Does Early Specialization Insure Success in Golf?

Tue Jul 23, 2013 by Dave Phillips

If you’re a parent like me and your kids have a passion for sports, you will do anything to help them fulfill their passion.  This, however, is where the problem can start. 

When you were a kid, life was a lot different.  I bet your typical day wasn't’ filled with cell phones, video games, on demand TV and website surfing.  The electronic age was not what it is today.  You probably spent hours running around the neighborhood with your friends climbing, throwing, kicking, jumping and playing every sport that crossed your path.  Those natural childhood activities helped your coordination and may have helped you become a multi-sport athlete.

Unfortunately, a disturbing pattern is emerging today and all too often, parents are to blame.  Many kids are focused on one sport at a much earlier age and as a result, they may be setting themselves up for failure or putting themselves at greater risk of injury.

Even though some sports like gymnastics and swimming practically require early specialization for elite level success, athletes that play these sports are seldom competitive past their 20’s.  Of course there are the outliers that excel beyond their years but golf is a lifetime sport and it requires a different set of rules.

So what are some of the potential consequences of early specialization?

  1. Participation in a single sport from an early age can restrict skill and speed development.
  2. Athletes can end up lacking basic motor skills to participate in other sports.
  3. High intensity training in one sport increases the risk of injury and can actually delay physical development.
  4. Increased pressure to succeed at a young age can result in psychological distress and make the sport less enjoyable.
  5. Social isolation due to limited interaction with peers.

As parents, are we making matters worse by buying into early specialization?  Indeed we are.  But there are a number of factors helping us buy into it.

  1. The commercialization of sport along with the glorification of athletes and their lifestyle.  We all know this is happening but I cant’ tell you how many parents I speak with who want their child to be the next Tiger, Rory or Yani Seng.
  2. We as parents want our children to have every opportunity to succeed and we are committed to providing them with the best private coaching, camps and equipment.  We often live our dreams of stardom through our children, which simply isn’t fair.  Their success is more dependent on their passion for the sport than yours.
  3. College coaches and recruiters are paid more and more to succeed, as the business of sport is just that, a business.  Colleges make millions off our sons and daughters and the lure of a college scholarship is often enough for us to drive our children to succeed. 

I have interviewed many PGA Tour players and the overwhelming majority were multi-sport athletes before gravitating toward golf later in life. There is no rush to achieve success in a sport that spans a lifetime. In fact, the average age of the 25 graduates from the Tour to the PGA Tour in 2012 was 30 years of age!

So stop the madness and create a multi-sport athlete that enjoys sport and life first.  If they choose to specialize, you will know when they’re ready and so will a good coach. 

“ If you can beat everyone in your town, everyone in your city, everyone in your state, everyone on an a national level, you’re probably good enough to turn pro”

Jack Nicklaus

  • Anonymous User

    So very true in many aspects of life.

  • Mark Ingrey

    Great to see it in writing, to often I have parents asking if they are doing enough, when the child is so young just get them enjoying the game, play holes. Stop being intense let them have fun because if they enjoy golf they will continue no matter what their level.

  • Keith  Harville

    I have an 8, 9, and 10 year old and they are all active in multiple sports. The specialization I am seeing by parents at every sport is amazing! Most discouraging is parents quitting on the kids who are just beginning sports and they see their kids really struggling compared to kids who have already been specailizing in the particular sport for several years. In some part due to their own embarrasment, parents either pull their kid from the sport or allow them to quit. Parents, please remember that all kids develop at different speeds and give you kids the chance to play and enjoy the GAME.

  • Anonymous User

    Dave is absolutely correct. The world is littered with "talented" individuals who have failed to deliver on their "potential." I have heard these two words from parents and coaches more often than I care to remember. I think the underlying passion for the sport and the individual motivation to succeed are key ingredients for success. Both of these are usually destroyed when early specialization takes place. Dave Bensted-Smith (South Africa)

  • Anonymous User

    It's so refreshing to hear a specialist sporting organisation giving these messages. It's so important for our children to be well rounded and to experience lots of activities at a young age before THEY choose what they like to do. Lets all help them to be 'physically literate' so they can enjoy a lifetime of activities and sport.

  • Jerald Udinsky

    For me the important thing to remember is that the probability of any junior making it to the PGA tour is really really small. There is only one PGA tour. There are a lot more pro football, baseball, basketball, etc., opportunities. Hey, the bottom line is that schoolwork is the most important work. Do you agree? Nowadays school is harder than ever. The children are being given technical knowledge that would have been considered quite advanced only a few decades ago. How can we have the kid play all these sports and succeed in school as well? It is not right to encourage kids to play many sports, which will diminish their success in school, when we cannot offer them significant career opportunities. As a result, I encourage my kid to specialize in golf. Then, play piano. But academics is top on the list, and making good grades, studying, homework, come before all else. One of your articles says, the route to the tour, is to first be able to beat everyone in your city, then your state, and then at the national level. And maybe then you can get on the PGA tour. What kind of probability is that? What kind of promise is that? As a result, I have the kid focus on school work and play only one sport. He does not have time for more. Time is limited, particularly during the school year. During the summer there is the junior golf tournament schedule that precludes other sports. So it is not a matter of athletic traning, it is a matter of limited time and the priority of school work. Does anyone have an alternative view? I would really like to hear that view. Thanks.

  • Anonymous User

    专业化的训练在中国和TPI理解还有一些差异;但没有专业化的训练是一定不会成功,专业化是保障成功的必要条件;在中国早一点开始挥杆的训练可以获得更多的关注和资源,家长关注的是参加比赛的成绩和结果,也有家长认为是一项长期的运动但10年或者是按中国体育理论对高水平运动员的培养也是需要6---8年的时间 ;在这里,在中国 同家长的沟通是必须的和关键的,但也是艰难的。

Select Your Language

    Please Sign In