Southland junior leader stresses pride and joy while working with young golfers
By AL PETERSEN
This article was originally published in Southland Golf Magazine.
Encinitas Ranch-based and regional Junior Golf Leadership Award winner Heidi Richardson knows that when young players have fun they’ll play more and develop skills at a quicker pace. Here are 10 ways parents, and a solid plan, can help a budding golfer enjoy a game that could last a lifetime.
When should a child start swinging a club if interest is shown?
My son starting when he was crawling on the putting green, at 6 months old! But, seriously, I have given lessons to 2-year-olds. I also have a Pee Wee program for children ages 3-6 and, for the most part, even at this age juniors can absorb instruction and truly improve. The main focus, however, needs to be on fun and not too much instruction. The golf skills will improve, guaranteed. I have video of some pretty strong swing mechanics of 2- and 3-year-olds.
What should be the focus at an early age?
At that age I just want to share the fun and make sure their first experience with the game of golf is positive. Junior instruction programs should teach the fundamentals, but in a fun and educational format, that include a variety of games, challenges, skills and drills.
What should parents do to foster their child’s interest in golf if a desire is expressed to play?
Call your local golf professional and try to formulate a game plan. Of course, you should also get your junior to the local range or course and give them one ball and one (little) club, and start them right next to the cup. Show them how to tap the ball into the hole and get them hooked on that sound.
Do you have advice regarding too much or not enough parental involvement?
That’s a fine line, no doubt. For some shy and hesitant juniors, I’ve asked some parents to hang close by for the first few experiences, lessons, camps or clinics until the junior becomes comfortable and feels safe. After that, a parent watching too closely is distracting and, at times, a junior won’t thrive unless given the space to focus on and engage in the program. Of course, these guidelines change as a junior reaches an advanced competitive level.
How important is proper equipment when someone starts out?
Very important. Parents don’t need to spend too much money or buy large sets of equipment and should get the advice of an instructor to help with the right size, weight, flex and set make-up for their child. I usually recommend a limited set of two to four clubs, with the most important features being the size, length, weight and flex. Juniors grow through sets quickly, so proper clubfitting along the way greatly affects the swing development. Clubs that are too big and heavy can lead to a struggling swing and be discouraging and ultimately could stop a junior from playing and enjoying the game.
What are your teaching philosophies when it comes to youths?
My junior programs include a fun variety of training aids, drills, games and challenges. Some things I utilize are the Birdie Ball tent, a balance board, my 100 Skills Chart and a 9 Hole Camp Challenge. They’re improving all swing skills but the main focus is on fun and encouragement. I created the 100 Skills Chart in honor of the 100th anniversary of the PGA of America, and it has been a hit with the juniors. The challenge is to accomplish activities such as making 100 3-foot putts, doing 100 minutes of fitness and hitting 100 drives on the sweet spot. The kids are enthralled with completing all of the challenges and can’t wait to get going on their lessons.
How does that change as they get older and are physically and mentally able to do more?
I’ve had many juniors make that transition as they get to junior high and high school age. I’ll have more discussion and review time during lessons, guide the junior toward making challenging goals and help show the junior and his or her family all of the opportunities for more advanced junior golf. More focus will be on course playing lessons, developing a handicap and looking into local competitions.
Should stretching and overall fitness be part of a young golfer’s routine?
Absolutely! In generations past, golf was not considered an athletic endeavor, but that is far from the truth. In my life and my instruction programs, fitness is a major focus. The first activities of any lesson begin with work on three key skills needed to be a great golfer: strength, balance and flexibility. Each junior is given a fitness routine and might need to focus on one area more than another. I utilize my yoga background as well and conduct private, group and camp yoga/fitness training, which in addition to physical training is a great resource for the mental and emotional skills needed for the game.
What’s best for most children – individual instruction or group lessons?
That’s hard to answer on a large scale, but as I conduct my initial interview with a new junior and his family I can evaluate and make the best suggestions for the path a junior should take. I’ve had many juniors that were timid and needed personal and private lessons and support before joining a group lesson, clinic or camp. On the other hand, there have been many times when I knew I needed to get a junior going with a fun group right away in order to keep them all interested in the game. It mostly depends on a child’s personality.
If keeping youths interested in golf is crucial to the game’s future, how can that interest be developed and retained?
Teachers should do their best to share love and passion for the game and get juniors out to the course by talking with and encouraging parents. We also need to get the word out to the community about the incredible resources and opportunities their junior could gain through golf. Once I get a junior to the course, I put my total focus on making sure they get the spark and passion for the game. I’m confident that if we make the game fun, challenging and encouraging we’ll continue to increase the numbers of juniors and hopefully their families will also want to join in on the fun.