Ever since Tiger Woods appeared as a two year old on the Mike Douglas Show hitting golf shots on stage the face of junior golf development has changed significantly.
From a young age Tiger dominated junior golf in the USA, and as a consequence parents have tried to emulate the Earl Woods’s formula for training a World Class golfer.
Thousands of parents have followed Earl’s formula closely and unfortunately the majority have failed.
There have been long term scientific studies done in three countries (East Germany, Russia and Sweden) that show why early specialisation (under 15 years of age) in any sport is a recipe for burnout and failure
In an earlier article I highlighted Latanna Stone the ten year old who qualified to play in the US Women’s Amateur Championship this month, one of the critical factors for developing young golfers was the need to develop the athlete before developing the golfer.
That means in the early stages of athletic development natural movements like running, jumping and throwing should be introduced to the youngster to learn agility, coordination, speed and flexibility.
And this is supported in all three studies. In the Carlson (1988) study which analysed the training and development patterns of elite Swedish tennis players who were successful in International competition.
The subjects were divided into two groups, one a Study group that consisted of elite adult tennis players and a Control group that was matched by age, gender and junior rankings.
Both groups skill level was similar up to the ages 12 to 14 and it was after this phase that there was a difference in skill level where the study group were more successful at senior level.
The findings are summarised below (Adapted from Carlson 1988)
So the research and findings of all three studies are that early specialization before the age of 16 years of age in sport is not healthy physically and psychologically. In sports like baseball, shooting, archery the age to start training is 10 years to 12 years old.
Specialization should take place between the ages of 15 to 18 years old and highest performance peaks between ages 22 to 30 years old.
This is a helpful guide that from my experience coaching and running junior development programs over last thirty years you can start juniors in the game from the age of 5 years, but the emphasis should always be to develop the athlete first and the golfer second.
If you go against what the research shows and have the junior specialize too early you will find someone who might look like a world champion at the age of 14 but probably not playing golf by the age of 18! Choose wisely and learn from the research done.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College