Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Growing the Game – Day 3 – The Long Term Player Development Guide

Canadian Golf has a clear focus on finding the next Mike Weir. What people have come to realize is while Canadian’s were buoyed by the success of Mike, the reality was the Canadian development programs were not getting the results that should be expected. By looking at the countries like Sweden, the RCGA and others have slowly realized that they needed to change in order to produce more talented players – and as an important offshoot of the process produce more golfers. They use Sweden as the example that they can achieve both goals with one program.

The Long Term Player Development Guide for Golf In Canada (LTPD) is set up to empower athletes, coaches and parents to understand not only how to help their kids learn and succeed at the game, but to keep them in the game regardless of their skill set. Canada according to IPSOS Reid (I still have questions about the findings – but let’s take them at face value for this) has the highest participation rate in golf at around 20%, which is outstanding, but begs the question of why aren’t we producing more elite players.

I sat down with Dr. Stephen Norris (picture tomorrow - I was in a rush this morning) to go over The LTPD Guide. While I was hoping for a quick 5 to 10 minutes, he gave me nearly 2 hours of his time. I honestly don’t think I can do justice to the program by trying to fully explain it, but I will give you some insights and some comments from Dr. Norris to at least get you interested enough to seek this document from the RCGA.

He started out by explaining to me that they had to build the right system that has the right benchmarks in order to grow the game. That this system will eventually generate better players, but it will take 15-20 years to see the benefits. He then went on to say that, “anyone we touch should look back at the program and say I had a great time and learned a lot.” I liked that approach, because I feared this would be only about producing elite athletes.

We began on the notion that it is easier to get them to the game, than it is to keep them in the game till they’re an adult. We continued on to discuss the limited access to play and the expensive cost faced in the metropolitan areas. We both agreed that it was much easier to get involved and stay involved in a rural setting, where costs and access are less challenging and community support is much stronger. The National Golf Course Owners Association was not invited, according to the NGCOA, to have any active role in any solution.

Dr Norris was disappointed by this pointing out that golf was a facility based sport and that the United States closed more courses than opened this year for first time since World War Two. They need to understand that without growth, they place themselves at risk. We went on to discuss that the golf organizations are a fractured group with only the RCGA and CPGA actively working together. Even Provincial and National bodies don’t seem to be as close as I would have assumed.

Dr. Norris was surprised to find out that a city as big as Toronto does not have a Children’s only course or a project by the First Tee Program. I told him that I did know whether this was due to a lack of national leadership or local initiative, but I’m offering my services for free if someone will step to the plate.

The conversation returned to the guide with a quick review of the factors that effect the development of players from physical complications like puberty through to mixed development timing on kids and even the need to separate groups by methods beyond age. The guide next provides a vision out on how to go forward by first identifying that golf is a family game, drawing from the Swedish model. It mentions that manufacturers and retailers must make the game initially affordable, which I might add they generally do by providing cost effective equipment packages now. Those juniors must have access to courses and that training facilities are made available. Enjoyment must be the initial focus. The role those schools and other non-traditional introductions have in introducing children to the game. The requirement for additional sources of funding or sponsorship to support grass roots programs like Future Links. Finally, identifying barriers must come down to open up the game to everyone.

Enter, Enjoy and Excel:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear more about how programs are structured to make them oriented around Fun rather than golf mechanics! I mean, yes, I know that we need good mechanics just to be able to play and have fun, but what do the instructors and coaches do to keep things fun-oriented? I'd like to teach some day, so any tips on keeping kids engaged and enjoying themselves would be wonderful!