Junior golf

Teach Me!

10 simple tips to hook your child on golf forever

March 2005

The smiling prodigy you see here is Bing Singhsumelee. She is 6 years old, lives in a Chicago suburb, plays the violin and just started figure skating. She also is a golfer who has the best swing for a child I've seen in 30 years of teaching. Watching Bing hit balls is a breathtaking experience. At 40 pounds, Bing drives the ball 75 yards, dead straight, virtually every time. She putts like a dream.

Though Bing's technique is almost flawless, what her parents and I are most proud of is her outlook on the game. To Bing, golf is fun, pure and simple. She is blithely unaware of the game's frustrations. It is all a joy. She's learning the game the right way.

Teaching young children is a privilege and a huge responsibility. The challenge is to cultivate their skills while sustaining their interest and preserving the joy. Over the years, I've come up with 10 rules that every parent and instructor should apply in a child's formative years. The reward is a happy smile and the knowledge you've given them a game they'll enjoy for a lifetime.

1. Let the child call the shots
We all want our children to learn the game the right way. As golfers, we also have firm notions as to what the "right" way is and tend to teach by rote, as if we were in school.

For a young child, this is not the way to go. Learning the correct grip may be fundamental, but to a fertile, inquisitive mind, the grip can be drudgery. The kid just wants to have fun. Let them explore the game on their own at the outset. Follow them around and explain the things they're curious about. The rule of thumb is this: You are there to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.

2. Do more 'playing' than teaching
A 6-year-old's attention span is excruciatingly short. They don't really focus until the ball is on the tee, waiting to be struck. With that, the lesson should not last longer than 30 minutes. Furthermore, the 30 minutes should be broken down into 10 minutes of actual teaching and 20 minutes of playing. I don't mean playing in the golf sense; I mean drawing faces on your golf gloves or playing catch with a golf ball. The idea is for the child to equate going to the golf course with amusement. This may be difficult, especially if you're paying for the lesson. But the kid will gravitate toward learning golf in good time.

3. Share the joy of a job a well done
When Bing does something well, I don't just commend her. We celebrate. We jump up and down. Enthusiasm and excitement, felt and expressed without restraint, increases the child's desire to please, learn and excel. The best way to boost a kid's ego is to diminish your own. I found this out when my own children were small, and it works wonders with Bing.

Act like a kid again. Simply do what a child does -- smile and laugh a lot. I leave nothing in the bag. I've done a one-minute puppet show with my headcovers. I've talked in rhymes. Anything to make being with the instructor, and learning how to play golf, more appealing for the child.

4. Communicate on their level
Everything you say should be expressed at the child's level, and I mean that literally. Don't stand when you talk; kneel down and look the child in the eye. Watch what you say, and how you say it. Even adults struggle with terminology, so I really simplify things for Bing. Rather than say "wide arc," I say "big circle." Instead of challenging her to make a "descending blow," I ask her to "thump the ground." She doesn't "pivot," she "turns." Children must comprehend an idea before they can execute it.

Don't let a small thing grown-ups take for granted -- like sticking a tee in the ground -- become a frustration. Be ready to lend a helping hand.

5. Tee it up in more ways than one
To establish an early pattern of success, I insist on teeing the ball on every shot with every club. With Bing that was an adventure. Her tiny thumb wasn't strong enough to insert the tee into the ground. Once she got the tee in, it was too crooked to hold the ball. Even when I straightened the tee for her, balancing the ball atop it was a big test for her. Have some empathy. Tasks we take for granted -- putting on a glove and fastening it, for example -- are tough for kids. Be ready to help at every turn.

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