I’ve spent many years coaching young golfers in the gym; supporting their strength and conditioning, helping them to modify and optimise their training, nutrition, sleep and recovery behaviours and I always enjoy seeing their progress transfer to their game and preparation on and off the course.
In Sports Psychology there’s a lot of research evidence to promote the use of a ‘process’ rather than focusing on the outcomes. As strength and conditioning coaches, we too must focus on the ‘process’ of coaching young athletes. The process, or ‘PROCESS’, I am referring to here is one that Avery Faigenbaum and James McFarland presented in their feature article in 2016.
They highlighted seven fundamental principles that dictate how effective a youth resistance training programme will be. In this article I apply each principle to supporting young golfers in the gym.
There is often a lot of uncertainty and questions that arise from the young golfers and their parents, especially when they first start out within a training setting. However, by working through a process of education and upskilling we can help to alleviate any fears and dispel myths that may exist around the use of resistance training for the developing athlete. As Faigenbaum and McFarland (2016) state, resistance training programmes for youth athletes need to be
‘…evidence-based and carefully prescribed to optimize training outcomes, maximize exercise adherence, and reduce the risk of untoward events.’
I am fortunate to have access to an inspiring, well-equipped gym setting in FIT Sutton Coldfield. This allows me to apply the PROCESS with all the golfers I train and support, whether they are on the England Golf regional performance pathway, within the national squad, or as a young individual looking to start out with a training programme.
The principles of progression, regularity and overload are well established training principles and programmes should look to promote gradual increases in load to ensure physiological adaptations, such as strength and speed, are achieved in line with the young golfer’s individual needs. Lloyd and Faigenbaum (2016) recommend that young athletes start out with light weights to allow appropriate adjustments to be made and that 5-10% increases in load are introduced gradually as technique and strength improve. I base a golfer’s starting point on the needs analysis that I conduct with them to understand previous training experiences (if any, even in other sports), their current weekly load (e.g., other training / sports / golf practice / school sport etc.), injury history, movement competency, goals, and various profiling tests, among other factors.
As with many of these fundamental PROCESS principles a lot depends on the training age of the child and their goals. Those who are new to resistance-based exercises should look to develop regular training habits with two-three training sessions per week, while those who have demonstrated more established regularity and a higher training age may benefit from more frequent sessions, with the caveat that adequate monitoring of internal load is in place. Where possible, coaches should look to assess the athlete’s response to the exercise stress and adjust the overload through frequency of training, intensity, volume and exercise selection.
With youth resistance training, one of the biggest challenges we can face is to ensure buy-in and committed engagement to a programme of support and development. Indeed, one of the goals I have is to ensure all golfers I see in the gym are motivated to train and understand the benefits (and associated risks) of resistance training to support their performance out on the course, now and for many years to come, no matter what level they reach. This can be done by ensuring exercise selection allows for the incorporation of novel exercises or providing the athlete with choice around which exercise they choose to target a specific goal. We only have to look through trainers’ social media streams to know that there are many, many exercises out there to select from in order to achieve a particular goal. Yes, exercise selection, sets and reps are important, but as Faigenbaum and McFarland (2016) suggest, this has to be balanced with ensuring engagement and drawing on creativity and imagination.
Creativity was definitely called upon during the past couple of years where many of the young golfers were forced to adapt to training at home during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns. Adapting programmes to ensure enough progression and overload was achieved, involved becoming creative with the use of equipment and exercises (e.g., the use of loaded backpacks for squats, dining tables for inverted rows, or training in a home gym in the garage etc.).
Motivation to train during this period generally remained high, but the uncertainty around when tournaments would be allowed to take place definitely challenged young golfers to maintain regular and effective training – hence the need for supervised sessions and creative ways to promote sustained engagement (e.g., through online sessions to ensure supervision remained and programmes were suitably engaging given the limitations lockdown presented).
Within the gym setting I am able to feed off the curiosity of the young golfers when they see the variety of kit that is available. Novel exercises are really effective at developing enjoyment and the principle of ‘Socialization’. Over the winter I have run many squad sessions where youth golfers have come in to train together – each working on their individual programmes, supporting each other and affording us the opportunity to build in some group activities with the functional kit; a favourite of which was pushing / pulling the strongman cart!
“…the enjoyment a child feels during and after an exercise session can facilitate the sustainability of the desired behavior.”
(Faigenbaum and McFarland, 2016)
The ‘Enjoyment’ principle also means that coaches need to be aware of their golfer’s skill level in the gym, or training age, and adjust the level of challenge accordingly. Too easy, and they won’t see any benefit and may question why they are doing the programme; too hard, and their anxiety may increase to the point of stepping away from your sessions. This also reinforces the need for programmes to be developed that are specific to the goals and circumstances of each individual golfer and for them to appreciate and be motivated by the benefit to their on-course performance.
The ‘Socialization’ principle can help young golfers to
– feel connected to others working towards a similar goal of ‘enhanced performance on the golf course’,
– increase their confidence about their ability to train effectively
– raise their competence in the gym setting.
Socialization, in my experience helps to reinforce the enjoyment principle too, and develops further rapport between coach and golfer, coach and parents, and the group of golfers working together. Often, I see golfers with younger training ages come back to a supervised group session and realise that they haven’t been addressing the progression and overload to the extent they should while unsupervised. Seeing their peers working with greater loads and progressing to other, more complex, exercises definitely inspires them to raise their level of challenge and often surprise themselves with the amount of load they are able to safely lift and tolerate.
Supporting them to achieve their goals and adapt behaviours towards effective training, eating, sleeping and recovery all stems from establishing an environment that they feel comfortable engaging in. That environment may be in the gym with regular supervised sessions, it may be training online with my support, it may be attending group sessions to train with their peers. Whichever setting it is, I have to adapt and ensure my coaching supervision lends itself to developing:
– autonomy (i.e., the feeling of being in control, for example, of their own training, of their ability to optimize their own performance),
– relatedness (i.e., connecting with others in the training environment, including me and my approach to supporting them),
– and competency
to ensure the young golfers are intrinsically motivated and enjoy engaging and progressing their training and performance.
Research suggests that both programme safety and efficacy are maximized when the coach is experienced, qualified and provides meaningful feedback during the training sessions and through the effective design of interventions (Faigenbaum and McFarland, 2016; Lloyd and Faigenbaum, 2016; Lloyd et al., 2016). They also highlight that young athletes are more likely to make greater physiological gains if they engage in supervised sessions (hence my applied point above about how golfers often make greater gains in tolerated load under supervision).
There’s a lot to consider when working with young golfers; there’s also a lot of reward for the work put in. Helping them to learn new training techniques, adapt behaviours to support their golf, and see them enjoy new personal bests or developing the competence to safely train alone is what the PROCESS is all about. I am lucky to work with some very committed young golfers and to be able to access a gym that inspires engagement, promotes an inclusive environment that supports their development and ensures that the PROCESS can work for each and every individual and their goals.
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Faigenbaum, A. D., & McFarland, J. E. (2016). Resistance training for kids: right from the start. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 20(5), 16-22.
Lloyd, R. S., Cronin, J. B., Faigenbaum, A. D., Haff, G. G., Howard, R., Kraemer, W. J., … & Oliver, J. L. (2016). National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(6), 1491-1509.
Lloyd, R. S., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2016). Age-and sex-related differences and their implications for resistance exercise, in Haff, G.G & Tripplet, N.T. (eds), Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 144-5.