February 2012

February 2012: Golf Tips From A Pro - Pete Popovich

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Since the coming of Tiger Woods, many parents think that training their child from the earliest possible age is the way to make him or her the next golfing phenomenon. However, parents and teachers often lack an understanding of how young people should be guided to reach their potential and how, lacking this guidance, few if any ever fully develop their true abilities. I want to offer a different perspective on teaching and training your junior golfer and the importance of doing it correctly.

When it comes to teaching and training tomorrow’s tour stars, you first need to look at the child’s age. There is no need for children under the age of 14 to specialize in one sport. This is contrary to popular opinion, but let me explain why. Prior to age 14, children have not developed the muscular and neurological coordination required for extensive, specialized training. Children enjoy a multitude of different activities for good reason. In order to develop their muscular and neurological systems completely, it is important that they engage in activities allowing them to throw, kick, balance, tumble, etc., also known as multilateral training. By engaging in a multitude of physical activities, they are developing their body awareness, muscular control and motor function, which is essential for specialized training later on. These skills, as well as others, need to be developed prior to specialized training, because specialized training requires hours of repetitive motion and concentration. Children at an early age do not possess the physiological or psychological wherewithal to train in this manner.

Once a child reaches adolescence, usually around 14, he or she can begin specialized training. As it relates to golf, this is the time that specific programs are designed for the advancement of the child. First, careful consideration is given to how the child best assimilates information. Does he/she learn best linguistically, logically, spatially, musically or bodily? Once this is determined, the material can be relayed to the child in a manner that can be comprehended, understood, and applied by the individual student. Next, the type of stimulus that best enables the child to master a skill is determined. For those familiar with golf, examples of this would be drills specific to each student’s need, such as alignment aids to ensure proper set up, adjusting to shape shots, etc. Once the learning style and stimulus are determined, a program for training is designed. This program will depend on time of year (off-season or in-season), as well as the child’s home, school and family activities/responsibilities. When the schedule is set, the type of load training is determined. Load training refers to the amount of practice, what to practice, length of practice, when it will be increased, at what level it will increase, as well as when to decrease the load to allow for rest.

Another overlooked factor (an error actually) in teaching youths involves age/gender difference. Too often golf camps or schools lump children into groups by age and/or gender. Putting a child into a “group” because of age or gender does little or nothing for the advancement of his/her skills, but it does show a deficiency in the program the young person is attending. In fact, age itself can be classified into three types: chronological age, biological age and training age. Chronological age is simply your child’s age in years. Biological age (which is a better indicator of young potential) deals with aspects of maturation, such as testosterone levels, which allow some to practice/train more often and with higher levels of intensity. Training age has to do with the number of years a child has been preparing for a specific sport, allowing him/her to go deeper into that sport sooner than their chronological and biological peers. Groups divided solely on gender can also inhibit if not actually ruin potential. Plenty of girl golfers beat the boys when allowed to compete without gender biases. The dedicated instructor is aware of this.

So what does this all mean? Should your child cross-train to become golf-proficient? Not necessarily. We are simply stressing that there are many ways a child develops toward proficiency in a certain sport. But there is only one right way to guide that child’s development, and it is definitely not by limiting him/her to age or gender. In short, we have learned that a competent teacher separates students according to each child’s potential instead of grouping them by stereotypes.

Young people are special. They all have special talents, some obvious and some hidden, but they each need attention as individuals to develop their skills. It takes a competent and dedicated teacher to recognize each student’s needs. If you are unsure whether your child is getting the attention he or she needs to improve without sacrificing freedom or enjoyment, or you simply want an assessment of your child’s golfing potential, call Pete Popovich at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head, (843) 338-6737. You can be assured that your child will receive the attention that best suits his or her ability and goals.

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