Avoid Early Specialisation
CREATING THE JUNIOR ATHLETE
Golf has long been singled out as a unique and difficult sport that has few similarities to other sports. Of course in many respects that is true. The ball in golf is stationary when we hit it, we have 14 different implements to use, we always play each shot from a different place and it takes at least 4 hours.
The result of this is that when you speak to most parents of children wanting to learn they game they say one of two things …
1. My son cannot play golf because he is already playing football or
2. My son is only playing golf because other sports can be detrimental to their development.
In reality the opposite is true.
All children in the development years should play as many sports as possible !!
Now you may think that is strange coming from the Golf Coach, but the Golf coach knows:
- The kid that runs fast, swings fast
- The kid that jumps high generate power
- The kid that plays field sports has good balance
If the golf coach is going to teach your child to be a great golfer he has a much better chance of succeeding if the student is already an athlete. So how do I make my child an athlete and give them the best opportunity to succeed at at golf. A good place to start is to look at the research and development proposed by your sports governing body and in most countries that is the concept of Long Term Athletic Development or LTAD.
The LTAD model proposed by Balyi & Hamilton (2004) outlines a framework for the development of motor-skills and physical skills which run parallel to a chronological age profile of an athlete. LTAD has been widely adopted by sports organisations and national association to provide some guidance to the “windows of opportunity” to engage and develop juniors into athletes, either for high performance sport or to ensure children get active early and stay active for life.
LTAD maps your child’s milestones throughout their development years all the way through their High Performance Sport phase and whilst some of the detail of LTAD is still challenged (It has been called a work in progress) it’s true to say that the broad concept is a positive one and can be adopted to build a framework for a child’s development. For example the LTAD concept concludes that teaching kids sports specific skills at an early age can be a challenge but teaching kids to play is certainly not. This is no different in golf. Golf is difficult and it can be difficult to coach complex motor patterns to children’s in the 5-8 year old category. From experience adopting a FUN based approach that uses games that use similar motor patterns to golf is essential to develop juniors in this age group. In fact, many golf programs will put the emphasis on developing Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) over developing golf specific skills and there is validity in this.
In our experience young children , even with the lightest golf clubs, find it difficult to stabilise the golf club enough to efficiently get the club rotating around their body. In fact you often see the club swinging the child and not the other way round.
The challenge for the coach can often be pressure from parents and the children to get straight into hitting balls and having success. This is very true is some asian countries who tend to adopt a specialisation approach early on in the child’s development and in gymnastics and ballet where most children start to specialise at the age of 5-6 the this is acceptable. However with Golf the challenge is that a gymnastics or ballet career will generally be over before the child is in their mid 20’s where as a golf career can still be active long into the players 40’s and 50’s so we must develop a golfer with the correct intensity and focus at the right age.
So in the development years (5-8 years old) finding a balance between specialisation and building FMS is the best approach. Kids in the fundamental phase of their development should play more games and “fall in love” with the concept of learning through fun. It also means that the Kids who are 8-12 will benefit hugely in the “learning to train” phase of development if they have developed enough FMS skills to hold and swing the club efficiently.
So our message to parents when putting their children into a golf academy system is as follows :
- When the kids are 5-12 let them play as many sports outside of golf as time permits. Tennis, basketball, badminton, surfing, skateboarding and soccer all contributes to developing their FMS abilities.
- Dont get frustrated if your 5-12 year old child seems to be playing lots of games at the academy … The games will be designed to develop the complex motor skills required for them to become great athletes and allow them to easily progress to golf when the time comes.
- Build good habits for your children. If you, the parent, go to the gym, yoga, pilates, tennis, badminton on a regular basis they start to take your child. Get them into the habit of doing exercise without telling them to exercise.
- Only specialise when the child has decided they want to be a competitive golfer and risks of playing the other sports become detrimental to their development in golf.