The Junior Environment #9 The Fall Away Point- Identify, Extend, Eliminate
By stuwarren, Jan 25 2021 10:26AM
At what point do kids quit? At what age? At what stage in their development? More importantly why?
These questions have plagued the game for ever. As someone who has spent his whole working life helping young people play the game, and as someone who has lead classrooms in mainstream education, I’m ideally placed to answer these.
The WHY is easy. The game they have experienced on the course is nothing like the experiences that introduced and developed them in the first place. Most PGA Professionals have a games based approach to developing junior golfers. Engaging, lively and fun, these sessions teach the technical, tactical and provide great life skills in a setting with other kids.
Now think about parents or grandparents taking the young player onto the course for real. You can imagine the golfer to non- golfer pressure inadvertently put on the young player. Is the course shortened to an appropriate length, where the player can see and has the capability to reach the target? Are they having fun in a free environment, where its fine to make mistakes and also explore possibilities? Are they being bombarded with technical information that’s completely out of context and out of balance with what they already know?
Problematic moments include aim and alignment in the pre shot routine and providing unhelpful technical feedback once the shot is performed.
Too many adults fail to understand how difficult the golf course environment is for young players and how by playing proper golf too early in a players development is more than throwing them in at the deep end. If your young swimmer can achieve 10 lengths of the pool, it’s probably not wise to throw them off a boat in the North Sea and ask them to swim to shore!
Have you removed the tee peg too early? I see the tee peg a bit like stabilisers on a bike which should be filtered out appropriately as the player develops.
There seems to be a common factor in age for young players falling away from the game. This seems to be 11-13, when they reach school years 7, 8 and 9. At this point they grow more confident in and are exposed to many more different sports, of which some will be far more appealing and motivating than golf.
At this age the group dynamic becomes vital. If they aren’t playing golf with their peers, having a laugh and motivating each other, then they will quit.
At this age hanging out with parents at the weekend isn’t cool. Socialising with friends becomes a bigger priority than 9 holes with Granddad. Clubs who haven’t fostered consistent cohorts of juniors will undoubtedly fail to attract and keep young players. As I’ve said in earlier articles, the group is everything!
At this age, players move to adult equipment which can be expensive, and let’s be honest, they want the brands that cost. At this age, Players who show promise are plucked out of the group coaching environment and placed in a one to one setting, often with a perceived “better” professional. This sadly puts them on to a largely technical swing based approach to the game, leaving the young player no time to assimilate to their current level of play.
This continual improvement pathway does nothing to foster enjoyment or confidence, can often isolate the young player through prolonged practice and does not improve their tactical awareness of the game. We want to develop the player to a point where they can swing automatically (good or bad) and then focus on the situational aspects of the game.
Over the years, I’ve seen a few young players leave the academy after 3 or 4 years to join a “big” club I the area. They leave the setting, the coach and the group that got them this far for the promise of bigger and better. Instead of putting the young player on the pathway to success, they had inadvertently brought forward the Fall Away Point. Within a year, nearly all had quit the game!
So, what are tips to keep your young player in the game?
Firstly identify that there is a Fall Away Point and our job as parents and coaches is to extend it and eliminate it. Firstly, make sure that our young players are having fun and that golf experiences are helping them technically, tactically and psychologically. Secondly adapt the environment to their stage of development. Don’t throw them in at the deep end. Course length, tee peg use, shot choice and feedback are vital. Red tee markers, then as it lies is not going to cut it. Thirdly, get them into a great group setting with peers their age. Success doesn’t happen in isolation and a dynamic, fun and engaging group with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic pro is the perfect breeding ground for success.