Starting a new sport is never easy, but golf can be especially tough. It takes a tremendous amount of coordination and technique to successfully launch a golf ball into the air. The short game requires a degree of “touch” that can only be obtained by lots of practice. Needless to say, kids who are naturally athletic and are used to picking things up quickly are still going to struggle. While it’s nice to think that your junior golfer is going to be intrinsically motivated from the start, you’ll probably need some kindling (candy) to get their internal fire going.
So how do you get your junior golfer over the struggle-fest that comes with starting the game? How do you keep them motivated to get better? In this article I’ll break down some of the tips and techniques I’ve used to get my son Henry to the course.
Make golf a fun experience
For adults, golf is truly a privilege – we choose to spend time on the course, we (mostly) choose who we play with, and we choose the degree to which we are coached. Golf is as fun as we make it. Juniors, especially new ones, are more or less a captive audience. While they certainly can influence things, it’s the parent, more or less, who makes the call of how long they stay at the course and how serious the game is. Oh yeah, they HAVE to play with you. Especially in the early stages, parents should really make a conscious effort of making every experience fun. Forget building a perfect swing, your real goal should be to make sure that each outing leaves them wanting to come back.
Keep practice relatively short
Real progress comes from repetition. The notion of hitting balls until your hands bleed simply won’t fly. Split a small bucket of balls, or take turns hitting to limit boredom and keep them wanting more. I consider it a supreme victory when Henry wants to stay to practice more and we leave anyways – it means I didn’t burn him out and that he had a good time.
Create awesome traditions on and off the course
This might feel a bit like bribery, but associating golf with special snacks, treats, or special privileges (like driving the cart), is a fair way of making the whole of the experience more fun – and it can take the edge off the natural frustration of hitting a bad shot.
In our case, after every round of golf, we stop by a Sonic on our way home to get a special ice cream treat – no matter how well we played that day. On the course, we play music or have “golf snacks” i.e. candy between holes.
Reward your junior golfer for having a great attitude and showing up.
Hit the ball into the water
Actively look for ways to make golf silly or fun. When Henry was really young, he would look forward to hitting the junky balls I would find into the water. Let them attempt trick shots, hit off their knees, or roll their push cart down the hill (as long as it doesn’t hit anyone).
Try not to be their swing coach on every shot. Go play a round and just enjoy the fact that you have someone to share golf with. Look for reasons to celebrate, and let go of constantly analyzing their swing. I mean, would you love it if your playing partner was constantly trying to give you swing advice? Probably not.
Make them go, but don’t make them play
There’s going to be days when your kid doesn’t want to golf. There could be a lot of reasons for this outside of actually wanting to play golf – for example, maybe they expect they can watch TV or play video games at home. Unless your kid isn’t having a good time when they actually get to the golf course (i.e. you’ve failed to make it fun for them), I’d suggest sometimes bringing them anyways and giving them the option to sit it out or walk the course. When I do this with Henry, he usually ends up picking up his clubs and is back to stealing my share of range balls before long.
Make some friends
Unlike soccer, golf can be a pretty lonely sport sometimes. Mix up your golf outings by finding other kids to play with. Get them used to playing with other kids – it can make those rounds more fun and prepares them to play with other kids when they get to their first tournament.
It’s also fun to bring the grandparents or other family members out, they usually make easy marks (someone to beat) and it’s a great way to spend time with them.
Passion is contagious
Be an example, and willing to show your junior golfer that you’re also willing to put in the time to get better – even when they don’t. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re working on – and why you’re working on it. Play golf without them occasionally.
Golf can be an amazing way of building a bond with your kids. If you love to play and they see that – and they see golf as a way for them (and you) to have an amazing time, then it’s hard for them not to want to play.