–Participation in team sports among children ages 6-12 has declined from 44.5 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2013, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
–Little League baseball reports U.S. participation in its baseball and softball leagues was down 6.8 percent
–2012 participation in organized football by players aged 6 through 14 was 4.9 percent below that in 2008.
–Basketball participation fell 6.3 percent in the 6-to-14 group during that period, according to the survey of nearly 70,000 households and individuals.
Why are participation rates falling in a lot of youth sports? We don’t have to guess because ESPN had the Aspen Institute conduct a survey revealing the answers. Parents are concerned about a lot of things going on in youth sports. Here are the top five parental concerns:
88%–Risk of injury
82%–Quality or behavior of coaches
66%–Emphasis on winning over having fun
From the ESPN summary of the survey’s findings: “There is a realization by parents that we have a significant problem on our hands,” said Matthew Geschke, executive director of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation USA, which funds community sport programs. “I think they understand now that the trajectory we’re on is detrimental to their kids. They think these programs are expensive, they don’t think there’s any good coaching, they don’t see kids having enough fun, and they think they’re going to get hurt.”
If only there was a sport:
1. With almost zero risk of injury
2. Led by professionals trained to teach kids of all ages
3. With low-cost equipment options and public access to free and low-cost practice areas
4. With a small initial time commitment as well as not needing 20 other kids to conduct a practice
5. That emphasizes enjoying the journey over winning at all costs
Let’s start at the top and see how junior golf programs can assuage parents’ concerns.
Risk of injury–Before I laugh at this one from a golf professional’s perspective, I have to remember the once-a-year bloody lip/nose/forehead I treat on the kid standing next to the jerk kid who can’t hold his 7-iron still during group instruction. ”STOP SWINGING YOUR CLUB WHEN YOU’RE STANDING NEXT TO OTHER KIDS!!!” Other than that, golf is injury-free during junior golf programs. No concussions, no broken bones, and no emergency room visits.
Quality or behavior of coaches–PGA Professionals are in charge of most junior golf programs at most golf courses. I won’t vouch for the non-PGA instructors, but as a rule, the PGA Pros know their stuff and they know how to teach it to a variety of ages and skill sets. PGA Pros have gone through college-level training to be able to wear that PGA logo. Your local youth football, baseball, soccer and basketball coaches are moms and dads who love their kids, but beyond a shallow understanding of a flex offense, a zone defense, and a few fundamentals, they don’t have the skills necessary to help your kids improve.
Cost–Golf has a long history of being an elitist game reserved for the richest in society. It WAS true, but now it’s not. Through major industry initiatives like PGA Junior League Golf, and local PGA Pros teaming up with community education programs, the price of junior golf programs has dropped far below other youth sports. The other big change is the availability of free junior rental clubs at most golf courses. Sure, your kid is going to lose a lot of golf balls, but any kid worth her salt is going to be able to more than replenish that supply in one good afternoon of ball-hawking the edges of the course.
Time Commitment–This one is tough because as with any sport, you get out of it what you put into it. If you’re looking to have your kids improve faster, they need to spend more time practicing. With that said, junior golf programs take up far less time than most team sports with multiple weekly practices and games. Instead, head to the practice range with your kids and spend 30 minutes hitting a bucket of balls. Then head to the practice green and spend 30 more minutes playing chipping and putting games. It’s the best hour you’ll spend all week, and the time commitment will be the last thing you’re worrying about.
Emphasis on winning over having fun–Golf wins in a landslide on this one. Unlike most sports, golf can be an individual and team game. Until high school rolls around and the team aspect is introduced, the individual game is emphasized. You don’t win at golf. You have fun, compete against the golf course, try to beat your best score, and after your round, talk about your first par or your first birdie ever.
Golf in 2015 really does offer the best of all possible worlds for parents and kids. So why isn’t every kid playing golf? Because parents push their kids into sports that they played as kids, or sports that all the neighbor kids are playing. We can’t go back in time and get the parents playing golf, but we can offer lesson programs to get the kids playing together, and even you parents playing alongside your kids. Hundreds of courses are offering times when “Kids Play Free” with a paid adult. As for your kid joining the neighbor kids at the golf course, nothing is more fun or gives a bigger feeling of independence quite like striking out with three other friends off the first tee, ready for a round of golf. Have the neighbor kids join a group lesson or a golf league together and they’ll be playing as individuals, but feeling like a team.
Parents new to the game, read the following paragraph for a simple how-to on getting your kids to the golf course:
Never been to a golf course? Here’s how you start. Call or stop by your local golf course, either the golf shop or the PGA Pro’s office. Ask if they have rental clubs for kids and how you can find a time to use them on the practice range and practice green. They’ll also have adult clubs you can use at the range. When you get to the course, buy a bucket of range balls and a bag of tees, get directions to the practice areas, and head outside. If you’re not sure which clubs to use, watch what other golfers are using or ask the golf shop staff. Take the biggest club, put a ball on a tee and swing as hard as you can. Miss a couple of times and laugh at yourself because your kid will love that. Kids will have fun hitting drivers and making putts, so focus on those two clubs. After hitting some drivers, head to the practice green and try some putting. Start with a few short putts so your kid can make some. It won’t take long before they’ll be trying the longest putt possible on the practice green. You just spent $10 tops, and spent an hour outside with your kid.
Start your kids in golf and they’ll play it all their lives. As they grow up, they’ll use golf lingo in water cooler conversations, they’ll use golf skills at their jobs, and they’ll use the lessons learned on the course every day of their life. The nine core values behind the incredible youth golf program, The First Tee, are Honesty, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Respect, Confidence, Responsibility, Perseverance, Courtesy, and Judgment. Those are all pretty important for kids today.
So parents. If you love your kids, bring them to the golf course.
For more information on programs like “Kids Play Free”:
For more information on the PGA Junior League Golf:
For more information on the Aspen Institute Survey:
Eric Larson, PGA GM/Head Golf Professional Fox Hollow Golf Club 763-428-4468 firstname.lastname@example.org