If there are any silver linings to this pandemic, it’s been the coaches and mentors who have stepped up going above and beyond for our participants. The events of 2020 have reinforced the need for programs like First Tee that lift up, support and empower kids to stand strong and grow during challenging situations. The coaches and staff of First Tee programs across the nation have leaned on their creativity, flexibility and adaptive spirits to keep participants engaged and encouraged during a challenging year.
Often, we take for granted how truly invaluable these mentors are in the community with their consistent effort and support for the participants they lead. But we see our coaches putting in the long hours. It’s extra time on the putting green or staying late for one last lesson on the driving range. That time isn’t just about helping a kid improve their golf game. Our coaches are digging deeper, building trust and having meaningful conversations. Many times, those sessions together turn to discussions of dreams beyond the golf course – what the future could hold, current struggles or opportunities for personal growth.
Julia Hardy, a participant from First Tee — New Hampshire, knows firsthand the benefits of having a dedicated and caring First Tee coach. Coach Beth Flint has been a mentor to her for the last seven years and it’s changed her life.
Julia had always been an avid golf fan, and early on she would take lessons at her local driving range, but Julia craved more time on an actual golf course. When she joined First Tee — New Hampshire in third grade, she didn’t realize she was signing up for so much more.
“First Tee was my first time truly playing on a ‘real’ golf course, and I was a little nervous, but the entire environment of First Tee really helped me adapt. The fact that the instructors at the First Tee not only cared about helping me improve my golf skills, but also grow as a person, really helped me connect and feel comfortable in the program. I always felt valued and supported.”
Julia admits that she was incredibly timid when she first started. One of the first things Coach Beth did when they began to work together was challenge her to build confidence. At the Sagamore Golf Course where Julia would practice, the 8th hole requires a difficult shot over water. Beth, knowing that timidity was a theme in Julia’s game and in her life, encouraged her to continue to push through the doubt. Ultimately, it made her a better person.
“Beth would always urge me to have confidence and swing through the ball. With each successive visit to the eighth hole, and each ‘be confident’ spoken, I could feel my confidence grow. Finally, I got to the point where I could approach the eighth hole, push away the doubts, and just hit the ball.”
After that, more often than not, the ball would fly over the water. This confidence translated off the course as well. Julia started speaking up more in class and participating in family debates. This growth in confidence allowed her to attack new challenges head on, Julia credits this growth in confidence as the most helpful trait she’s taken away from the First Tee.
Coach Beth agrees. “As she got older, it was beautiful to see her inner strength and self-confidence become greater,” she said. “Advancing through the program, it was obvious that she was a positive influence on others in all aspects of life; not just with golf but at school with friends, in her community, and of course with her family of whom she talks so often about. It has always been a pleasure to golf with Julia – however seeing the wonderful person she has become is the real treasure!”
Julia is now an Eagle certified participant, on track to get her ACE certification. The best part is that this isn’t an isolated story. Across the country, coaches and participants are building lasting bonds, showcasing the growth and evolution of positive relationships that have a ripple effect on the communities they serve and the people they meet each day.
But earlier this year, many chapters were unsure of what the future would hold for coaches and participants. Classes were cancelled and fundraising was unknown. It’s been thanks to generous supporters, like the USGA, who have helped ensure chapters keep their doors open for safe and socially distant programs. First Tee — New Hampshire was one of 51 First Tee chapters to receive a grant from the USGA towards their ongoing commitment to making the game more accessible and welcoming for juniors.
“The USGA’s commitment to investing in First Tee over the years continues to have a lasting impact on the game as well as countless young people in communities across our country,” said Greg McLaughlin, First Tee CEO. “We are offering a meaningful and positive experience through golf that helps young people uncover who they are and grow personally. There is no better sport in which to do this, and we are thankful for the USGA’s confidence in our work.”