Kids and Juniors
Why junior golfers should continue playing multiple sports
By Frank Mantua
PGA Jr. League golfers participate in some basketball competitions at the 2019 PGA Jr. League National Championship.PGA of America
As a PGA Professional and the owner of a junior golf school, I see parents starting their kids in golf earlier and earlier. That’s great. I think exposing them to golf at a younger age will help make the sport stick and lead to lifetime golfers. The question is when should parents cut out all the other sports and concentrate just on golf.
It may sound crazy, but there have been many times where I’ve recommended that the junior golfer play less golf and spend time playing other sports. So at what age do you stop with the other sports and get golf specific? Below is the best summary from the research that has been done. First let’s discuss the value of raising a multi sport athlete. Years ago before the internet, video games, and cell phones, most kids played any sport they came across. This was helpful for learning basic motor skills.
These activities also taught coordination, the basis of all sports. Playing multiple sports will help your child to learn how to control and use both sides of their body, and figure out how to produce speed in their golf swing. With the decrease of free time or by parent choice, many kids are focusing on one sport at an earlier age. The problem with getting too specific too early is that it can lead to a lack of these basic skills and sometimes even lead to injury from overuse.
Additionally, you’re increasing the chance for burnout and isolation from other kids their age. A recent study of players on the PGA Tour showed that over 90% of players were multi sport athletes at least until they reached high school. Even Tiger Woods dreamed to be a professional basketball player as a kid! Plus, the average rookie on Tour last year was 30 years old. So there is time! Overall, the general consensus is that you really shouldn’t limit your child to one sport until the age of 14 or 15. The Titleist Performance Institute, an educational organization dedicated to the study of how the human body functions in relation to the golf swing, offers the following guidelines for kids:
- Kids up to the age of 9 should try all sports and play as many as they can.
- Kids 9-12 should still be playing 3 sports.
- Kids 12-16 should still be playing 2 sports.
- At age 15, you can get specific with a competitive player.
Parents and coaches can always point to an athlete that has reached great success through early specialization, but understand that is a rare case and a small percentage of overall junior golfers. As a parent, you must realize that research shows when kids only participate in a single sport, they are at a far greater risk of burnout, decreased motivation, and lack of enjoyment.
In addition, kids can feel pressure when everything in the family revolves around their sport performance. This leads to a situation where it is tough for the junior to stay emotionally healthy. Finally, consider that early specialization creates worse overall athletes.
Playing multiple sports helps kids learn from being on a team, working with different coaches, and having the ability to learn how to be a “coachable player”. I can understand why parents would want to concentrate on one sport very early. For some parents, it’s hard to believe that teaching your child to skip or throw a baseball will help them with their golf swing, but the data we now have supports junior golfers playing multiple sports at least until they get to high school.
As a parent, I realize that it’s hard to fit a lot of sports into a busy kid’s schedule and still balance friends, schoolwork, and free time. Plus, some parents really just want the next Rory or Lexi. Now that we have the ability to look back and see what’s happened to the kids that got specific from an early age, we can see that there is no real advantage. More likely, it can be a disadvantage to your child in the long run.
So keep these things in mind when choosing how your child will spend their formative years in athletics. Remember, in reality as a parent you’re looking to produce a happy, life-long golfer, not a PGA Tour Professional.
Frank W. Mantua, PGA, Kiski Prep School Golf Course
Owner, U.S. Golf Camps