Teaching Junior Golfers
Hap Hazard is a golf teaching pro at Bucket O’ Balls Driving Range. He’s normally on time for his first lesson of the day, but as the morning wears on and morphs into afternoon, Hap is far behind on his lesson schedule. Mr. Smith arrives for his noon appointment, only to find that Hap can’t see him until 12:20. Mr. Smith decides to cancel the lesson and leaves.
Hap is actually happy to see this, because he can now get to his 12:30 lesson on time. The client, Mr. Jones, is someone to whom Hap gave a lesson two months ago. Mr. Jones keeps referring back to what Hap told him at that time, but Hap has no idea what Mr. Jones is talking about.
At the end of the week, Hap, an independent contractor who depends upon the range to collect his lesson fees, receives his check, but it doesn’t seem nearly enough for what he did. However, he has no way of disproving the check is wrong, so he has no choice but to accept the amount.
Hap Hazard is an example of a teaching professional who is highly disorganized. What are the mistakes Hap makes?
While this is a worst-case scenario, there are times where even the best among us may fall short occasionally. It takes great effort to keep an organized teaching operation. If a teaching professional is busy enough to the point that he or she has to book back-to-back lessons all day, it doesn’t make much sense to schedule the start of a lesson at the same time the previous lesson concludes. Someone is going to get short changed. A 5- or 10-minute buffer between lessons is helpful, and if the teacher is extremely busy, it makes sense to occasionally build in a 15- or even 30-minute break to recharge and make sure things are organized.
A teaching professional should also take notes regarding each lesson. Nothing is worse than a student returning after a long absence and the teacher having no clue what instruction was given the last time. The instruction might be so far removed from the previous teachings that the student will be confused. And asking the student to remind us what was worked on can make us look a little less competent in the eyes of that student.
It also goes without saying that a financial record of each lesson should be kept. Hap’s arrangement is not uncommon, and it also makes sense to go over the day’s lesson receipts at the end of the day. Other ways to be organized include having complete information about each student, including contact info, for future marketing purposes. It also doesn’t hurt to send birthday wishes or an occasional free golf tip.
It should go without saying that a golf teaching professional should be prepared for each lesson. If training aids are among a teacher’s arsenal, they should be readily available. Nothing is worse for the teacher to figure out that a certain training aid needs to be used, only to find it’s been left in the car or someplace in the cart barn.
Since video is becoming more frequent (al-though we find in 2017 that most teachers still don’t use it routinely, interestingly), making sure the equipment is in good working order, complete with charged batteries, is important.
Much of the advice given in this article seems like common sense, but you might be surprised how many times, or how many professionals, fall short in these departments, even if only occasion-ally. An organized pro equals happy students, and if they’re happy, they’re certain to return – and they might even tell their friends.
That being said, I think I have learned more as an instructor teaching my own 10-year-old son. I often caddie for him in junior competitions. As his instructor/caddie, my goal is to offer him guidance to nurture his golf game for the future. For us, it is not about today as it is about building for the future.
However, far too often I see the same mistakes made by over-enthusiastic parents who put enormous pressure on their child. I call it “Little League parent syndrome.” This often leads to conflict and a dislike for the game of golf by the time these kids are teenagers. This seems to be a growing theme that is nearly reaching epidemic proportions. Sadly, these kids will be lost from the game.
The following points are some advice as a golf instructor and a parent. It is important to understand that few children under 8 years old have the motor skill necessary to understand distance control, particularly with a putter. This translates to lots of putts on the greens. Ask yourself, how do I know how far or how hard to hit a putt? Is it motor skill, experience, or innate “feel”? I suspect it is a combination of all of these things. Young children have not yet developed the fine motor skill necessary to consistently control distance, nor have they had enough “experience” to understand the difference between 10 feet and 30 feet. This is okay; let them develop at their own pace.
Golf takes a long time to develop good routines and positive habits. Try to encourage good habits when practicing and playing. Often I see kids who have problems with alignment. Try to give them simple cues that help them line up properly. It is also important to stay away from complex swing instruction. An adequate grip, posture, and setup positions are all that are necessary to get them started. Let them swing away, as there will be plenty of time in the future for refinement. Of course, there will be misses and off-line shots. Kids should look at the ball and hit it. Often natural athletic ability will take over and they will find the ball on the downswing. I also believe that they should swing at the ball with some speed. This helps develop the muscles and coordination necessary to hit a golf ball. Later, the positions can be refined as they become more coordinated.
One of the amazing things one will notice is the developmental stages of each child. There will be big jumps in strength and coordination. This will all come with time; however, on average, I do seem to notice a big leap in coordination around the age of 10 years old. This will ebb and flow as each child grows and develops differently.
Lastly, keep it fun! It is important to try to avoid undue pressure. In our case, there is controlled practice and some technical work. However, we always set aside time for “free practice” where my son tries different shots on his own and has his own version of golf play time. He even explains different versions of shots to me! We often have up-and-down competitions where we try all sorts of crazy pitch shots. This develops his imagination and keeps the game fun for years to come.