if you set them up in a group atmosphere, which allows them to create friendships, it also creates a desire to come to the golf course day after day and stimulates their interest. We're talking anyone from five years old to 13, even. When they learn in a group atmosphere, they form friendships and they want to come back to the golf course every day to see their friends."
"I also find that when you get away from the golf swing and focus on aspects that are important to the golf swing, the student wants to be there more. Instead of focusing on the golf swing as a whole, you break it down into certain parts and create activities around it like throwing. So when a student plants their foot and throws, they're rotating their hips. There's a motor skill in the golf swing that the student is learning while having a good time. After that you have to incorporate the golf into it, but getting away from strict golf and into more fun activities. That has the child coming back to the golf course, engages them, and keeps them in the game long term. " -- Alan Hopkins, Associate Golf Professional, The National Golf Club of Canada
"There has to be a social aspect to it, they need to have some friends that they love to hang out with at the golf course and then play the game. There's also got to be improvement because people want to see progress. Age-appropriate coaching is critical in developing that love for the game. So they fall in love with the game but also with their improvement – feeling competent, hitting beautiful shots and making pars and birdies or even in some cases bogeys and doubles, whatever works for them. The coach needs to make it fun. It's critical to make sessions with a coach, whether individual or group, an exciting and positive experience. You can have contests and give away a Coke, or sleeve of golf balls or a hat. " -- Derek Ingram, Head Coach, Team Canada Men's Squad
NURTURE THEIR MOTIVATIONS; AND ALLOW THEM TO GET UPSET
"It is often the most talented kids who leave a sport early. They have had so much success, they end up feeling isolated and leave sport when it becomes like a job. Know why your child plays golf. What drives them? Why do they love it? Once you learn what motivates them, nurture it."
"As your children begin to enter events, they will have bad days and may lose or even place last. This is difficult. In that moment, it is okay for your children to be frustrated or upset. Once they have worked through that emotion, take some time to talk to them about what they can learn or take away and how this will help them be better in the future. " -- Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, sport psychology consultant
TRY ANOTHER SCORING SYSTEM
"In North America, we seem to have a fascination with stroke-play as a preferred scoring system for golf. As most kids getting into the game do, at some point during the round there comes the big hole, or two, where a 9 or a 10, or higher is scored. By having one bad hole, their whole round is penalized, and often to the point of no recovery. I can't think of another sport where the penalty for mistakes can be so devastating. "
"So what's to be done? Well, there are many forms of competitive golf that eliminate the severe penalties of stroke-play. For example, Stableford, which uses a scoring system: one point for a net bogey, two points for a net par, three points for a net birdie, and four points for a net eagle. Shots are assigned per hole based on handicap and hole rating. If you're having a bad hole with no chance of bogey, you can pick up and move on to the next hole. You've just lost one hole, and haven't ruined the whole round. " -- Robert Ratcliffe, Assistant Coach, Team Canada Men's Squad
GOLF IN SCHOOLS
"One thing we've been pushing lately between ourselves and Golf Canada is the Golf in Schools program. I've been volunteering for the last five years and most of my winters are spent teaching kids in elementary schools all over our area. I think if you can get into the schools and get them involved, then you can get them out to the golf course. The biggest thing is to keep it interesting, different and fun. In order to get our kids to come back and play we do tons of fundraising and prizing. Every Wednesday we have a day – it's called a junior jitney and it's a four person scramble – and we get 40 - 50 kids out and give out a few hundred dollars worth of prizes." -- Jonathan Garron, Head Professional, Abercrombie Country Club
LET KIDS BE KIDS
"I think creating a fun and safe environment that kids can express themselves through the sport will keep them in the game. I know making it fun is a cliché but it really does boil down to that. Having too many rules and etiquette sometimes takes the fun out of golf. There should be a structured environment but with room for expression. So when they hit a good shot they can celebrate the way they feel –traditionally that would have been frowned upon." -- Ann Carroll, Assistant Coach, Team Canada Women's Squad
SPEAK TO THEM IN THEIR #LANGUAGE
"One of the biggest issues in retaining kids in the game is ensuring they have fun. A friend of mine, LPGA Professional Sara Dickson has been hash tagging #golfisfun on Twitter for sometime now in the hopes of growing the game amongst our youth. It's also important to be proactive on the various social media outlets and to keep golf in their minds; this seems to be where they're spending a large portion of their time. Recently, I organized a team of professionals from across North America to broadcast a version of our 7 Nights At The Twitter Academy to do just that, and we uploaded our Junior Edition."
"Kids also look up to the youth on tour and want to be like them, like Rickie Fowler, the better they play the bigger role model they will play to our youth and this will help in keeping kids striving to be like their role models." -- Jason Helman, director of instruction, Wyndance Golf Club