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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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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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