I was having a conversation with a parent a couple of weeks ago who was expressing concern over why their child did not seem to be improving. The child in question was under 10, been playing the game for around 2 years, and has seen dramatic improvements over summer 2015. Despite the weather, the child is still playing a lot of golf and to the concern of the parent does not seem to be progressing at the same rate as previously.
It was after a 30 minute conversation with this parent that I decided I should write an article to discuss some of the points we talked about as it wasn’t the first time I had encountered this. It is often only human nature to want to see your child continually progressing however this isn’t always the story; but more importantly, it is certainly NOT a problem.
Let’s just start with a couple of basic truths before going into this in a bit more detail;
• GOLF IS HARD! Whether it is a 6 year old child, or a multiple major winner, the game of golf is a tough one to master. You only have to look up and down the range on a weekday night to see numerous adults battling with themselves, trying to solve their problems. Give your child a break if they are having a tough day, week or even month; this game is not easy!
• SUCCESS DOES NOT FOLLOW A STRAIGHT LINE PATTERN. Despite people often thinking that success is all one big fairytale of win after win, this is far from the truth. If you speak to any successful athlete, they will tell you of the struggles they have had and the multiple failures they have dealt with. The good old cliché of “you have to make a mistake to learn” is a great one. I like to think of ‘failures’ as the catalyst to success….allow your child to fail; it’s not a bad thing!
This visual is great and I urge all parents to see the bigger picture. There is a subtle difference instant success and development and I am looking for the latter.
Now that the ‘obvious’ stuff is out of the way, I would like to introduce some other ideas that must be considered when worrying about your child’s performance.
1. Growth spurts
These are unavoidable and all children go through them but here’s a vitally important concept to understand. As children experience growth spurts, the proportion of their body parts change.
See the picture below that shows;
• At the age of 2, a child’s legs make up 2/5 of their body. By age 7, their legs are now 3/6 of their body.
• At the age of 7, a child’s arms are 2.75/6 of their body but by age 14 their arms are 3/7 of their body.
Importantly, these changes in body proportions drastically affect the coordination abilities of a child. Imagine now if I added 3 inches to your arms and asked you to swing a golf club; it would be all over the place! This is arguably one of the most important concepts to understand when judging a child’s abilities and this factor of growth and coordination must be taken in account before judging “why your child has suddenly got worse?”
2. Performance Plateaus
With anything in life, there becomes a time when performance plateaus and the journey to the ‘next level’ may not be as quick as the previous journey. Any golfer will know that reducing your handicap from 28 to 20 may have been reasonably easy but as you get lower, it becomes harder and harder to get handicap reductions. For a child, a common plateau occurs when they cannot hit the ball any further but in most cases we need to wait for a child to get stronger before worrying about hitting the ball further.
In relation to growth spurts, there may also be long periods of no growth! During these periods, a child’s strength may not increase so not increasing driving distance over a 6 month period is often NOT an issue. Please allow your child to grow before getting too concerned over driving distance!
For me, this is a great example of times when ‘development’ supersedes ‘instant success’. For sure, there may be no instant successes of hitting the ball further or improving chipping technique….but other valuable life skills can be developed during this time such as work ethic, team work and important social skills to name a few. I want to create well rounded individuals that love golf and are fit for lifelong participation in sport. Hence I am not worried, and neither you should be, if your child hits a plateau and is struggling to hit the ball further or improve their chipping technique. It’s about more than just golf!
3. Cognitive development versus motor development
In layman terms, research has shown that a child’s movement skills are heavily related to their ability to process information. In relation to this, it is common that young children can sometimes not grasp new movements but we sometimes have to allow time for their mental abilities to improve before expecting any changes in movement. Despite the fact they are often more interested in looking at the clouds than your advice, the mental skills of a child will often not allow any movement improvement. So please, give them time and do not expect a child who cannot complete their times tables to correctly follow your in depth technical instruction!
In summary, the development of children is a highly diverse process but I hope this article has provided you with an insight into SOME of the reasons why children may not always be improving at the rate you expect. At our academy, we are heavily focussed on long term development and are continually seeing the bigger picture as opposed to getting overly obsessed with ‘instant success’ or worrying about ‘short term failures’.
To finish, there is nothing wrong with wanting your child to be the best golfer in the world (importantly they must want it also), however understand that they have 20+ years to achieve this and do not get blinded by ‘short term failures’ – instead, embrace the challenges that your child will face and allow them to become the best they can!