By Brendon Elliott, PGA
I love being a coach! I coached at a private high school in Orlando from 2003 to 2008, and even back then, it was important to me to take the program from strictly 9-hole practices to those that were more structured and incorporated skill development and drill stations into each session. This philosophy led to several successful years while I was there and carried over to the years following.
Most of my focus over the past decade has been on developing a love of the game in young kids from ages 3-10, but have recently expanded the breadth of my coaching and returned to working with more advanced juniors and older youth golfers from 10-18. Having them understand the importance of practicing all facets of their game, outside of the time spent with me, is critical to attaining their goals. However, it is often a challenge to get some of my junior golfers to put the work in on their own. Some of them are dedicated and follow our plan for their continued progress, while others practice, but in a more unstructured way. Unfortunately, some practice sporadically, relying mostly on our in-person sessions, while the rest don’t practice at all. I’m sure that this is not a unique struggle that I, as a coach, face with my students.
Why is Practice Important?
Practice is essential in all sports – but nowhere else is an athlete more exposed to his or her shortcomings or deficiencies as they are in golf. The individuality of the game and one’s inability to hide among a team of other players leave golfers exposed. You score what you score; there is no help out there for you. This is what makes golf a game that requires structured practice sessions, and is a vital component to achieving the outcome golfers desire when in competition.
Golf is a puzzle made up of many pieces – full swing, pitching, chipping, putting, bunker play, trouble shots, strategy, mental game, tournament preparation, equipment tweaks, understanding of Rules, fitness, nutrition and even more. No golfer can rely on skill alone, and no golfer excels in all areas of the game, even after working on all those various pieces of the puzzle. Inevitably, when you think you’ve got it and the puzzle is complete, there’s a piece missing. Consistent and structured practices instill repetition, discipline and patience that help you get better – and to continue to get better, you must increase your practice in a consistent and structured way.
How to Plan Your Practice
In this internet age, there are countless examples online and on YouTube of how golf coaches structure their practices. However, there is no one blueprint of the most effective way to put this all together. Everyone is unique and has many things to consider when putting a practice schedule together. This is especially true for kids, who have other priorities such as school, family, friends and possibly even other sports they play. With this in mind, and years of experience under my belt, I offer these suggestions on how to put a practice schedule together, specific to young golfers.
Consider how much time you can devote to practice – Only the athlete and his or her family can truly determine this. The most important thing is to put something together and stick to it.
Skill Development vs. On-Course Time – Golfers need both. They will spend much time with their coaches on skill development, but must work on this on their own as well. Getting on the course for play or practice is entirely different. This is where the young golfers should focus less on mechanics and more on strategy, understanding how far they hit each club and scoring.
Short Game & Putting are Critical – No matter the golfer’s skill level, an estimated 60 percent of all shots taken during a round are from 100 yards and in. Short irons, pitching, chipping, bunker play and putting usually make or break a round, and therefore should receive the majority of one’s practice time.
Baseline Testing – There is a definite need to find a baseline of where the golfer stands in certain aspects of the game. Coaches should test and screen their golfers to attain those baseline numbers and then continually go back and check them periodically.
Gamification – Playing games within practice sessions make them more enjoyable. Whether they are structured games that a coach provides, or small challenges made up by the golfer, the challenge to improve and excel should be instilled in every practice session.
Use Technology – Tools like Blast Motion, Rapsodo, Ikonik Golf, V1 Game and more, are great forms of technology that golfers can utilize to enhance the effectiveness of their practice sessions. Data and communications help golfers achieve goals at a faster rate.
Have FUN! – This is crucial, especially for juniors. Burn out is real and there’s nothing worse than wasted talent due to unfocused practice and players losing interest.
Take Time for Mental – Do not neglect the mental game. Popular books by Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Gio Valiante or others can be considered a vital aspect of a golfer’s practice regimen.
Take Time for the Physical – Good health is critical to long term performance. Incorporating a stretching routine is important, and as the junior gets older, adding strength training, speed development and more will benefit him or her well beyond their high school and college years. Nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery are all essential things to remember.
I love being a coach. Guiding young golfers through their journey to be better is extremely rewarding. Making it possible for them to reach their goals goes far beyond coaching, however. To reach their milestones, work has to be put in by the individual. Hopefully, this information can serve as a foundation for all junior coaches out there.