There’s a strange feeling that comes over you when you stand on the first tee of a golf course, especially when you’re only a beginner in the game and playing with people you don’t really know.
For a high handicap hacker, those few fleeting moments as you wait your turn can be as nerve-wracking and panic-stricken as anything you’ll encounter in sport.
It’s like somebody who is only just learning to swim having to jump off a diving block into the deep end of the pool.
They won’t be fully sure that they have the requisite ability to get themselves to safety until after the jump.
By the time you eventually place your ball on the tee, you can feel your hand tremble just a little.
You take your stance, trying to think of your set-up and a million different swing thoughts picked up from all the YouTube coaching videos you pored over in the search for that one nugget that will add an extra 100 yards to your driver.
You start having a conversation with yourself inside your head — ‘self-talk’ the psychologists call it, although this may not exactly fall into the positive category: ‘Just hit the ball! I don’t care where it goes with these people looking at me… just hit the damn ball and get it off the tee!’
You tell yourself to swing slow. You picture the beautiful smooth flow of Rory McIlroy or Tiger, but end up looking more like Charles Barkley (if you haven’t seen his swing, head to YouTube, it isn’t pretty).
Regardless of where the ball finished, once it did what you asked it to do and got off the tee box, every golf beginner breathes a huge sigh of relief as they bend down to triumphantly snatch up their tee — safe in the knowledge they’ve been spared the ignominy of being awarded a Mulligan, which is nearly as bad as the fluffed first attempt.
I’m like most people playing golf, in that I think I’m better than I am.
With a busy life, I get to play very sporadically, maybe once or twice a month if I’m lucky, but for some illogical reason, I still get frustrated with myself for catching a wedge heavy, or missing a three-foot putt.
I’m always amazed at how watching a PGA tour event on TV on a Sunday evening doesn’t seem to make me any better.
Shocked almost, that the skills aren’t transferable through the screen.
I remember long-time GAA coach educator and former national hurling director Paudie Butler speaking to a group of coaches, and comparing his experiences of trying to learn how to play golf as an adult to a child’s journey starting out in Gaelic football or hurling.
I thought it was a fascinating connection to make. As adults who have played and coached our way through the GAA, it’s easy to lose sight of how daunting and difficult it can be at the beginning.
We forget how intimidating it is to have to perform a skill in front of your peers when you really aren’t all that confident in your own ability just yet.
GAA clubs are now investing huge time and effort into developing strong nursery programs for their youngest playing members from U6s through to U10s on a Saturday or Sunday morning, to get them hooked on the game, the club and the association.
This is the time of year when the Go Games blitzes start to roll through your county for the summer months.
These non-competitive games are small-sided and intended to give every child a go.
They should be seven- or nine-a-side with substitutes rolling on and off so there’s enough time and space on the pitch for players to be able to execute the skills.
There is no score recorded — nobody cares. The blitzes are about giving everybody an opportunity to represent their club and have fun doing it.
The kids and coaches line up and shake hands after a tough 15-minute battle, and it could easily be argued those games are the GAA in its very purest form.
Football or hurling at those ages should be all about three main areas; developing good fundamental movement skills, ball familiarisation, and making everything you do as enjoyable as possible.
The greatest measure of any Sunday morning coach is all about the numbers coming to training. If you start the season with 25 players, a successful year means you finish with 25.
Kieran Shannon had a brilliant interview on these pages recently when he spoke to world-leading coach educator Wayne Goldsmith.
One of the lines that jumped out at me was: “Fortnite has no drills. The game is their teacher.”
In today’s world, children will vote with their feet, and if you’re not captivating their interest and making it as fun as possible, they’ll stay home playing the PlayStation or get lost in some other screen.
Let the kids play and allow them to explore the skills of the game without you constantly bellowing out instructions or have them spend valuable practice time buried under an avalanche of monotonous drills.
Soloing a ball or making a catch mightn’t seem overly complicated to you as an adult GAA parent or coach — but go pick up a driver and stand on a tee box with a few scratch golfers if you want to feel inadequate.
Young children experience the very same insecurities when they’re out of the comfort zone playing GAA — surrounded by adults, roaring and shouting, and being told something different from every angle.
Our only real job as coaches and parents is to do everything in our power to create an enjoyable and safe environment where the kids feel empowered to try the best they can.
Forget about the score after a blitz, young children trying as hard as they can and having fun doing it is real Sunday morning winning.
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