By Michael Balderstone, BSI Founder & Performance Director
So your youngster has talent and you think he could be the next Tiger. What is the best way to nurture that talent for a long-term future?
The development of Eldrick Tiger Woods from toddler to one of the greatest ever golfers has been well documented. This has led many parents to focus on golf as the only sport for their kids, believing that they need to be world champion at every age from 3 in order to become a champion golfer.
However research in child sports development has shown that a more rounded exposure to game-playing activity is vital to long term success. In fact contrary to popular belief, Tiger still participated in other sports as a child, otherwise he wouldn’t have been the player and athlete he became. Jack Nicklaus also played a wide variety of sports before his mid-teens. Jordan Spieth is another example of the multisport approach that has produced an athlete first, who chose to specialise in golf in his mid-teens.
It is essential that a future champion learns all of the fundamental movement skills, motor skills, balance and coordination early in their development. The best way for this to happen is to expose the child to as much play as possible, without enforcing strict rules or demanding perfect technique. The time for golf-specific focus should come only once these basic skills are in place. I believe this is one of the reasons why South Africa produces so many world class golfers (and other sportsmen). Our weather and outdoor lifestyle allows our children to be a lot more active all year round during their keys years of development.
Other sports that will help the development of a future golf champion involve rotational movements and speed. Examples include baseball, cricket, touch rugby, hockey, tennis, skiing, surfing and athletics.
In terms of golf coaching, early lessons should be fun and play focused, allowing youngsters to fall in love with the sport first. Competition is good throughout a golfer’s development, but the child must also learn to win and lose gracefully. The parent that chastises their child for not playing well is part of the problem not the solution. Mistakes and losing are essential parts of the learning process that every champion experiences. Rather discipline them for poor behaviour like club throwing or refusing to shake hands.
The key is to let the children play and to develop gradually. Whoever first said “Don’t run before you can walk” was very wise and could have been referring to golf development. A child will struggle to develop the complex technical aspects of the golf swing without the foundations laid by active play at an early age.