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A Guide to Golf Fitness for Kids

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In this series of five articles, I will be offering guidelines for golf-specific physical activity aimed at five different golfing demographics:

This article covers the physical activity that’s best for kids interested in the game of golf, and is beneficial for children who simply want to engage in golf as a hobby, as well as those who one day hope to play golf as a professional. What you’ll find is that in childhood, what’s good for a child’s physical development as a whole is also good for their golf future.

Kids

Fundamental movement skills (FMS) are what most people would call basic game play, i.e. running, throwing, catching, kicking and striking — all elements that used to make up typical lunchtime play sessions and after-school activities. With less time in school curriculums being devoted to sport, and an increasing amount of play is done with just two thumbs and controller, kids are not getting the FMS we as trainers and golf coaches would like to see.

kids-playing-a-video-game

A typical “play session” for young kids: Zero activity combined with poor postural habits.

You might ask what running, throwing, catching, kicking and striking have to do with getting better at golf – and rightly so. At first sight, golf only involves one of those movements, however, one of the major benefits of solid FMS is body awareness and control.

FMS is championed by knowledgeable golf coaches, physios and trainers who specialize in the development young players. They love to see a talented teenager with a multi-sport background who has good control and awareness of their body. It means that the teenager is able to detect the subtle changes in movement that a coach is trying to teach, or activate a certain muscle group that the physio or trainer wants to strengthen.

As a result, they are better able to make the necessary adaptations and improve their swing action a lot quicker than someone who has only swung a golf club the same way through their crucial development years.

Developing solid FMS skills also has far wider-reaching benefits than preparation for elite-level golf. The general benefits of good FMS are widely believed to indicate a higher participation rate in sport and are directly correlated with lower BMI and waist measurements. Perhaps most important, learning functional movement skills is great fun! I’ve been involved in plenty of FMS sessions for kids where they’re having so much fun that they don’t want to take the T-ball bat out their hands and do the actual golf part of their session.

CIMG7145

Modified T-Ball: One person hitting, the rest running, throwing and catching with every play.

I can see how specializing early might be tempting — most of us have heard about Tiger Woods shooting even par before the age of 3, which can make parents feel as though their 8-year-old is way behind the curve. But who would encourage a child to drop every other subject and only focus on music on age 5 just because Mozart was composing symphonies at the same age?

With that in mind, why would we see it as necessary to stunt a child’s overall physical development by focusing on a single sport?

In an age where inactivity is fast being recognized as our culture’s biggest threat to health and well being, isn’t it better to encourage the kids to run, jump, kick, throw and strike while learning some basic golf skills and having fun doing it?

If you are interested in getting your child involved in improving their FMS while they learn to play golf, then do a little homework on the junior golf programs in the area and find out if they run sessions that incorporate well thought out physical activity in their sessions.

If you are a golf coach or trainer looking to up-skill in the kids department, check out the TPI Junior Certifications and Milo Bryant. They are doing a great job of teaching people how to effectively engage kids in fundamental movement skills.

Next week, I will talk about teenage golfers and how they can benefit from better postural awareness, good form and technique, and an introduction to the gym.

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Nick Randall is a Strength and Conditioning Coach, Presenter and Rehab Expert contracted by PGA Tour Players, Division 1 colleges and national teams to deliver golf fitness services. Via his Golf Fit Pro website, app, articles and online training services, Nick offers the opportunity to the golfing world to access his unique knowledge and service offerings. www.golffitpro.net

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. brian d

    Jun 1, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    the parents of that kid in the opening picture may consider getting that kid a basketball… Looks like he could be dunking by middle school

  2. Jeez Utz

    May 28, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Play outside???
    That’s for the poor kids!

  3. Nick Randall

    May 28, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Hi Guys,

    Just to be clear, I’m not saying never play another video game! I too played loads of video games as a kid, in my teens and early 20s on multiple platforms and got so much enjoyment out of it. I’m suggesting that adding some physical activity to the context in which they play golf will help them become a more athletic person overall.

    There was literally one sentence devoted to the video game topic. It would be nice if people leaving comments could actually consider the entire context and message of an article before charging after the one section that they don’t agree with…………

  4. Golfraven

    May 28, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Good article but I actually hoped to read more about golf for kids. Rest is fairly common sense for parents who already engage their children in physical activities. However looking forward to reading more.

    • Nick Randall

      May 28, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Golfraven,

      Thank you, wanted to stay distant and vague with recommendations. Firstly because it isn’t my direct area of expertise and secondly because you don’t really need to get specific at this age – teach the fundamentals of the golf swing, make it fun and include varied game based activity.

      Cheers

      Nick

  5. TR1PTIK

    May 28, 2015 at 11:07 am

    I don’t see any problem with this article. Yes, kids can (even should in some cases) play video games as it can be a good stimulant for the brain (depending on the game at least). However, I think what the author should have emphasized a little better is that kids don’t get as much playtime and physical activity at school anymore. Therefore, parents should get out with their kids and be active. It’s good for the kids and it’s good for you.

    • Nick Randall

      May 28, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Hi TR1PTIK,

      Thanks again for constructive feedback

      Nick

      • TR1PTIK

        May 28, 2015 at 4:37 pm

        You’re welcome. I enjoy reading your articles. While it may seem like common sense to some, this article is a good reminder to make sure your kids stay active, and you don’t have to push them into any one particular sport – it’s best that you don’t. When I was growing up I played baseball, soccer, golf, and rode bmx to name a few – I also played plenty of video games. Now, even though I’ve put on a few years (and a few pounds) I am still quite athletic and have fairly good muscle control which helps me when working on swing changes with my instructor.

  6. Dave S

    May 28, 2015 at 9:26 am

    This is overly simplistic. There needs to be a balance, yes, but most people in their 20s and 30s grew up playing NES, SNES, Sega, PS, Xbox, etc. A LOT! I was a very good athlete and I played countless hours of video games as a kid. I also spent countless hours shooting baskets, playing football, running around w/ friends, etc. It’s true that no kid should spend their entire childhood indoors in front of a screen, but that actually does have some value – just like physical activity. We live in an ever-increasingly digital world. The skills kids learn in solving puzzles, using strategy and not giving up (on a hard level they can’t beat) are valueable as well. If you think video games didn’t help prepare our current generation of UAV pilots you’ve got your head in the sand.

  7. ZQ

    May 28, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Lol it’s ironic that many of the best players in the world grew up playing Playstation, SNES etc, in that exact position and did just fine eh. They also played other sports. Didn’t buy too much into biomechanics and developed what is becoming more and more elusive to the new generation = FEEL. Let kids be kids man, this is too much.

  8. Ryan K

    May 28, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Nicely done, can we just take the golf specificity out of this article and make it required reading for every parent?

    • Nick Randall

      May 28, 2015 at 2:25 pm

      Thanks Ryan, whist I don’t work in other sports or much with non golfers…….yes I think everyone could benefit from lots of varied active play when they are young.

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 2)

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Golf is very much a monkey-see-monkey-do sport. If you ever go to the local range, you are sure to see golfers trying to copy the moves of their favorite player. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it does not. While I understand the logic of trying to mimic the “secret move” of the most recent winner on tour, I always balk when the person trying to create their best impression fails to realize the physical differences between them and the best golfing athletes in the world.

Read part 1 here. 

In addition to most golfers not being at the same fitness levels as the best players in the world, they also do not have bodies that are identical to their favorite player. This single statement proves why there is not one golf swing; we all are different sizes and are going to swing the club differently due to these physical differences.

You have to understand your swing

The biggest reason I believe that golfers are better than they think is most golfers I meet do not understand what their swings should look like. Armed with video after video of their golf swing, I will always hear about the one thing that the golfer wishes they could change. However, that one thing is generally the “glue” or athleticism of the athlete on display and is also the thing that allows them to make decent contact with the ball.

We are just coming out of the “video age” of golf instruction, and while I think that recording your golf swing can be extremely helpful, I think that it is important to understand what you are looking for in your swing. As a young coach, I fell victim to trying to create “pretty swings”, but quickly learned that there is not a trophy for prettiest swing.

It comes down to form or function, and I choose function

The greatest gift I have ever received as an instructor was the recommendation to investigate Mike Adams and BioSwing Dynamics. Mike, E.A. Tischler, and Terry Rowles have done extensive research both with tour-level players as well as club golfers and have developed a way to test or screen each athlete to determine not only how their golf swing will look, but also how they will use the ground to create their maximum speed. This screen can be completed with a tape measure and takes about five minutes, and I have never seen results like I have since I began measuring.

For example, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a golf swing that tracks more to the outside during the backswing and intersects the body more towards the trail shoulder plane during the backswing. A golfer with a shorter wingspan than height will have a swing that tracks more to the inside and intersects the body closer to the trail hip plane. Also, a golfer with a greater wingspan than height will have a more upright dynamic posture than a golfer with a shorter wingspan than height who will be more “bent over” at the address position.

Sport coats and golf swings

Have you ever bought a sport coat or suit for a special occasion? If so, pay attention to whether it is a short, regular, or long. If you buy a long, then it means that your arms are longer than your torso and you can now understand why you produce a “steeper” backswing. Also, if you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your middle-finger tips touching the top of your kneecaps, you will have perfect dynamic posture that matches your anatomy. If it appears that you are in a taller posture, then you have your second clue that your wingspan is greater than your height.

Translation to improvement

Using this and five other screens, we can help the athletes understand a complete blueprint of their golf swing based off their anatomy. It is due to the work of Mike, E.A., and Terry that we can now matchup the player to their swing and help them play their best. The reason that I believe that most golfers are better than they think is that most golfers have most of the correct puzzle pieces already. By screening each athlete, we can make the one or two adjustments to get the player back to trusting their swing and feeling in control. More importantly, the athlete can revisit their screen sheet when things misfire and focus on what they need to do, instead of what not to do.

We are all different and all have different swings. There is no one way to swing a golf club because there is no one kind of golfer. I encourage every golfer to make their swing because it is the only one that fits.

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How golf should be learned

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, golf is more popular than ever. Beginners being introduced to the game often find that golf is very hard, much harder than other sports they have played. To simplify the golf swing and make the game easier, it needs to start with a concept.

Golf should first be learned from a horizontal position. If the ball was placed four feet above the ground on a large tee, players would naturally turn in an efficient direction with the proper sequence to strike the ball on the tee.

Take for example, a person throwing a ball towards a target. With their eyes out in front of them? having an awareness to the target, their body would naturally turn in a direction to go forward and around towards the target. In golf, we are bent over from the hips, and we are playing from the side of the golf ball, so players tend to tilt their body or over-rotate, causing an inefficient backswing.

This is why the golf swing should be looked at as a throwing motion. The trail arm folds up as the body coils around. To throw a ball further, the motion doesn’t require more body turn or a tilt of the body.

To get the feeling of this horizontal hitting position or throwing motion, start by taking your golf posture. Make sure your trail elbow is bent and tucked with your trail shoulder below your lead shoulder.

From here, simply lift your arms in front of you while you maintain the bend from your hips. Look over your lead shoulder looking at the target. Get the clubhead traveling first and swing your arms around you. Note how your body coils. Return the club back to its original position.

After a few repetitions, simply lower your arms back to the ball position, swing your arms around you like you did from the horizontal position. Allow your shoulders, chest and hips to be slightly pulled around. This is now your “throwing position” in the golf swing. From here, you are ready to make a downswing with less movement needed to make a proper strike.

Note: Another great drill to get the feel for this motion is practicing Hitting driver off your knees.

Twitter: @KKelley_golf

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Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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