Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Growing the Game – Day 2 – The Influence of Sweden

The number one reason children stay with any game is because they have fun, and the main reason they leave is (of course) because it no longer is fun. While some kids mention exercise, developing skills, or the enjoyment of competition, the “fun factor” is still by far the main reason to draw kids in and keep them through to becoming adults.

The Model of Sweden

Sweden has presented the world with a fascinating model that many are trying to emulate due to its overwhelming success. The Swedish have brought many new players to the game by changing the way things are done. One of the keys to their success has been by promoting the game primarily as a family sport. What is most impressive in their participation numbers are the numbers of players under the age of 20, and even more impressive is the number of overall players who are women. The model I mentioned in the “Girls Club” is actually one adopted from Sweden where they first recognized the differences between how to encourage boys with competition and girls with friendships – the numbers speak for themselves.

The overall population of the county is 9,000,000 with golfers representing 600,000 or 15%. This is up from the around 8% in the 1980’s. The percentage of player under 20 is approximately 15%. The percentage of women’s play is 27%.
One of the great factors to the large percentage of junior golfers in the system is the club structures. There is a unique system to Sweden where juniors can be members at clubs, with the club having no obligations to accept them as members when they become adults. It creates a system where more juniors have access to more places to play.

Producing More Professionals

I don’t personally care whether Canada produces players who make it on the PGA tour, but I do care about increasing participation in golf. Many others believe the key to increased participation is finding and developing the next Mike Weir since role models and examples draw people to the game. Tiger Woods has had an undeniable effect on participation due to his dominance of not only golf but the focus of the sports media in general for the last 10 years.

So again returning to Sweden, why has a country with a much smaller population produced far more professional players? The first answer from the professionals themselves was that they began in an environment that had little initial pressure. The majority of clubs have developed programs based around participation first and assisting aspiring players on much later on. They also foster a system with well educated youth leaders who provide everything from coaching through to mentoring to help them progress.

As players developed the programs changed too. Rather than try place players into a standard program the Swedish believe in tailoring a program to suit the player. They also encourage players to mix their training and maintain activity beyond golf. Cross-training was important to skills development as it was to maintaining the interest in what they were doing. They also arranged special privileges at some clubs to make sure a very promising junior had the ability to practice and play more.

Interestingly competition pressure was discouraged until they were old enough to deal with it, although a young player that thrived under competition was allowed to compete right away. In other words they were flexible to the child’s needs. They also discovered that just playing was not the best way to develop skill, rather a larger emphasis was placed on getting the motor skills established by hitting more balls and learning to make a solid impact. The other very simple system was to not practice at each component of the game equally, but rather to encourage more practice on the weakest part of the game. Finally, they didn’t try to stay to one coach per player, but realized we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that multiple coaches with specific skills did a far better job than one single person.

The Long Term Player Development Guide: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2007/01/growing-game-day-3-long-term-player.html


Anonymous said...

Ian, kudo's for bringing this to a public forum. While I suspect that your average blog reader, who would love to comment on "is it or isn't a Thompson course" endlessly, has his eyes gloss over reading this piece, you've hit upon a subject the Power's That Be have been wrestling with for years (with little results. I fear the main reason is most North American courses are run on the profit (today!) model. That and the fact that grumpy old guys hate women and children playing in front of them (even if they are keeping pace)

Kelly Blake Moran said...


Great topic, actually I think it is more meaningful than some of the architecture related topics. In terms of juniors having access to club memberships, is that nationwide, or are there select clubs that participate. Also, you mention tailoring programs to fit the junior player, who is doing this, I didn't understand how the programs are administered, who pays, who organizes it.

I am the president of our youth football organization and the work we put into it is tremendous, and participation is high. Other sports have similar parent run organizations that keep the kids involved, but a junior golf organization in similar scope is non-existent. If enough parents cared it would probably be organized. I thinks this reflects the fact that golf is not considered a "sport" for kids by the majority of parents.

I like the idea about cross training. In football we are constantly confronted by parents who only want their kid to play one sport, and sports like baseball, hockey, and soccer are basically run year round, there is always a travel team or league play so as the kid gets older he or she is pressured to play one sport year round or fear falling behind in that sport, which I feel is detrimental to the overall development of good athletes.

Ian Andrew said...


This is a plan, and the next stage is the implimentation - or the hard part - as Dr. Norris says. The idea is for the RCGA to oversee this with the help of all the partners it can gather from the golf industry.

Anonymous said...

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I do a lot of reviews and I think you may be interested in The Simple Golf Swing Review and maybe Jamorama Review.

Well stop by and sometime and say hi, looking forward to seeing updates in your blog.

- Greg