Coach’s Corner: How Parents Can Help Prepare Participants for Success

If you read our previous three articles about when your child should move up to the next level in The First Tee, you should have a clearer picture of the requirements your participants must meet to succeed at the various First Tee levels and move to the next. Now we hope to tell you how you can help us help them meet these requirements—even if you don’t play golf yourself! First, we would like to share some philosophy on what makes golf the perfect foundation for this program, outline what sets achievement in golf apart from other sports, and hopefully provide some ideas on how you can help your participants prepare for advancement through The First Tee levels. Many of our participants come from families where they may be the only golfer. This can place a limitation on their ability to get to the golf course to practice the golf skills they are learning in their once per week class.  But this is exactly what you must help them do! Golf is not a team game like some other sports, where with minimum equipment and some athletic ability, an aspirant can achieve a reasonable enough level of performance to play on par with friends, in pickup games, or on organized teams. Golf is an individual sport, with physical and practice requirements more akin to ice skating, gymnastics and swimming, in two senses. First, golf requires the simultaneous and individual application of both mental and physical gifts and personal dedication for good performance. Second, just as in the other individual sports mentioned above, coordination of hands, eyes and the large muscles of the body, in both rhythm and balance to control a golf club, are critical qualities. This means that there is less room for error (and no backup) than in other sports. The difference between a good shot and a bad one can be as little as the width of a dime relative to impact point when clubhead meets ball. To play at a competitive level requires hundreds of hours of practice over a sustained period of time. To play at an elite level would require thousands of hours. By example, there are 22.5 million male golfers in the United States today (and about six million female). Of that number, some 3,000 (2,200) are playing at a very high level in NCAA Division I colleges and universities. Considering all college players, the numbers are higher, with 12,000 men and 6,500 women. When we look at the professional level, to which many young golfers aspire, there are only 125 PGA Tour players and approximately 160 LPGA players with full status in any given year. By contrast, the average Amateur score for an 18-hole round, according to the National Golf Foundation, is 100 strokes. This number has not changed in decades, despite advances in equipment, teaching and golf ball technology. Why? The answer lies in not enough practice, or practicing the wrong things. At The First Tee, the expected Birdie qualifying score mentioned in a previous article is 63 strokes. On a Par 72 golf course (Par 36 per nine holes), that is 27 over Par (3 over par per hole). Next consider that the average score for all golfers for nine holes (from somewhat longer distances) is 50 strokes (100 divided by 2), approximately a score of 2 over Par per hole! Those of you who are able and do play with your participants, can appreciate the difficulty of this task, even from the shorter distances from which our kids are required to play at the earlier levels. (See the charts provided in the previous articles for additional playing criteria by level which are in addition to the Life Skills and Golf Knowledge tests that must be passed at each level.) So, to answer the question we began with, “When can my child move to the next level?”. The answer lies in their self-application to the task at hand, achieving the qualifying age, mastering the Life Skills and Golf Knowledge required, and achieving the golf goals laid out for each level. This will not happen in two hours a week, whether they attend one, two or three 8-week sessions per year. It will require continued practice, play, self-assessment, and setting the kinds of goals that will enable your participant to become the golfer he or she desires to be. If you think about the training regimen observed by competitive swimmers, gymnasts, and figure skaters (and standouts at team sports), usually supported mightily by their parents, you have some idea of what level of effort can be required to reach the top level of golf. Fortunately though, to become “PLAYers for Life,” which is The First Tee’s goal, your participants will not require quite that level of commitment to progress to a solid level of play in golf. But they will only get out of the undertaking what they put into it, like any other life pursuit. So, how can you help, particularly if you are not a golfer yourself? Here are some suggestions:
  • Encourage your participant to practice between weekly classes. Discounted practice balls are available at Fairway Hills along with youth clubs which can be borrowed
  • Encourage them to stay positive, and put into practice the Nine Core Values, Nine Healthy Habits, and Life Skills taught at The First Tee, all of which can help them master golf
  • Ask them about what they are studying, and have them demonstrate for you from time-to-time proper grip, alignment, posture, stance and follow through (we also offer classes for parents that can help you understand exactly what they are taught at the earliest levels of The First Tee)
  • Find time to take them to a golf facility on a regular basis between classes, or encourage them to practice their stroke at home (without a ball, or using a soft practice ball, unless safe hitting space is available)
  • Watch to see if they are practicing with purpose e.g. hitting to different targets, trying different kinds of shots, working predominantly on short game (chipping, putting) skills
  • Help them to honestly assess their capabilities and set goals for improvement
  • Buy or borrow a club with a training grip to assist their taking a proper grip
  • Consider purchasing personal clubs, whether custom fit or mass market (once they demonstrate a genuine interest)
  • Finally, just as you do with their elementary and secondary schools teachers, get to know your participants’ coaches and engage with them on what your child is learning and how you might be able to help them keep their “attention on their intention” for greater success as they move through The First Tee levels. Your child’s coach will have a sense for how well they take direction, where their golf skills are at the moment, and what their near term potential might be.
  • And finally, encourage them to keep trying. Perseverance is one of our Nine Core Values for good reason. Golf is not the easiest sport to learn, and knowledge comes slowly.