Playing sport teaches us about life. A golf match or competition, or even playing by yourself, can offer significant lessons to young people. There is no referee… except you. If there is nobody within 100 yards when you take three out of a bunker, you soon learn that by counting just the one shot there is really only one person you are cheating: the person with your initials.
When one of history’s finest champion golfers, Bobby Jones, once called a penalty shot against himself which no-one had seen, he was immediately praised by all on the day for his integrity but he shook his head and responded: “You may as well praise me for not robbing a bank.”
Golf is a game that relies on integrity and also respect for, and co-operation with, fellow players; from keeping quiet during the shots, encouraging competitors with a simple ‘good shot’, to not encroaching on the field of vision when putting, and so on. From the handshake on the last hole, to offering a ‘gimme’ putt, to simply learning and following The Rules, and the unique rules of handicap; the latter making the match less about who is best and more about who is better on the day. Many such examples exist, all having echoes of spirit and respect.
Golf also teaches us about self-control, dealing with disappointment, pressure, but also improving yourself for the future. When you see Tiger Woods taking slow breaths on the tee at Augusta he is preparing to play the next shot calmly. When Rory McIlroy stares down the fairway to a green at St Andrews, or Georgia Hall’s eyes dart along the slopes before a green at Muirfield, they are visualising every moment of the shot and encouraging themselves to replicate the picture they are creating.
The personal challenge
This is a game with constant mental learning required for the individual. Rather than simply being a result-based competition, as in ‘player against player’ or ‘team vs team’, golf is as much about testing yourself. Measuring the grit in your blood.
Our charity bases its work in helping club volunteers, parents, PGA coaches and teachers to empower young people by creating resilience, confidence and a sense of wellbeing, whether in the golf club, the community project, or inside the school gates.
The Golf Foundation is helping more youngsters from all backgrounds to benefit from such ‘Skills for Life’, so that once learned, they can then also be applied in their wider lives.
In our new School Programme, we use specially adapted equipment made by our partners ‘Golfway’. It is colourful, big and bold, so that pupils can enjoy an early feeling of achievement as they learn, to keep them keen. Teachers are thus given the confidence to deliver the ‘how to play’ bit easily; they need not to have played golf before themselves.
Sessions are taught through a series of lively team games for all abilities. In these games, calming breathing techniques are sampled, as is the benefit of encouraging team mates and positive self-reflection (‘What went well?’ & ‘Even better if?’). Crucially, these are all part of an overall enjoyable school experience, sitting alongside technique, energetic play and simply having fun. Through our national network, the school sessions can finish with a visit to a SafeGolf accredited local golf club under expert supervision, to offer good follow-on opportunities and, hopefully, a stake in the game for years to come.
At a typical recent visit to Coppull Parish Church School in Lancashire, the 8-10 year-olds all quickly learned the technical fundamentals of GASP (Grip, Aim, Stance, Posture) and showed growing confidence in their play, while on the mental side much was also achieved – learning the ‘Square of Concentration’ for example, the space they use during the shot to improve focus. They were then asked to give examples of how this thinking could help them further: from during maths lessons, reading a book in the library, and playing on the tablet at home!
Unleash your Drive
Taking the imparting of life skills as part of a coaching programme further, the Golf Foundation is rolling out its new ‘Unleash your Drive’ training workshops for young players in 2022.
Unleash your Drive is all about offering young people of all ages the tools to help their resilience, concentration and confidence on the golf course, while also being of genuine benefit in their wider lives.
In a recent workshop, 17 girls from the Lincolnshire Girls Development Squad took part over three sessions.
They loved that Square of Concentration, while other elements included coping with pressure and promoting mindfulness. Mental toughness tools: self-talk (inspiring yourself and creating concentration), self-compassion (building resilience) and visualisation/imagery for success in the task ahead were also key features.
Lincoln Golf Club was the host club and apart from focused learning it was a great chance to get the girls together socially and practise their short game. Physical and mental benefits in the same session.
Andy Leigh, the Foundation’s Unleash your Drive Manager, said: “We were very impressed with all the girls taking part for their enthusiasm, sense of fun and most of all their commitment to learn. At the end of the sessions, the girls recorded that they felt more confident for their golf, with good life skills learnings they could take away to use in other activities.”
GolfSixes League is ‘golf for good’
Golf’s values and life skills have been hugely prevalent in our successful GolfSixes League series. The inclusive, fun and competitive six-hole team format where beginner golfers play in a league with other local golf clubs (over 5,000 youngsters last year), is achieving its purpose of increasing the number of regular junior members.
The individual game here joins a vibrant new team culture. This not only fosters a strong sense of belonging together for youngsters in each golf club but – as part of that team with supportive PGA coach and parents – it is helping to make that first massive step from learning to hit the ball to then taking your new game out onto the ‘big course’ far less intimidating.
The more confident young players there are encouraging the novices, boys and girls are sharing the fairways in mixed teams, and weekly practice with the PGA Professional coaches is building confidence which is being taken into matches. Parents brand new to the sport – a new audience – are learning that golf is not just about winning, but about self-achievement and personal growth while supporting team mates. As one youngster put it: “It’s like a mini Ryder Cup, I love it!” Another child said: “I loved going round with my Mum and her being able to watch me.”
In GolfSixes League in 2021, 67% of parents volunteered at events and were experiencing the sport with their youngsters often for the first time.
Tom Sparks, Golf Foundation Regional Development Officer for the South West, said: “The values of golf are all showcased superbly at prize giving in GolfSixes League, where everyone involved, PGA coaches, volunteers, parents and the boys and girls, come together to clap the winners, take pictures and enjoy refreshments in a very relaxed atmosphere. It is no accident that our ‘Skills for Life’ medal, given to the young player who shows the best attitude or the best moment of sportsmanship, is just as big a deal as the winners’ trophy. The whole fixture promotes a great feeling of togetherness among all taking part, which for a modern golf club is a marvellous benefit.”
Thanks to support from The R&A and the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, GolfSixes is expanding in 2022, with plans in place to support 120 leagues, 600 golf clubs and 7,560 players. Given the pleasure, confidence and wellbeing it is promoting in its young players, GolfSixes League is an excellent example of ‘golf for good’.
This mainly individual game can help each boy or girl who picks up a club to gain inner strength and focus. When about to hit their shots, Tiger and Georgia will often be less excited than all the people around them, because they have to be.
Mirroring life, the game helps us cope with what is thrown at us. Bobby Jones, that non-bank robbing golfer of the 1920s and 30s, summed up perhaps his key learning from the game, that we all have to get used to playing the ball from wherever it lies.