Practice and Stages of Development
Practice and the Stages of Development

-Henry Brunton, “Journey to Excellence”

Practice means different things at different stages of a player’s development.
    In studies concerning the development of elite athletes, renowned sports science researcher Dr. Jean Côté, Professor and Director of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University, found that there were clear patterns that emerged. He identified three stages of sport development from childhood to late adolescence as the Sampling Years (ages 6-12); the Specializing Years (ages 13-15); and the Investment Years (age 16 and up).
    The Sampling, Specializing and Investment years are differentiated by, and based on, the amount of the participant’s deli-berate practice (structured formal training) and deliberate play (neighborhood play using the general rules of the game without being an organized league), i.e., pick-up basketball.

    The Sampling Years are characterized by a low frequency of deliberate practice and a high frequency of deliberate play. Simply, athletes in this stage develop most effectively when they are provided with the opportunity to play informal games for hundreds of hours (deliberate play). In these games and activities, the players can use their creativity to modify the rules of the sport to suit the situation. They require very little structured practice and drills (deliberate practice) led by coaches or parents.
    Golf should be introduced to children who show interest in the sport when they are in the Sampling Years. It should be one of several activities that they explore. Ideally, children interested in the sport should participate in an organized golf skills development program that is fun and appealing. This program should be conducted by an individual trained in junior golf coaching. Children at this stage need to gain as much experience as possible by playing the game. They should be taught the basic fundamentals and then given the opportunity to play the sport. There should be little concern for competing in organized tournaments at this stage.

    In the development of elite athletes, an important transition point occurs at approximately age 13 when the athletes begin secondary school. They reduce their involvement in other sports, and begin to compete at the regional or national level in their primary sport.
    The Specializing Years mark a transition in which athletes gradually decrease their involvement in various extracurricular activities and focus on one or two sporting activities. While fun and excitement remained central elements of the sporting experience, sport-specific development emerged as a characteristic of the child’s involvement.
    The research suggests that if a child is passionate about golf, and has the desire and aptitude to potentially advance as an elite level player in golf, then at the age of about 13, he should make golf one of his ‘top two’ sports. He should align himself with a professional coach who is trained and specializes in developing competitive players. He should develop peer group relationships with other athletes who have the same interests. He should practice, play and compete in the same fashion as other top aspiring high performance athletes in all sports.
    Elite golfers should follow periodized annual plans and be aware of and respect the recommended practice-to-competition ratios.
    In the specializing years, athletes need to shift to approximately equal amounts of deliberate play and deliberate practice. They need to learn effective practice habits and training regimens.

    As elite athletes continue to develop, another transition point occurs at approximately age 16. This is when athletes make a decision to be elite athletes and consequently invest most all of their leisure time into training and competing.
    In this stage, the child becomes committed to achieving an elite level of performance. These athletes are focused on their chosen sport and usually one or two additional off-season sports or activities.
If an athlete is committed to developing his skills as an elite level golfer, he should make golf his primary sport by age 16. He or she should train and compete in a professional fashion under the guidance of a highly-trained golf coach who specializes in player development. He or she should be enrolled in an Olympic-type coaching, training and development program with other like-minded athletes, if possible.
Copyright 2013 by The Youth Golf Foundation of NC