Encouraging more young New Zealanders to play golf

By Dean Murphy
New Zealand Golf Chief Executive

The future strategic plan of our organisation is principally centred on inspiring more New Zealanders to participate in golf, especially women and girls and young people (5-18 years).

There are other key strategies such as improving the profile and perception of golf and providing support to golf clubs and facilities. However, growing participation is the key driver of our future plan, which is soon to be published.

To help New Zealand Golf on its journey to inspire more young people to play the game, a junior advisory group was formed in order to advocate for young New Zealanders and provide recommendations to New Zealand Golf on how it should approach the future with regard to young people in golf. The advisory group was made up of individuals with expertise in young people, golf, health, sport, sport development, programme development, coaching and marketing.

The resulting new strategy for young people in golf, which has been named Futures, is therefore the culmination of years of learning, consultation, listening to our young people and parents’ experiences in golf, and scanning good practice at home and abroad.

Futures is about enriching the lives of young people by creating experiences that inspire a lifelong love of golf. Our firm belief is that if we can create a lifelong love of golf in young people, the future of our country will be in good hands. See more details of this outstanding new programme at www.lovegolf.co.nz/futures.

Through the time and effort spent developing this programme, New Zealand Golf has been able to take a step back to look at what is best for the participants — rather than simply continuing to do what has always been done. One of the changes we have made in line with our new approach is to no longer host national under-13 championships.

Firstly, and most importantly, New Zealand Golf is totally focused on supporting young people to play golf. We want more kids, playing more golf, and growing a love for the game that lasts a lifetime. We know that the youth are the future of our game, and as such know our role is to grow their love for golf over time. We want them to become lifelong participants, so to do this we must consider their needs and not those of adults.

Sport New Zealand and the recent research they have completed on youth sport has also guided us as we developed the Futures approach. We looked at this research, which included the voice of the participants, to see what they enjoy about sport, what they do not, as well as what aspects of development programmes and competition formats have a negative impact on their long-term involvement in sport. View the new website www.balanceisbetter.org.nz for further background and information on this detailed research.

New Zealand Golf wants to ensure all children receive quality experiences in golf and better prepare young participants to reach their future potential as recreational or competitive golfers, but to do this we must put their needs first, stressing that:

Childhood success does not reliably predict adult success

We’re all different, and young people’s physical, emotional and social development doesn’t occur in a simple straightforward manner – or at the same speed. We need our competitive sporting opportunities to reflect this, rather than over-investing (both time and money) in just the kids who the show the most promise at a young age — an approach that overlooks late-developers.

Identifying athletes and specialising early is taking its toll on young people

Too many young athletes are specialising in one sport in the belief that this is the best way for them to develop into elite adults. In truth, burnout, overuse injuries and declining motivation are more likely to be the outcomes of early specialisation. We need to delay selection decisions, and find ways to keep more young people involved in a range of quality experiences in competitive sport — and for longer.

A focus on development should be emphasised over winning

We need to stop focusing on high performance and overemphasising winning in youth sport. This approach is creating a lack of balance and leads to high workload and high pressure for our young people too soon. A focus on development and getting better is what young people want and what successful athletes and people focus on.

It was felt that including an under-13 category at the New Zealand Age Group Championship was not in line with this approach. To this end New Zealand Golf has removed the under-13 component of our national age group championship to allow the focus of play and competition at this age and stage of development to be based at the club, hub and inter-club level, or other such junior events that focus on development and play rather than about winning.

Players who are at a stage of development that sees them able to qualify and compete at higher age grade levels are of course welcomed and encouraged to play as part of their development. However, we believe creating an overly competitive environment for very young golfers is not the best path forward for our sport. This decision has not been popular with some parents. But we believe it is the right thing to do and take some confidence that the thinking behind this decision is backed up by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Sport New Zealand, High Performance Sport New Zealand and a growing number of national sporting bodies throughout the world.