August 29, 2013

Developmental Guide for Juniors - Part 1

What Parents Need to Know - Part 1


Ken Macdonald, M.S., CGFI-3, CES, PES
8371 N. Military Trail
Palm Beach Gardens, Fl. 33410, Suite 106
Office: 561-328-9298
Cell: 561-310-2692

I am often asked the question; at what age should my child begin working out for golf?  The answer to this question is not as cut and dry as one might think.  Most of us know children mature at different rates.  What most of us do not know is that every child has an optimal time or “window of opportunity” for developing the various physical qualities that will propel them towards high levels of athletic achievement.  These periods of physiological development are known as “sensitive periods”.  These periods occur when a child’s potential for physical adaptation to specific sports training stimulus is greatest.  Each child’s “sensitive period” is different particularly when comparing males to females.  For example, the rate of strength development for girls occurs earlier than boys due to the onset of puberty at a younger age.  This difference in the developmental stage indicates that girls are more likely to benefit from strength training at an earlier age than boys.  If the child does not engage in sports or physical activities during these periods, the result will be a permanent loss of fitness and athletic potential.

Common Mistakes Made By Coaches and Parents

Coaches often make the mistake of training children between the ages of 10 and 16 based on their chronological age rather than their developmental age.  Research has shown that chronological age is not a good indicator to begin athletic development training programs for young golfers.  There is too much variation in the physical, cognitive and emotional maturation of athletes within this age group.  Taking a physical training program and scaling it down for a junior is not a great alternative…kids are not mini adults and should not be trained like them.  The best way to determine a child’s developmental age is to identify their Peak Height Velocity (PHV) or their growth spurt.  This typically occurs between the ages of 12-14 in both girls and boys.  At this time their ability to  adapt to the physical stressors demanded of them is heightened and results can come quickly, ultimately dictating their future in athletics.  This optimal window of accelerated adaptation will include improvements in stamina (endurance), strength, speed, skill, and suppleness (flexibility). 

A mistake parents make, is that they have their child specialize in golf (or other sports) at too early an age.  If the child is only playing one sport during their developmental years (5 – 12) their “physical literacy” (a term coined by the Titleist Performance Institute) will never have a chance to progress.  Physical literacy means the development of fundamental movement skills (FMS) and fundamental sport skills (FSS).  This should allow a child to engage in a wide variety of physical activities with confidence and efficiency before the onset of the growth spurt.  It is widely written that the best golfers and athletes were multi-sport competitors whose natural athleticism was cultivated before their sport specific skills.  Some of the best athletes and golfers in the world played other sports during their college and professional careers.  Below is a list of some of the best golfers on tour and retired who played multiple sports well into high school and college:

  • Gary Woodland: College Basketball
  • Dustin Johnson: High School Basketball
  • Hale Irwin: College Football
  • Martin Kaymer: Professional Soccer
  • Sergio Garcia: Amateur Tennis
  • Matt Kuchar: Amateur Tennis
  • Jerry Kelly: College Hockey
  • John Brodie: Professional Football
  • Johnattan Vegas: Baseball
  • Ricky Barnes: High School Football and Baseball
  • Rickie Fowler: Motorcross
  • Sam Snead: High School Football and Track
  • Fred Funk: Golden Gloves Boxing
  • Stuart Appleby: Rugby
  • Jack Nicklaus: High School Basketball and Football
  • Tiger Woods:  All around athlete

Long-Term Athletic Development (LTAD)

This term and most of the research done on this topic was brought to attention by Istvan Balyi, a doctor from the National Coaching Institute in British Columbia, Canada.  He has concluded, through intensive study and research, that long-term commitment to practice and training is required to produce elite players in all sports. “Ultimately, sustained success comes from training and performing well over the long-term rather than winning in the short-term.”  By applying well thought out training programs and devoting the appropriate amount of time to competition and practice during a child’s peak years of development, the coach or parent will ensure optimum development throughout the athlete’s career.  LTAD is defined by its five-stage model.  Each stage details how to enhance the appropriate physical development of a child from the age of 5 through college.

1.  FUNdamentals: Males 6-9/Females 6-8 years of age

2.  Learning to Train: Males 9-12/Females 8-11 years of age

3.  Training to Train: Males 12-16/ Females 11-15 years of age

4.  Training to Compete: Males 16-18/ Females 15-17 years of age

5.  Training to Win: Males 18 and older/ Females 17 years and older

In Part II of this article I will discuss each stage of the model in greater detail, elaborating on the training modes that should be introduced and the skills that need to be developed during each phase of growth.

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