First Tee connects golf to life lessons
July 23, 2013
By Kristine Kim
When the physical education teachers working with the greater Seattle chapter of First Tee interact with kids, they are not just handing off golf clubs and sports advice. They dole out life lessons, too, on par with situations that youths encounter in life.
The nationwide First Tee School Golf Program meshes golf and character lessons in the classroom. Since its introduction to the Issaquah School District this past year, it has become a hit in local schools. Fifteen of the district’s physical education teachers participate in the school program, teaching students the First Tee curriculum in a monthlong rotation.
The pioneer behind the program coming to Issaquah schools was Kris Coleman, the physical education specialist at Creekside Elementary School. He first heard about it at a P.E. conference a couple of years ago, and introduced the idea of writing a grant request in one of his monthly meetings with other P.E. teachers in the district.
The main reason he brought in the idea, Coleman said, was character education.
“These are core values we try to instill in our curriculum,” he said.
First Tee packaged character traits with the skill of golf so well that he said he thought it would be a great addition to what educators already teach.
Shelby Lanting, a First Tee employee who helps Issaquah teachers coordinate the curriculum, said golf is a lifelong sport.
While many elementary schools teach activities like basketball or lacrosse regularly, First Tee thought that adding golf to kids’ education would be conducive to their taking the lessons they learn to adulthood.
“You don’t see 80-year-olds playing football,” she said. For golf, however, it is another story.
“It was an awesome first golf experience for so many kids,” said Kathy Connally, principal at Endeavour Elementary School.
The program cites golf as a “tough-love teacher,” fraught with challenges at any level. When children step up to their first tee, they have equal opportunity of success “regardless of gender, race or economical position.” The decisions the kids make, and their consequences, are the responsibility of the children themselves.
The teaching methods are seamless, with no separate time for life lessons and golf, Lanting said. For example, to teach judgment, instructors first ask students whether it is good judgment to swing a club if someone is behind them. Then, they move on to have students use judgment when it comes to skipping a homework assignment.
Coleman is also a parent in the program with both of his children in elementary school. With a perspective from both in and out of the classroom, he has noticed significant changes.
“I’ve seen a great difference in how the students treat each other in just one year,” he said.
Although the schools rotate their equipment monthly, Coleman said that the core values stick with the kids, and they continue to see a difference in children’s behavior throughout the year. His own kids are more willing to help at home and are more respectful toward each other. In addition, they show improved judgment, and “think about things before they leap,” he said.
Despite the positive results of the First Tee program, it faces some challenges in the structure of physical education in schools.
“Kids only get a certain amount of P.E. time a week,” Lanting said. The most challenging aspect, she said, is that it is difficult to get across a set curriculum in 30 minutes a week. “We want kids to be as active as possible.”
Lanting and her team have considered that for the future.
“First Tee, and Shelby in particular, have been awesome,” Coleman said. “She seemed really supportive of taking our concerns back to her bosses at the national level as feedback.”
First Tee provides support in other areas, too: It is mindful of inventory that needs replacing and is receptive to questions that teachers bring to the table.
For Lanting, teaching kids life lessons and physical activity gets personal. She has a “heart for education,” as both of her parents were involved in the secondary school system.
“Being able to see kids be active is really important,” she said. With children starting younger in sports during school, giving them enough options is essential. If team sports like baseball or volleyball do not work for students, the more individually oriented golf can often be an outlet for activity and a boost in confidence.
“As a parent,” Coleman said of his children, “I think it’s because of First Tee that they have really gotten a spark for golf. It’s a great way to get into the sport.”