[Editor's Note: The following article was written by Todd Casabella, Director of Instruction at Grey Hawk Golf Club in Lagrange. Todd is a member of the Professional Golfers' Association of America and a TPI Certified Golf Fitness Instructor.]
Golf is a great sport that can be played for a lifetime. Parents who introduce their children to golf are providing them with a great advantage to playing the game well as adults. Also, the better kids play the more likely they are to keep playing as adults. Unfortunately, when some parents see their kids play better than their peers they cross over from encouraging parents to demanding coaches and begin to concentrate solely on golf.
Children under the age of 17 should not be participating solely in golf. Unlike gymnastics, and some other sports where children peak early, golf is considered a late specialization sport. Athletes who excel in late specialization sports benefit from a multi-sport background. From the ages of 6 -16, it’s important to keep your kids active in various athletics and athletic activities. As children are growing they have certain windows of opportunity for athletic development. The windows of speed, strength, stamina, flexibility, balance and various other abilities open and close at various times during their growth. Once these windows are closed they can’t be reopened. Playing sports develops these fundamental movement skills that transfer from one sport to the next. For example, the technique to hitting a tennis ball is different than a golf ball but the kinematic sequence is exactly the same. Both movements originate from the ground up, require stabilization, core rotation, weight shift, arm swing, wrist hinge and anticipation of impact. Because both the racquet and ball are bigger, it’s easier for a child to learn to hit a tennis ball faster than it is a golf ball. The sequence is the same for hitting a baseball as well. There are other negatives than just poor athletic development to being sport specific at an early age. It can cause physical imbalances, overuse injuries, and early burnout. Statistics show that junior golf champions rarely go on to be champions at the professional level because of these consequences. (Yes, Tiger Woods was a multi-sport athlete as a child.) Dr. James Andrews, who is considered the leading orthopaedic surgeon in sports, agrees with these dangers. He has begun the campaign to educate parents on the dangers of sport related injuries form playing a single sport year around. He is a mulit-sport advocate who encourages periods of rest and recovery.
Skeptics of the dangers of early specialization will usually point to the advance of Korean’s in women’s golf. However, when you look at the number of Korean girls playing golf compared to other countries, the numbers suggest that there should be more of a Korean dominance than there is now. On the PGA Tour the Korean men haven’t seen the advancement in the professional ranks as the women despite receiving the same training. Relative to other countries the men’s participation rate in golf is low.
Develop your juniors properly; get them into a junior program that focuses on long term development with proper coaches and instruction, have them participate in various sports, be supportive and encouraging, don’t push to hard; let them develop at their rate of development, and most importantly, keep golf fun.