What We Can Learn From Junior Golf
I’ve been doing a little research into the world of junior golf. Yes, GOLF. Given that tennis and golf are both referred to as “Country Club Sports,” I figured there might be some overlap in terms of the junior aspects of both sports. And I figured we parents might benefit from learning how things are done with our golfing brethren. So, I’ve put together a list of things we can learn from them.
- Options are good. When I spoke with Craig Goldstein, father of a 12 year old nationally-ranked golfing son, he was surprised to learn that tennis does not have a variety of tours for players to compete in. That, basically, our kids have USTA events and maybe ITFs once they’re old enough, and that’s it. In golf, there are a number of tours available for juniors to play, and they must earn their way up the proverbial ladder into the higher level tours. Here is a sampling of what’s out there for young golfers (there are other tours, too, in addition to what’s listed here) . . . For beginners, there is the First Tee Program which is an international youth development organization introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people. US Kids Golf has local tours that lead to its World Championships each year. The Metropolitan PGA (sponsored by the PGA) provides a higher level of competition. The highest level of competition exists on the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tour, a spot on which has to be earned through performance-based play at the lower levels. Each tour is run by an independent organization and is proficiency-based rather than age-based (I hope the USTA 10-and-Under Tennis folks will adopt a similar model).
- Parent education is not only good . . . it’s a necessity. When doing my research, I was encouraged by the mandatory parent meetings and parent education opportunities made available in the junior golf world. These parent meetings not only inform attendees of the rules specific to each event, but they also provide information on college recruiting and volunteer opportunities for the young golfers. The various tour websites also contain information much like that provided by ParentingAces – how to prepare for a tournament, Parents Code of Conduct, information on grants, playing as a family, etc. I love that the tours each take responsibility for this aspect of the sport, making sure parents have information at their fingertips as they navigate through their child(ren)’s experience in golf.
- Clear, concise, timely enforcement of the Code of Conduct is crucial. Each of the golf tours mentioned above has a clear-cut Code of Conduct on its website which players, parents, and coaches are expected to follow. Any infraction is met with immediate action from one of the many Officials on duty. For example, if a player behaves poorly on the golf course, the Official responsible for that group of players will issue the player a Yellow Card. If that same player misbehaves again during the event, the player is issued a 2nd Yellow Card and is immediately disqualified from that tournament and may even be suspended from the tour for the remainder of the year. While junior golf has its share of misbehaving parents, the rules are very clear on how those parents are to be reprimanded, and the reprimands are carried out quickly and consistently. Golf parents are allowed to be on the course while their children are competing, but they must stay on the cart path or as far away from competition as possible. As in junior tennis, parental coaching is prohibited during play. According to Stephanie Dittmer of AJGA, often times players or parents will direct a staff member to a situation in which they feel a parent is too close or sharing too much encouragement, maybe advice, with a player, and at that time, the AJGA staff member assigned to that group will address the problem with all parties and monitor closely to ensure no advice or coaching is being given. If it is found that the parent is coaching or giving advice, appropriate measures are taken immediately.There are no warnings, no wishy-washy officiating, simply adherence to the rules and consequences as stated.
- Gearing events and tournaments to a traditional school schedule is beneficial to all junior players. While a growing number of high-level junior tennis players are now opting for homeschooling, a majority of junior golfers attend traditional school and are able to stay in traditional school throughout their junior competition years due to the fact that tournaments and other events are held only on the weekends during the academic year. Because the ultimate goal of junior golf is earning a college scholarship, organizers are sensitive to players being able to travel to their events after school on Friday, returning home in time for Monday morning classes. Of course, there are some events that require a missed day of school. However, overall, absences for most players are kept to a minimum, and a player’s academic performance is highly valued as a key factor in his/her ability to earn a coveted scholarship.
- Event sponsors add so much to junior tournaments. In junior golf, sponsors are very visible at every event. And, it’s not just a random banner or sign that you see. You’ll also see representatives from the various sponsors present on the golf course, interacting with the players, talking with them about their dreams and goals and futures. The junior players learn how to have casual though productive conversations with these sponsors and learn the value of networking from a young age. Many times, these sponsors provide summer internships to the players that could lead into full-time career opportunities after college. Sponsors also allow for player-parent-coach dinners, product giveaways, and other perks present at most junior golf events. Tennis tournament organizers could definitely benefit from adopting similar practices.
- Playing at the collegiate level is viewed as a high-level accomplishment. The AJGA’s mission states that getting juniors college golf scholarships is the basis for all its practices. College coaches are invited to the tour events and are encouraged to interact with the families (within the NCAA guidelines of course). Coaches are also invited to speak at year-end banquets and award ceremonies. For example, at its annual awards dinner the Metropolitan PGA invites coaches and former players as keynote speakers who emphasize the importance of using golf as an entree into college and to earning a degree. Each of the junior golf tours also includes easy-to-access information on its website on college recruiting and scholarships (see http://www.ajgau.org/). Like tennis, however, there is an inequity in the number of college scholarships available to boys vs. girls. In golf, there are 6 scholarships on the women’s side but only 4 1/2 on the men’s side (tennis has 8 for women, 4 1/2 for men), so both sports continue to be great choices for our daughters who want to play a varsity sport in college and hope to get a scholarship. For our sons, it’s a bit more challenging, but the opportunities are absolutely there for those who set their sites on them.
- Governing bodies are not responsible for coaching or professional development. If a junior golfer wants to turn pro, the onus is on him/her to get the coaching necessary for proper development then take that leap. None of the organizations mentioned above are involved in developing professional players. Their job is strictly to educate and put on stellar events. Coaching is left to the individual player and his/her parents. Development is left to the individual coaches. I would sure love to see USTA adopt a similar policy and stick to growing the game of tennis by putting on top-notch events and league play, leaving coaching and development to those in the trenches.
USTA needs to reach out to the various junior golf associations and figure out how to incorporate some or all of these concepts into junior tennis. I’m sure there are facets of other junior sports that our young tennis players could benefit from as well. If you have experience with other youth sports, please share in the Comments below. By working together with other governing bodies and getting a bit creative, all of our junior athletes might just wind up winners.