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Monday, October 22, 2018

Five Ways to Grow the Game of Golf in High School

1. You need to work to change the perception of golf at your school. This is a hard task, but too often golf is viewed as that “other” activity to participate in during the spring or fall if you aren’t out for track, soccer, volleyball, softball or cross country. As a boys golf coach, I often run into the perception that student-athletes have to run track to become even better athletes. As a golf coach and avid golfer, I don’t buy that. My thoughts are that if you want to make your athlete even better, have him/her golf. It’s hard for some to relate to that statement if they aren’t a competitive golfer, but it’s so true. During a round of golf it is all you. Nobody else. There are no time-outs, no referees. You are responsible for every decision and reaction. When you have a bad shot, you must have a short memory and move on to the next shot. Easier said than done. As a golf coach, I can’t substitute a player out if he is having a bad day. The game of golf can be extremely frustrating. And learning how to manage the mental aspect of golf is a challenge that every golfer will struggle with, but when a golfer finds a balance in their game, it’s a wonderful thing. And this is why I think we need to do a better job of recruiting kids to our sport at a young age. I’ve had too many players go out for golf for the first time during their senior year telling me how they wished they would have participated in golf all four years of high school. While the game of golf may not be as popular as it was in the Tiger era of the ‘90s, it’s still relative and with the current younger players we see on the PGA tour, it is a great time to pick up the game. High school golf is as competitive as ever! 

2. Golf is hard. Be patient with your younger players. The game of golf can be extremely frustrating for your younger players that may have excelled at other sports. Golf is entirely different. Golf isn’t flashy and it demands a mental aspect that not a lot of student-athletes are prepared for. We discuss the mental game piece quite often at our practices to try and help our players through this process. The parallels between golf and life are amazing. I heard someone once say that a round of golf is like life condensed into four hours. You get frustrated, excited, disappointed. You most certainly will face adversity. And you have to keep your composure. Yes, this is hard for teenagers first learning the game. Playing a round of golf is an amazingly rewarding journey. One way that I have had success in relieving any frustration with the game of golf is to teach the game of golf from the green backward. Sixty-five percent of our shots come from 125 yards and in when playing a round of golf. Focus on the short game and make it fun and competitive during practice. Enable your players with little successes around the green before heading out to the course. Don’t push your younger players out to score too early. Let your veteran players play, while you work with your younger players around the green.

3. Offseason practice and competition is key. We don’t have a certain expectation when it comes to golfing in the offseason, but we highly encourage practice and competition when they can fit it into their busy summer schedules. I have a lot of student-athletes that are involved with other activities and sports and personally, I don’t like to make a student choose which activity they will participate in the most during the offseason. We have been fortunate to have a handful of student-athletes over the last several years that were willing to put the time and effort into practicing and competing in the offseason. These players embraced the opportunity to compete in the Nebraska Golf Associations junior and men’s events during the summer. For those that don’t want the higher level of competition, we encourage them to compete on the Nebraska Junior Golf Tour and purchase the FORE! Card offered by the Nebraska Golf Association. I can’t say enough good things about what NGA Executive Director Craig Ames, Assistant Director Justin Ahrens, and Manager Ben Vigil do for the game of golf in Nebraska. We as golf coaches can rest assured that these leaders will continue to provide great competition opportunities for our junior golfers during the offseason.

4. Make your practices competitive (and FUN). One of the first changes I made when taking over as the head golf coach at Aurora was to make certain parts of our practices ultracompetitive. When we are competing in drills or playing we always have something riding on the outcome. It can be a  simple “get out of practice early” reward or I will end up jumping in a drill myself. When the coach enters the game, the intensity seems to ratchet up to a whole new level. Players always want to beat the coach. If I lose, I buy the team ice cream! I’m always trying to simulate the pressure that our golfers will experience while on the golf course during a meet. It’s hard to simulate the pressure situations players will experience on a golf course, but with a little bit of creativity, you can get pretty close. One of our favorite drills is called the “Last Man Standing Drill.” We will compete in this drill a couple of times a week. It’s up to you how hard you want to make it. I will make it more challenging later in the season for my top 6-7 golfers, but at the start of the season, everyone competes in the drill. Pick a putt on the putting green. Seven to ten feet is a great distance. Have your team line up and have the player at the front of the line putt. If he makes the putt, he is “out” of the game. This is a good thing. Once you are out of the game you are free to leave practice, but a majority of our players stick around to watch the drill to the finish. Play continues as one by one, players give the putt a try. If they miss, they have to go to the back of the line and wait until it is their turn again. Keep doing this until you are down to the final two. First to make the putt in the final two forces the other guy to “win” the drill. Talk about pressure! It’s the game you don’t want to win! It’s a great drill with a lot of tradition on our team. Our golfers are always wanting to do this drill. If you “win” the drill, you have to accept the prize and have it in/on your bag at the next meet you compete in. Last year it was a pair of Elsa ear mufflers. This year it will be a shirt that I had custom made with “I 3 Putt” screen printed across the front. The winner will have to wear the shirt to school. Be creative and have fun. Your players will love it! Here is a link to some of our other favorite competitive drills that we use during our practices: http://bit.ly/huskiesgolf

 5. Brand your program. Why not tap into the power of social media to brand your program? What a way to give others a glimpse into what happens within your program! A majority of people at your school have never been to a high school golf meet. Use social media to tell your story and bring the action to them. Personally, I like to use Twitter and Instagram to share the happenings within our program. I have created a Twitter account for our golf team (@Husky_Golf) and share information that relates to our program. You may see a tweet with information about an upcoming meet or a video of a drill that we do in practice. I’m constantly creating and sharing content about our golf program. I even live stream live action from time to time at golf meets using Periscope. Last season I approached Taylor Siebert and Eric Allgood from Striv.TV about live streaming one of our golf duals. They came out, set up three cameras and did video commentary. Share your story! It’s a great way to brand your program and model digital citizenship to your student-athletes. Be sure to create a hashtag for your team as well and use it each time you post to social media. Go to your Twitter account and search #huskiesgolf to see some of the things that happen within our program. 

As a coach and parent, I truly believe that golf is a sport that should be learned and played at an early age. It is our obligation as golf coaches to make this happen. As our team mission statement states, “We want to provide experiences that will encourage our student-athletes to play the game of golf forever.”

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