Parting Words from Jim Cavanaugh

Jim Cavanaugh
Dear Parents of The First Tee of Howard County: Ten years goes by quickly! It seems like only yesterday that I arrived at The First Tee of Howard County searching for something worthwhile to do after more than 40 years in the service of the nation, either military or civilian. I knew I loved to play golf, and I wanted to “give back” to the game I had grown to love, having taken it up while in my Air Force overseas days in Okinawa, Japan in the late 1960s. So I began my journey in April of 2010, as an Assistant Coach at our First Tee chapter. I coached several classes each session, working with many of the coaches you know, and many who have departed the scene, having moved away, passed away, or simply gone away. During my almost 10 years, I have had the privilege of watching many of your children grow from youngsters to young adults, and several to college golfers. It has been my extreme pleasure to work with these young people, teach them the Nine Core Values and the Nine Healthy Habits of The First Tee, and to provide golf coaching and even from time to time play golf on the course with them. The more I taught, the more I fell in love with The First Tee and its teaching materials. When given the opportunity, four separate times, I went to National First Tee Coach Training, three or four days at a time, working with other First Tee Coaches of varying ages, varying abilities, and diverse backgrounds. Each level of training pulled me ever more steadily to the next level, until finally, I reached the level of The First Tee Coach, and after that, attended Advanced Coach Training as well. Each of these sessions introduced me further to the program, its origins, the curriculum, and the terrific Home Office Coach Training staff at some wonderful golf facilities from Raleigh, North Carolina to Houston, Texas, to Las Vegas, Nevada, and finally to Concord, California. The enthusiasm exhibited by my fellow students at these sessions, and the insights shared by the Home Office staff always provided further encouragement to keep going. As time went by, I began to fill in the gaps that our limited staff could not possibly manage to get to with the constant workload of preparing and presenting classes three sessions per year, almost 9 months out of the year. I designed scorecards to track student progress, organization schemes for our kids clubs, wrote and shared lesson plans, and generally helped out where I could in addition to teaching sometimes 5 or 6 different classes per session at almost every level of The First Tee curriculum. In mid-2016, for a time, I filled in as, then permanently at the end of that year, agreed to take on the job of Program Director for the Chapter. It was a job that I fell in love with, because it had so much variety and opportunity to learn and teach new things. Over the past three years, there have been many changes in The First Tee nationally, not the least of which has been a substantial investment in what we call Salesforce, the system that backs up your registrations for your children, keeps their grades and monitors their progression, tracks their accomplishments from making Honor Roll to moving from level to level in the program, and provides the reporting infrastructure that the First Tee Headquarters requires to track how the 145 chapters are doing. The requirements of this system and the workload caused by all of the other things that we do here at The First Tee of Howard County, from raising our own budget through three fundraisers a year and writing several grants per year, to managing club sales once a year, to tracking donations and nominating participants for National Opportunities, has finally arrived at the point where it has become time to move on. As I move to a more permanent version of retirement, I want to thank you for entrusting your children, the leaders of tomorrow, to us. Their smiles, laughter, and “Aha” moments when they hit a good shot or master a particular life skill are the fuel that keeps us all going. As I leave this position, I want to challenge all of you however with some advice. My greatest disappointment in the past 10 years has been the extremely low rate at which our participants have planned to take advantage of the longer term benefits of the program, i.e. the National Opportunities. These dozen or so opportunities which are offered each year require competitive selection among all First Tee chapters. Aspirants complete what amounts to a college entrance application-like online file, which is judged by panels of coaches, ranked, and the successful ones chosen. They range from a week away with almost a hundred other First Tee kids, coaches and chaperones where they learn about business, education, leadership, and lots of golf for most opportunities, to scholarships of various sizes. They are FREE to the aspirant, and require two things: applicants must be 14 years of age so they can travel alone to the venue, and they must have been in the system three years, and certified at minimum at the Birdie level. While we have had great success with our applicants earning spots in these classes each year, the numbers of interested applicants have been dreadfully low, especially for boys (approaching zero). Unfortunately, too many of our participants decide not to stick with the program for those three years, or come to us when it is virtually too late for them to amass the academic, citizenship and golf acumen required to compete. While the learning curve may appear at times to be slow, that is by design. It simply takes TIME to change behavior, and to coach a proper golf swing. Please resist the tendency to rush the process with requests to hurry your children ahead. While we use age gates to move kids from level to level, those numbers are neither magical nor universal. We use those numbers (given us by people far smarter than we in the areas of child development and youth athleticism) as rough measures. Every child will not be ready by the threshold age to master the intricacies of the next level of the program. While we are used to working with kids who are smarter than the average bear in Howard County, one pass through (8 weeks) the curriculum is never enough for kids who come in at the entry age for that level to master (and begin to internalize) the Core Values or Life Skills taught at that level. In short, The First Tee is not a race! It is a journey that requires time to sink in. Likewise with golf skills, this sport cannot be mastered in 90 minutes or 2 hours a week for 8 weeks three times a year. It requires hours and hours of practice to shape a solid golf swing. The rush to have kids move forward before they can really display the skills required at each level comes back later when inability to execute more difficult shots crushes the enthusiasm of the student and they find another sport. This is a sport that requires perseverance, and hours and hours of practice. And when they do practice, they should concentrate most heavily on short game—chipping and putting. This is where scores can be most easily reduced. Since your kids are mostly too young to move themselves from place to place, I urge you to make the time to take them to practice at some golf facility at least weekly. It will pay huge dividends, I promise you. Just ask some of the parents who have been around a while about Bryana Nguyen (UNC Chapel Hill), Jackie Cherry (US Naval Academy), Isabel Trojillo (Marymount), Harper Lurie (Christopher Newport University), who each spent nine or so years in this program, mostly three sessions a year, and are now playing or recently finished playing college golf. Finally, I would like to invite you to participate yourselves in the success of the chapter. This is a community endeavor. We are self supporting, and we work hard to keep our rates low. Our fundraisers are our lifeblood, yet few parents or families participate in The Taste for The First Tee in the Spring, our Annual Golf Tournament in the Summer and our Pebble Beach Raffle in the fall. If you are not in a position to support those events monetarily, please give some thought to joining the committees that prepare for and present them. “Many hands make light work,” as the saying goes, and those who have not yet had the experience would be amazed at the varied portfolios for participation available to support each of these events. You will meet great people with whom you have a lot in common, and have a good time doing it. As I depart, I want you all to know that the Chapter is in good hands, with an Executive Director and Board that care deeply, coaches who are dedicated to the Life Skills and Golf education of your children, and the BEST kids in The First Tee Network. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your children’s lives. It has been a true labor of love. Jim Cavanaugh Former Program Director The First Tee of Howard County