The Leadbetter Golf Academy at Laguna National is committed to keeping juniors involved in the game. David Bradshaw explains his philosophy to engaging with youngsters and his plans to ‘create the athlete first’. Around the world, the biggest issue with junior golf is that there’s a huge drop out of players when they reach their early teens, if not before. In my view, the main reason this happens is because a high percentage of juniors are taught golf in the same way in which an adult would be taught. This doesn’t work! This method doesn’t keep juniors interested or create a passion within them, either for sport in general or golf in particular. Here’s why:
- Drills and technique-based learning one-on-one that adults find interesting isn’t interesting for children.
- Children like to play, jump and run around.
- Children like to interact with other students and feel part of a group.
It’s my belief that if we want to keep children in the sport longer, the one-dimensional coaching to juniors of the golf swing needs to change. Sport specific skills are built around basic athletic movements. Golf skills will never reach the level you want them to if children miss those fundamental movement skills. At Leadbetter Singapore we’re doing things differently by what we call ‘creating the athlete first’. The fundamental issue that needs to be addressed is why do children want to play sports. Just ask them and I’m sure you’ll hear some of the following reasons:
- It’s fun.
- To make friends.
- To feel like we fit in.
- To feel good.
- To be good at it.
This leads us to the question as to why so many juniors drop out from sport and golf. The following would all be common answers among youngsters in any country.
- Forced to play.
- It’s not fun.
- Not good at it and too difficult.
- Too much pressure.
- Become bored, burnt out.
The over-riding goal with our junior golf curriculum is to keep juniors in golf. As golf is a game for life, we’ve built a junior programme in keeping with this philosophy. The following is at the forefront of our programme:
‘Keep golf classes fun; keep building fundamental movement skills; make sure the academy is a great learning environment for students; help juniors to build relationships and grow’.
Based on the above, this is how we go about ‘creating the athlete first’.
Zone Training: We set up several stations for our golf element of the class for students to have up to 10 minutes practice of a task before moving on to the next one. This is especially important for students aged five to 10 years old. Students aged 10 and above start spending more time on a task.
Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS): These are the basic and fundamentals of any sport. A child who develops a better base of FMS from a younger age has more chance of developing golf skills faster and performing to a higher standard. FMS movements are the following – locomotion, running, jumping, skipping, hopping, stability skills, co-ordination, speed, change of direction, object control, throwing, kicking, striking, catching, dodging and awareness. Walk past our dedicated junior room and you’ll see our students doing a combination of these.
Fundamental Sports Skills (FSS): We encourage multiple sports to be played by students and include other sporting skills in our programme. Away from our golf programme we’d like to think students are playing other ball-striking and wrist release sports. The reason is that sports such as badminton, tennis, baseball and hockey – and many others – have a correlation to golf. It helps students to speed up the process of learning golf.
Early Specialisation: Specialising in golf from a young age can create several issues including muscle imbalances, injuries, early burnout, and poor FMS. Golf, along with several other sports, is a late specialisation sport, meaning that children shouldn’t be fully focused on golf training from a young age. This should happen from the age of 13 to 14 where the training changes and you’re able to decide how seriously a student would like to take golf.
Deliberate Play v Deliberate Practice: For any student to get better at golf, or any other sport, it’s important that they practice. But the type of practice students do is very important to improving and keeping a passion for golf. Deliberate practice requires a lot of effort, hard work and will lead to an improvement in performance, but at the cost of enjoyment and fun. This is not an enjoyable time for anyone, especially students under the age of 12.
Children do not want to be stood practicing drills that can get boring. Creating games for them to play and letting them learn through playing is an incredibly beneficially learning environment. Offer the best opportunity for children to fall in love with the game. We want them to have fun while learning, allowing us to enjoy watching them grow.
If we want to keep children in the sport longer, the one-dimensional coaching to juniors of the golf swing needs to change.
Windows of Learning and Classes
LGA Kids for children aged 5 to 8 years old : This phase is very much about learning the fundamental movement skills, classes are kept fun and building a passion for the sport.
LGA Cubs for children aged 8 upwards : This phase we continue to develop and master the fundamental movement skills, adding all the golf elements into the classes we start encouraging students to practice away from the lesson and introducing them to the course at a length that suits.
LGA Tigers for children aged 10 upwards : This is now a 90-minute class and we starting to add more athletic movements for students to help develop speed and power.
LGA Lions for children aged 12 upwards : Students should now be playing and practicing between classes, they will start to learn more about how to practice and discovering more about competitive golf.
Advanced juniors aged 12 and upwards: This is for students who are looking to play competitive golf, it includes individual coaching with group on course tuition monthly. We expect students to be practicing between sessions and starting to understand statistics that can improve their game.