How did you get involved with The First Tee?
EA: I was first approached by Joe Fernandez when The First Tee was starting at Diablo Creek Golf Course. He asked if I was interested in being a part of the program, as I am a teaching instructor there. It was a brand new program, and I have to tell you that one of the things I did not realize was the number of people that would sign up. It is something I will never forget, but that time we had 44 kids show up for two coaches! And we were just overwhelmed, and at that time we thought “Oh, we have to really do the Life Skills”, so we sat the kids and talked to them for around 45 minutes [laughs] but that’s not the case anymore, now we have a better balance in our lessons!
What have First Tee participants taught YOU?
EA: I would say an appreciation for youth. I love being around the kids. I also think they have taught me a lot of patience and have helped me realize that all kids learn at a different pace.
What would you tell a parent who was thinking of enrolling their junior into a class at The First Tee?
EA: I totally encourage it; but I always explain that it is not a golf-only program. I always emphasize that it is a Life Skills Program combined with the game of golf. I tell them that we teach golf but it is more an appreciation for golf and it is an understanding of combining life skills and how we deal with challenges. However, I always encourage juniors and parents to join this program.
What is the best thing about being a coach?
EA: The people you meet! Everybody, I enjoy meeting the kids and the parents. I also enjoy being outdoors and coming up with games for classes. I love the challenge of coaching. I think there is no better thing that coming home realizing that what you taught the kids will stay with them for the rest of their lives and improve their golf game. I really enjoy coaching, and I enjoy seeing how the kids interact with each other.
What is a hobby or something you do that might surprise other coaches or The First Tee participants?
EA: I think most people know that I play tennis; I like to bike, and exercise overall. Another hobby I have is reading, I love to read history! I am not sure if this counts as a hobby, but it is something I do; I got involved with the Senior Outreach Program. I think working with seniors and people who might be lonely and just letting them know that someone is there is satisfying! They are friends now, and I really enjoy and spending time with them. I really enjoy working with the seniors.
How would your players describe you as a coach?
EA: [Laughs] I did see this one question, but jumped over the question and asked myself “If I went down and asked them…” Steve (Coach Elinor’s husband) would say, “They’d probably think you’re so mean” because I do not come across as happy as he does. [Laughs again] I hope that they think I’m funny, I try to be funny with them. I try to treat them like I treat my own kids and treat them as equals.
What is your favorite golf club in your bag and why?
EA: Pitching and Sand Wedge, it’s one of the wedges because the best part of my game is my short game. I’m not a big hitter, but I do think I can compete – if I practice – I can compete with anyone around the green 50 yards and out. And a lot of it is because I cannot sit still [laughs], so when we’re playing and waiting for the group in front of us to hit I take my three golf balls and practice hitting between the tee blocks, constantly getting a feel of it. I just practice that all the time, I love practicing in general, but I would say by far it’s my pitching wedge and my sand wedge.
LD: Now the opposite, what is your least favorite club?
EA: Oh, 3-wood, I can’t hit that club [laughs] It’s all mental though; the 3-wood is totally mental. I can go to the driving range and hit the club just fine, but on the course I’ll set over it, and then realize that I’ve over-swung so now what’s going to happen? So yea, that club sits in my bag, but it’s rarely used.
What is one strategy you use to keep participants engaged?
EA: Well, it could depend on what we’re doing, but if we’re doing an activity of some sort I’ll change the game to make it more inclusive. I have a number of games I play and a lot of times I’ll change them based on seeing if the kids are losing interest or if there is a junior who is at a disadvantage, or if the outcome is not going to be positive for them. A lot of times if you see someone is having a lot of trouble I go and do individual coaching with them; let them be in control of the club, but provide them with the guidance so that in the end the outcome will be in their favor.
I also try to encourage them to learn and leave them with a question, for example: ‘how many clubs can you carry in your bag?” that they can try to answer next time we meet, so try to get them to learn more by themselves and take back from our class. Oh, that’s another thing! Giving kids golf balls as awards works really well, and it seems to make their day.
What is your favorite game or activity to implement during class?
EA: I have a lot of games that I like, but the easiest game to do if you have a lot of kids around is playing closest to the hole without going in. I like the sharks and minnows game, which is a game that I’ve adapted to the putting green. Whenever I make up a game, I try to create it so that if a participant is disqualified, they’re not actually out, but instead they hold a different role in the game.
LD: Can you describe the game?
EA: I designate a “shark pond” and you make a big square or area around a hole. The sharks are usually the coaches, who play with white golf balls, while the kids get yellow golf balls, which end up being the minnows. Once we start the game I’d say “ok, get out of the way, here comes the shark!” and the coach who is the shark will putt their ball towards an area of the green. Then the juniors get to putt, and if the shark hits their ball, or vice versa, they will become a little white shark and become the big shark’s helper. It’s fun because the kids love that and always try to become the white shark. [laughs]
The other game I really like – and it’s useful when you’re waiting around, or waiting for the coach from doing checking – I try to make a game where the kids will try to acknowledge each other. A particular favorite is the “closest to the hole without going in” game because you do have to interact with each other.
Note: The game “closest to the hole without going in” involves players lining up on one end of the putting green. The objective of the game is to putt their respective golf ball towards a hole on the green chosen by the coach (or one of the participants) with the intention of having the ball get close to the hole, BUT not in the hole. Participants get 3 attempts to get their own golf ball as close as they can to the hole, and they are able to knock someone else’s golf ball away from the hole, into the hole, or even closer to the hole in order to affect the outcome of the game.
Coach Elinor currently coaches the PLAYer, and Par levels at Boundary Oak Golf Course.
Thank you Coach Elinor!