How to develop your junior into an Elite Level Golfer
By Bret Knuston PGA Member, Academy Director and Co-Founder of Premier Golf Academy, San Diego - California.
Throughout the world there are parents with enthusiastic young junior golfers that are asking themselves the same questions.
What can I do to help my child’s improvement and progression at golf?
What instructor and program will give my child the best opportunity to reach their full potential?
Golf today is a highly competitive sport with juniors training in professional training programs as early as 8 years old. Professional training programs like the one we have at Premier Golf Academy include all the elements of a junior’s development from the Technical, Physical, Mental, Emotional, Personal Development, and Tournament Play. To reach the highest level it takes years of practicing the correct skills and developing the key elements of elite level players. The sooner your junior golfer is exposed to this type of training and understanding the quicker they will accomplish that goal.
Below I listed the 4 key element that all Professional players have in common and the key development components that contributed to their success.
Start playing young; the younger the better.
No later than 15, and preferably before puberty. When you start as a full-fledged adult you have almost zero chance of becoming a top golfer. The later you start playing, the harder the game is to learn. This fact is surely known to most golf instructors, yet almost never talked about. Tiger Woodsstarted at age 2, Arnold Palmer at 4, Francis Ouimet at 7, Jack Nicklaus at 8, Anika Sorenstam at 10. Rory McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open at age 22, started golf at 18 months! His father, once a scratch golfer, started Rory on the game. At age 13 Rory joined the Golfing Union of Ireland's "coaching panels" for higher performers, and at age 18 turned professional.
You can extrapolate this rule for all golfers. The later the game is taken up, the less chance one has to become good at it. Define "good" anyway you want: the later you start the harder it will be to get there. Starting young imprints muscle movements that stay with you forever, like riding a bicycle. Starting as an adult makes it much harder, if not impossible for most people, to imprint the proper muscle movements for an accurate, repeatable swing.
When you start late the movements have to be learned mechanically, and thought about in the performance. Top golfers did not learn the swing mechanically, and don't think about mechanics when hitting the ball; for them, the necessary mechanics were imprinted in their central nervous system when they were still growing.
Find a good Coach and program.
Great coaches are not only experts in technical instruction, but have experienced playing golf at the highest level and can relate to the students goals and progression. They have a history of successfully accomplishing their goals and developing students from all levels into elite performers. Great coaches lead by example and understand that the little things matter and it’s the little things that develop into the big things that create success. Coaches fill a variety of roles in their players’ lives, acting as everything from mentor to role model to substitute parent. These roles carry significant responsibility, as your players will look to you for so much more than just athletic instruction. Younger players may look up to coaches as a parental figure, while older players will come to you for advice in various aspects of their lives. Good coaches cherish these roles and find them very rewarding.
In order to get the best performance out of your players both as individuals, you cannot ignore the mental aspects of the game. Many talented players will fail to reach their potential due to mental obstacles, such as poor confidence or fear of failure. A good coach will build their players up and instill confidence in them, helping them overcome any hurdles in front of them. A confident player is far more likely to succeed. Confidence in athletic competition quickly spreads to other aspects of players’ lives, building up the self-esteem and self worth with which many young people struggle.
Develop your athletic ability. Athletic Skill is comprised of four factors.
Visual-Physical Perception, or the ability to obtain desired direction, distance and speed of the ball by precise muscle movement. This means you know just how hard and in which direction and at which angle to swing the club so the ball will go where you want it to. This is same skill that allows an NFL quarterback to throw a pass so that the ball ends up exactly where his receiver will be several seconds later. However, it is also the same skill used by anyone driving a car when they apply brake pressure to stop just 2 feet behind the car ahead. In theory, if you can drive a car you should be able to gauge how hard and in what direction to hit a golf ball. This ability does surface on occasion in mediocre golfers. In the best golfers, it is evident on almost every shot.
Hand Eye Coordination. This skill is essential to coordinate swinging the club so it contacts the ball where you want it to on the club face. You may know how hard to swing the club because of good visual-physical perception; hand eye coordination makes it possible for the club face to actually hit the ball where you want it to. This is the same skill that allows a baseball player to hit a ball coming at him 90 miles an hour. But it is also the same skill that allows you to catch a softball or even pick up a carton of milk or a piece of paper. Absent a major neuro-muscular problem, we all have some degree of hand-eye coordination. The best golfers have it to near perfection.
Mental Fortitude. This is essential for you to keep v-p perception and h-e coordination at optimum performance, despite inevitable screw-up’s on the golf course. All golfers suffer adversity while playing: bad shots, good shots but bad bounces, or just plain bad luck. Hard-to-define mental fortitude allows emotions to be kept in check, so that whatever happens while playing will not affect v-p perception or h-e coordination. In other words, not adversely affect your golf swing, your attitude, your game.
Good Physical Condition. This includes both overall muscle strength and aerobic physical fitness. The stronger you are the harder you can hit the ball, but as we all know strength doesn't count for much around the greens or when putting. There is obviously far more to golf than pure physical strength, but without good muscle tone you are apt to become fatigued just swinging the club. Good physical condition is important to the game, even more than many amateurs realize, because golf is an athletic sport. Being "in shape" keeps you from becoming fatigued after walking and swinging a club for several hours.
Practice like a Professional
“Expert level performance is the result of expert level practice.” Your practice program should be deliberate, measurable, and provide specific feedback on skills you are learning. Practice is preparation for competition, and must be rigorous and strenuous, while instilling a passion for training in the younger golfer. The "stress" applied in training is designed to produce powerful adaptations in each golfer that lead to predictable growth in their capacity to produce high performance, both on and off the field of play. The resulting effect of proper training is golers are confident, poised and resilient, and continually look for opportunities to compete and win under any conditions.
Now that you understand what expert level practice is, how much do you need to practice? It takes more than just practicing for 20 minutes a day or spending 8 hours doing it one day per week. Practice needs to be consistent. It takes 2 to 4 hours per day, 5 to 7 times per week, and it takes years to reach your ultimate goals. You have to be patient with your practice just as much you need to be deliberate. To get where you want to be, but make sure you have a target. Without a target, your motivation can take a nosedive before you ever make any real progress. The beginning, when you have the least amount of skill, is the hardest part. It's the point when most people decide something is too hard and give up, but don't get discouraged. You probably won't be very good when you start, but no one ever said success would be easy. Keep your expectations in check, set times to practice regularly, and just keep going. It's both the hardest and easiest part, but all you need to do is keep on going.
Many aspire to be Elite Level Players, but few put in the right practice, the right coaching and the right mix of athletic development to be the best they can be.
Jason is a highly sought after athletic performance specialist with more than 20 years of experience coaching and developing athletes from the youth to professional levels.
He leads a team of passionate and experienced Performance Coaches who integrate advanced training, with mindset formation, nutritional discipline and enhanced recovery protocols to empower our athletes to truly maximize potential.
His students include top amateur, professional, and Olympic athletes.
Serious Training for Serious Junior Golfers
Part of being an Elite Player is the Fitness component - our program creates Athletes. Our training is intense but serves its purpose!