Learning to play golf can be something that can stay with children for a lifetime. There are so many reasons for children to learn golf, in my opinion, these include:
• Making new friends
• Developing social skills
• Working towards goals
• Increasing confidence
• Teaches respect, sportsmanship and etiquette
• A game they can play for life
Children are best introduced to golf informally, starting from the green back to the tee; their first time hitting a golf ball needs to be fun. The weather should be warm and sessions should be short as to not outlast their attention span; 10 minutes on the putting green is plenty. No scores need to be kept, the child just wants to get used to the environment and "have a go". Try and make a game out of everything, this adds to the enjoyment element and gets them associate golf with having fun. With regards to instruction, very young children learn better by copying, let them copy you, the less instruction you can give the better. One thing I would say is to spend most of the time around the cup, putting, chipping and bunkers are a great place to start as they form the foundation for the rest of the game. I would also try and practise in ways that create pressure, even from a very early age; little competitions like nearest to the pin are ideal for this.
To start with just a 7 iron and a putter are required; the other clubs can come later. The best piece of advice regarding equipment is to get it fitted to the child by a PGA Professional and not someone who works in a sports store. Clubs that are too long or short will severely hamper development, as will cut down adult clubs. Adult clubs that have been cut to size will be too heavy in the head and will make swinging in the proper manner difficult. Also, paying attention to the loft and the lie of the golf club as well as the grip size is important at this early stage. Junior clubs are relatively inexpensive (around £10-15 per club fitted), please take a look at our junior equipment page or custom fitting for more information. It is advisable at this early stage to not get a full set of clubs, junior golfers can grow so fast that the clubs may need adjusting or changing every 6-12 months, depending on the child.
Where do lessons fit into all of this? Many people are under the impression that juniors need to have lessons from the very beginning. "Learn the basics before any bad habits are ingrained" is a phrase I hear quite a lot. While there is no doubt that good basics and good technique will form a solid foundation for the future, it shouldn’t be at the expanse of having fun. If a 4 year old wants to hit balls cross handed and is hitting them well then I’d leave them alone, they don’t have to be perfect right away. All children are different; some 4 year olds will take technical instruction, for some it’s too soon, you really have to go on the individual. I've seen plenty of cases where over coaching in technique at a young age can ruin a child’s development, over technical coaching can rob a child of their natural athleticism and can make the game more work than fun. From experience, very young children develop at different rates. In my opinion, children need to be exposed to as many sports as possible at a young age, they need to learn to run, jump, catch, basically to become physically literate. It is only when children become physically literate that they are able to be taught "correctly". Many parents are under the impression that putting a golf club in the hand of a 3 year old and exposing them only to golf is the way to raise a champion. In my opinion this would be very damaging to the child and any spark of natural talent that is shown would be quickly extinguished and the child would experience "burn out" before they even get started. Stories about the golfing upbringing of players such as tiger woods become the model for parents, when really these are exceptions to the rule.
For young children, lessons are best done in groups. This way the children can interact with others which aids their social development. Group lessons also cover a range of useful topics including rules and etiquette which children can learn in tandem with the various other aspects of the game. Group lessons also involve some form of competition at the end of each session which in my opinion is essential for their progression as a golfer. As the child begins to develop as a golfer, I would really emphasise the importance of continuing to work on the short game, the touch and feel they develop as juniors will stay with them as they mature. For more information about our junior group lessons, please click here.
Once a junior is ready to get out on the golf course, take them out to do 2 or 3 holes, not counting score. If they want to pick up and go to the next hole, let them; it can be demoralising for a beginner to mark a scorecard at first. Once they are proficient on a golf course e.g., they can finish the holes (score is irrelevant), it is important to get them playing golf with other juniors, ideally juniors of a slightly better ability. Children can pick up a lot from playing with others and more importantly, they learn to compete. Formal club level competition would be the next stage, this would be the point where the child would obtain a handicap and would start playing in junior competitions. As the child develops, guidance from a good coach is crucial, as well as continuing to develop technique; the coach needs to be able to offer advice on course management, shot selection and the mental approach to the game. Ideally this should be done in the context of an improvement plan.
For more information on starting your youngster or for any advice, please contact Chris Cousins on 01928 077 021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.