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The Train to Play phase of junior growth and development is critical to golf skills motor learning. We think of it as the essential phase for the imprinting of long-lasting golf skills. It's a key learning period for junior golfers.

This phase of junior golfer development is typically characterized by a rapid increase in growth velocity that reaches a peak height velocity at about age 12 for a majority of girls and around age 14 for most boys. Juniors experience a growth wave with an acceleration to the peak velocity that's usually matched by a similar deceleration in the rate of growth. It's biology at work. (Windows of Opportunity illustration, courtesy of Greg Rose, TPI)

Bones grow rapidly during this phase and form a structure for muscle attachment. The whole process requires lots of adjustment by young players in all phases of the game. Here's where a knowledgeable junior coach can make a difference in helping the gofler to train efficiently and safely. 

Training to Play comes with a "to-do" list for improving golf technical skills, shot-making skills, and golf performance. Here's what the TPI has developed.

  • Junior players should excel in their performance on the matrix of skills test that evaluates junior golf development and provides a frame of reference for continued refinement of skills.
  • Second windows of opportunity appear for improving speed and flexibility made possible by the flood of gonadal hormones that accelerate physical development. Appropriate drills and exercises can maximize the benefits from this growth period. 
  • Championship level technical skils are refined in this phase.
  • Focus on new windows of opportunity for developing stamina, strength, and spatial integration skills.
  • A full conditioning program should be developed that accounts for about 40% of the program.
  • Play 2 - 3 rounds of golf per week and include plenty of competition.
  • Learning to practice efficiently with the right focus is a learned skill. It could be argued that getting this one right is a difference maker when it comes to achieving lower skills, and navigating your way through the maze of practice theories can be daunting.
  • 3D spatial perception is critical to success on the course, and it's a focus of the Train to Play phase. And golfers should think in terms of both spatial and kinesthetic awareness.
  • Junior golfers who are training to play need custom fit, custom built golf clubs that should be checked frequently during this phase of rapid growth. It's what's needed to maximize the benefit of all that play and practice.
  • Junior golfers should understand the performance variables of their clubs to help control their game.

Fitness training is an important part of the Train to Play phase. The effects of rapid growth on mobility last for life. Developing muscles exert tension on bones that requires safe stretch and exercise regimens to avoid injury.

Lower back injuries often due to overuse are relatively common in junior golfers and serve as a warning about what can happen from overly aggressive and inappropriate training. Dynamic warmup and flexibility exercises are organized into a pre-round routine that is individualized to each player.

Organized stamina and endurance training has multiple benefits. Improving play on the course is easy to grasp. But better endurance is critical to handling the recommended training and practice levels that will be needed for young golfers who aspire to be elite players.

One-on-one personal training should begin in the Train to Play phase if it hasn't already started. Each young golfer will have unique needs and regular individual coaching is probably the best way to respond to them. And we think it's important for the trainer or coach to play golf themselves. The best way to respond to a student's needs is when you can feel it.

In reading back through this list, it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed by all the considerations we've described. It's more than anyone looking in from the outside generally imagines. But that's where the desire to be an elite golfer will take any young player who is developing a love for the game. 

And here's a final note for juniors entering this phase of development. Watch the best junior golfers when you get an opportunity to do it. If you missed the qualifiers this year, try to watch the players who made it. They will be your competition and some of them will be better than you may have thought. You will be inspired to train to play.