Parents often miss the bigger picture when introducing their children to a sport at their club, which is to help develop athletic qualities that the kids can use and that can translate not just to golf or tennis, but any sport.
Across the country, parents are looking to find more ways to get their children involved in activities that can help them excel in sports. Golf and tennis are great sports for children to get involved with at any age, as they are lifetime sports, and clubs offer comfort and safety as a great place for learning them.
But parents often miss the bigger picture of learning any sport, which is to help develop athletic qualities that their children can use and that can translate not just to golf or tennis, but any sport. Fitness for youth sports, and even golf training, can take on many different looks.
It is not uncommon for children around 3 and 4 years old to sign up for golf clinics at a club. But how golf instructors choose to instruct this age group can prove to be quite the challenge. Activities should focus on teaching children to move properly and in more efficient ways.
At this age group, it is far more important for children to learn motor control or coordination than any specific skill. The fact of the matter is, if children at this age learn how to move better and develop force in efficient ways, they will become much better golfers as they age.
Activities such as balance-beam walking, single-leg balance activities, learning to properly throw balls, and very basic bodyweight strength movements are great ways to start children off in fitness. The key word is “activities.” They should not be exercises and should not be drills, but fun activities that help keep the children engaged and having fun.
As children move through the ages of 5 to 10, they can start to progress through exercises that help them further their development. But these exercises should still look similar to fun activities, and really possess many of the same qualities as what was done when they were younger kids. These would include body-weight exercises, learning to control their bodies through space, strong balance and coordination, and then beginning to teach proper movements in specific exercises. Examples include teaching kids to properly hip-hinge, hold the bottom of a squat position, and start to develop core strength and stability.
It is important to remember that strength is relative to any person, so any body-weight movement pattern that is difficult for someone to perform may still have strength qualities in it. Someone else who may already have a fundamental baseline for strength may require some small external resistance to train strength, such as a weight vest.
This is an important age group to start introducing the concept of proper movement patterns and to develop the prerequisite stability. For youth golf clinics I would highly encourage having a member from the fitness staff participate with all age groups, but especially starting at these ages.
As children age through 11 to 17 years old, there is a massive opportunity to really start physically training them. That doesn’t mean you start at the same point with two 12-year-olds, especially if one has been “training” from age 7 and for the other it’s their first day.
Consider the person who is standing in front of you, and know what kind of experience and background they have, regardless of their age. If someone walks into the gym or is a first-time participant in a golf clinic that includes fitness as well, I would start with them in a similar way as with a 5- or 6-year-old.
In the fitness industry, we commonly refer to this as a client’s “training age.” If they have only been training for a year, then their training age is 1. But if they have been training for five years, their training age is 5. It is critical to start clients off at an appropriate level.
Assuming you get a teenager with some training experience, I would recommend starting with a physical assessment to identify their areas of strengths and weaknesses. From those results you will be able to develop a more personalized plan that will create a more efficient program.
At this age you will start to develop more eccentric strength—the ability to stop and control movement. This is a critical aspect in golf performance, and given the fact that they should have developed a good sense of body control and stability by now, this eccentric strength will provide them with a solid foundation to stay healthy as their performance increases. Alongside the technical training, golfers will really start to add clubhead speed and distance in their overall game.
The real icing on the cake comes when the fitness professional is connected with the golf professional, so they are teaching with synergy. When this happens, the golfer will have exponential growth. And the cherry on top is that they will likely stay healthy during the process, too. Implementing a synergistic approach for youth training between golf and fitness will really develop happy and healthy kids.
Keke Lyles is recognized as a leader in human performance, with experience with professional athletes and Navy Special Warfare operators.