Our Town: First Tee a good start to helping Gen Y kids

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'here's a wonderful example of a family with grace, elegance and a new found love for golf"

There is still hope in America. I found that out this weekend.

If you’re like me you may on occasion feel shocked, concerned and dismayed by the attitude and behavior Gen Y the younger generation that seems addicted to video games. This cohort is called Gen Y perhaps because they elicit the question “Why are these kids so hapless and rude?”
Well low and behold; I came across an organization that is actually trying to do something about all that.

Welcome to the First Tee, founded in 1997 as a youth development organization to grow the game of golf.

The First Tee has President George W Bush as its honorary chairmen and their spokes person’s include such stars as Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Paula Creamer and Anika Sorenstam.
To tell the truth, one could be somewhat cynical about an organization that attempts to foster a new youth-based clientele for a sport but when I found out more I came away duly impressed.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to run into James Darcy who is the program manager of The First Tee in Nassau County located at Eisenhower Park.

He was gracious enough to invite me to meet the Program Director Justin Koff as they ran a certification program for some of their young students.
As I sauntered over to the putting green I saw lots of activity with kids on the putting green all working in small groups with an instructor, ostensibly learning the fundamentals of golf.

However, appearances can be deceiving. I came to learn that the game of golf was actually being used to develop essential character and that the primary objective of The First Tee was moral, emotional and social development. Halleluiah!
When I arrived I could see that under the trees stood an array of parents happily looking on as their kids were being trained. I approached one family and began to chat with them. The dad was an imposing, handsome man who stood 6’5” and had the look of an NBA star. His name was Tarik Sheppard and his pretty wife was Jasmine.

Tarik was a Division I basketball player but is now a captain for the New York Police Department. Jasmine works in the communication department of the United States Tennis Association so both parents are heavily invested in sports.

Their son is Tyler, an only child who gets straight A’s at prestigious St. Marks School in Manhattan.

I asked the obvious question. Why did they choose golf for their son?

The father told me “We didn’t choose golf for Tyler he chose golf himself. He was first turned on to golf by playing it on WI and then would always be watching golf on TV.”
I didn’t tell Mr. Sheppard but he was doing exactly what you ought to do when you have a gifted child. You observe what he takes an interest in and then provide support. I watched Tyler on the putting green and I noted how focused and absorbed he was in the lesson, which is one of the central characteristics of a gifted child.
After my chat with the Sheppard’s, James Darcy introduced me to the program director Justin Koff.

Justin is a PGA professional and a graduate of Clemson University, the golf powerhouse with alumni which include PGA tour players such as Jonathan Byrd, Lucas Glover and Sam Saunders.

My primary interest in The First Tee program was to discuss how they taught the ’nine core values’ that they are known for.
Justin proved to be a well-informed, articulate and obvious passionate director and he told me that the program emphasized ‘action-based learning’ which means that the classes provide social and real-life drills that they put their charges through in order to teach them the values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence and courtesy.
I asked him and he described how they taught the kids ‘respect for their environment.’ After each class the children are taught to leave the area cleaner than when they arrived by picking up any stray paper or garbage.

They instill honesty with ‘the honesty game’ which is this amazing social experience which instills a moral sense through a group experience.

It is a bit too complex to go into details now but let me reassure you this psychosocial game impressed me as an effective and highly creative way to address honesty, self-monitoring and guilt avoidance.
The question of guilt is subject that the field of psychoanalysis has largely ignored much to the detriment of the nation and so when I witnessed this innovative game I could see that t Justin Koff and James Darcy had actually developed something that was far more important than they realized.
And that goes for the entire program.

I have barely touched upon the details of their program and perhaps I will do another piece on it in the future. Suffice it to say that as a psychoanalyst and sport psychologist I have written about the culture’s moral decay, questionable ethics and wholesale decline in etiquette so I was honestly amazed and filled with hope to see that a program embedded in sports has been able to create and successfully implement a process that directly addresses character development.
I would not be at all surprised to see other sports adopt a model like this which has such a positive effect on youth development.

Congratulations to Justin Koff, James Darcy and The First Tee for all your good work. Hope springs eternal when smart creative people are allowed to freely give of themselves this way.

For more information, you may contact Justin at justinkoff@tftmny.org.

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