DO KIDS LEARN GOLF FASTER THAN ADULTS? The answer may surprise you.
In the nearly 20 years that I've been teaching golf, I’ve seen a lot of golf swings and I’ve noticed a few patterns emerge. Kids do seem to learn golf more easily than adults do, but it’s not because they’re kids. It’s because of the activities they’re playing outside of golf when they’re kids. The sports they choose to play and the coaches they've been assigned have the most effect on their ability to learn golf, since golf is considered a "late specialization" sport (more on that later). And adults don’t always take a longer time to become proficient at golf, especially if they had an active childhood and stay active into adulthood. The organization Canadian Sport for Life researches and facilitates physical literacy among schools, educators, coaches, and parents. They believe (as do I) that basic movement skills can be developed through the following four activities, and these skills form the base for nearly all sports.
ATHLETICS: run, jump, throw, strike, and wheel
GYMNASTICS: ABCs of athleticism (agility, balance, coordination, and speed)
SWIMMING: water safety and remaining balanced in a buoyant environment
SKATING, SLIP AND SLIDE: balance and stability on ice, snow or water
The golf swing is considered an explosive rotary motion, so which of the above skills are required to play golf at an enjoyable level? If you said throw, strike, balance, coordination, and speed, you’d be correct. The world’s best golfers are also training their explosive skills, which include jumping and agility training.
So let’s say that I’m teaching three 12-year-old girls: the first has dabbled in tennis, basketball, and softball with enough success to enjoy each of them, the second has been a competitive gymnast since age 6, and the third has focussed entirely on academics until now. Let’s say all of them are healthy and otherwise equal. Who do you think would see measurable progress the soonest?
Now let’s take those same girls and fast forward 15 years. They are now 27 years old and coming to learn golf for the first time (let’s also imagine they never learned golf when they were 12). The first girl played high school tennis and continues to play now, the second became a college diver, and the third stays active hiking and practicing yoga. Will the same woman experience success earliest?
ALL of these women can learn to play golf, but in order to reach some level of proficiency the second two would need to practice the basic movement skills that they missed out on in childhood. It is important to note that these skills can be learned at any age, but the sooner one masters the basic movement skills, the more firmly those skills are embedded in one's brain. The tennis player has all of the movement skills necessary, the gymnast/diver needs to learn some object control (throwing, striking), and the hiker needs to learn object control, agility, and speed.
An added benefit of playing sports or music as a child or young adult is that of being coached. Coach-ability is that X-factor that is so critical for success! Coachable players are the students who trust their coaches and instructors, build relationships with them, and know that the coach has their best interest at heart. They take criticism well and consider it the only way to improve, and they are willing to work towards their goals. Just last week I told a student how enjoyable it is to teach him because he's an athlete, knows what athletic motion should feel like, and is coachable. Our lessons are targeted and effective, and I think we can credit his lifetime of sports experience for it.
I asked family members, friends, and students who have single digit handicaps to tell me when they learned to play golf, and what other sports they played from childhood through their college years. Most learned golf for the first time when they were in elementary school, but never focused on it until junior high or high school. In some cases, they didn’t return to golf until after college. Agility, speed, object control, rotary motion, balance, and coordination were learned in these early years; in other words, they created the perfect breeding ground for a good golf game:
baseball and softball
football quarterback and receiver
track and field (sprinting and field events, not endurance running)
So the next time you take a golf lesson, or take your child for a golf lesson, let your coach know what other sports you've played. If you think you need to play “catch-up” with one or more of the basic movement skills, ask your coach or a personal trainer which exercises are right for you. It will make all the difference in the world! Here’s to happy times and solid shots on the course!