"Too many parents of juniors wrongly believe that winning age group tournaments is the main focus. This approach forces their child to specialize too early playing only competitive golf and not sampling other sports." - David Milne
I will explore the main pitfalls that a parent and child will surely face and offer suggestions based on my over thirty years experience as a golf coach and backed by scientific research.
The first thing a parent needs to understand which Lawrie Montague (Pro Tour Golf College co-director) and I have touched on in previous articles is that there are three separate "cycles" that a junior golfer will pass through and for them to reach their full potential certain benchmarks in each cycle need to be accomplished.
- First Cycle is approximately from age 7 to 12 years old
- Second Cycle is approximately from 13 to 17 years old
- Third Cycle is approximately from 18 to 22 years old
I use the word approximately because boys and girls develop at different rates with girls generally developing a little earlier in all cycles.
First Cycle (7 to 12 years old)
The main pitfall in the first cycle is too much competition and not enough development of fundamental co-ordination, agility movement and technical golf skills. The research says a ratio of 70% training to 30% competition for the available time allotted for sport is the ideal balance to achieve short and more importantly long term positive results.
Too many parents of juniors wrongly believe that winning age group tournaments is the main focus. This approach forces their child to specialize too early playing only competitive golf and not sampling other sports.
This approach does not allow the junior to develop other fundamental movement skills like running, throwing, catching and jumping skills which they would develop playing other sports.
It is recommended that juniors should be encouraged to participate in another two physical sports apart from golf in this first cycle.
Equipment correctly fitted is also an essential prerequisite for young golfers to learn proper setup and swing fundamentals. Cut-down adult golf clubs are not recommended.
Length of the golf course is another important consideration with a maximum distance of 5000 meters (5,500 yards) and special short tees be put into play to accomplish this.
Scientific research has suggested that it takes around 10 years or 10,000 hours of training to achieve an elite level in international sport. In fact PGA Tour statistics show that it takes closer to 20 years in golf.
So there's no need to rush the development process and if you miss developing the technical skills and the fundamental movement skills in this critical cycle the research shows the junior will have difficulty excelling in their chosen sport.
The most important thing a parent can give their child is provide positive support and guidance to help make their child's involvement in sport a fun experience and not focus on the winning at all cost culture that I have witnessed especially in recent times.
Ensure you explore your child's expectations and aspirations and not try to impose your's on them. By aligning their goals with your's no one is totally disappointed at the start, in the middle and at the end of this first cycle.
Plus everyone will have a smile on their face!
The most common pitfall in this cycle is a lack of a muscular skeletal screening by a golf specific physiotherapist who can set a physical training program that will keep the young golfers body in balance.
This is especially true during growth spurts and working with a physiotherapist will help with injury prevention and with performance as well.
In most other sports physical training is an integral part of the athletes program but this is neglected by most parents of junior golfers in this cycle.
Research shows that during this cycle what ever time is allotted for sport 60% is skill development and 40% should be directed to the physical development of the young golfer.
Another area that is totally neglected and can be a pitfall later on is the mental skill development of the golfer. Before you rush off and buy every book on how to train the mental skills in golf, first get your child to complete a basic mental self-assessment.
One thing that needs to be addressed in this cycle is not to be led by the equipment manufactures marketing. I have witnessed it first hand when a thirteen year old gets an upgrade or present of especially a driver and it's the same specification as a "flavor of the month" PGA Tour professional in loft and shaft flex.
Not enough loft and a shaft that is too stiff will encourage a low and dipping to the right (right hand golfer) ball flight which will influence the dynamic balance of the junior. Make sure you have a reputable club-fitter who has experience with juniors to regularly check the play-ability of the equipment for your child.
The benchmark ratio in cycle two is 60% training to 40% playing with about 20 hours as the minimum. That translates to two rounds of 18 holes per week (10 hours) and 10 hours of practice. A guide of 10 to 20 tournaments per year is the recommendation.
In this cycle the young golfer will devote 40% of his available time to training and 60% to competing.
The major pitfall in this cycle is not having a annual periodization plan that allows the player to peak at specific periods during the year to coincide with important golf tournaments
Most golfers who don't have a periodized development plan try to peak their games 12 months of the year and are generally doomed to fail.
The two most successful golfers Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have been the best at planning their year to peak at the four majors golf championships.
At the start of this cycle it is critical to build a team of service providers that will deliver sports medicine and sports science support.
During this cycle the young golfer can deliver explosive power and using 30 lbs of muscle and every joint in the body during the swing producing 2,000 lbs of force in less than 1/2 a millisecond.
This makes it imperative that a comprehensive strength and conditioning program is in place to allow the young golfer to perform at their best week in week out.
The lack of statistic monitoring of all tournament rounds is what stops most golfers in this cycle reaching the next level. When you know which areas of your game are holding you back you can do something about it.
I don't mean basic statistic's but an online program like Shots to Hole which is going to give you accurate feedback on where you need to put more emphasis to get positive results.
In this cycle the young golfer totally specializes and focus's only on golf, and a commitment to a balanced lifestyle and life skills will go a long way for the young golfer that is going to spend a lot of time on the road and away from home and family.
I have only brushed the surface of this important topic but it should give you a better understanding of some of the pitfalls and obstacles that lay in wait for parents and in fact anyone associated with the development of a junior golfer.
There are a growing list of countries that are putting into place long term player development programs and are achieving outstanding results with their golfers.
The information is available and Lawrie and I at Pro Tour Golf College have pulled it all together and will make it available in the near future.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College
Your Success On Tour is Our Business