Team Alberta’s U17 Regional Development Program works to help more young juniorsWritten by Amanda Ducheminsky
This season, 18 junior golfers are participating in Alberta Golf’s expanded development program. Once labeled the “Development Team”, the regional concept is now more accessible and has since doubled its capacity from last year.
“Every fall, we invite juniors based on their Order of Merit points. We take in players who earn their spot based on points. But this season we thought: why don’t we open this up to more people and give more players who want to participate the chance? There was one boy who wrote to Alberta Golf saying, ‘Hey, I’d love to be a part of the program. What are the chances and what are the opportunities?’ This year, we were able to say, ‘Of course, yes.’ If a kid’s skilled, sure, but if he shows initiative and that he’s keen and wants to play and get better, he’s in.” says Team Alberta Coach, John Deneer.
The program is a gateway to making the Team Alberta U19 squad. It’s designed to help 13 to 17 year olds develop their competition skills.
“If they’re good enough to qualify for the Development Program, they can swing a golf club. They know how to hit golf shots. This program shows them what else they can do to kind of keep that improvement going. It shows them how to prepare for competition, how to practice, how to get their body right, how to eat right, etc. – things they maybe don’t think about or have never thought about. At this age, many of them are starting to try to find and secure a university golf scholarship. This helps them potentially get a few steps ahead of guys who aren’t doing everything that they could be doing,” says Deneer.
From January to September, players are taught how to prepare physically and mentally for competition. They learn to work as a team, setting goals together for their upcoming season.
“Off season is a lot of getting to know each other. Players have a chance to chat with anyone at any time. We go over sports psychology. I’ll get the kids to do some tests on how to control emotions, nerves, how to acknowledge them, how to see them coming and what they effect. Then leading up to and during events, we’ll talk about nutrition and fitness goals.”
Once competition season picks up, Deneer sees the players regularly, focusing on course management. Many of the players have a similar competition schedule allowing them work as a group leading up to matches.
“I’ll get them to really focus on areas of their game that they can see is costing shots. They focus on what they need to improve on at the time. Then maybe a week to five days prior to a tournament, we’ll try and play a practice round. I’ll go and play a practice round with all the teammates, all the program kids, and we’ll do course mapping. We look at the golf course and we try to set a game plan for that tournament. Then we just sit down and chat and discuss how to play certain holes, why they should do that and what they should avoid.”
Deneer has been involved with the program for three years. He has worked with program graduates, like current Team Canada Development squad members, Max Sekulic and Chandler McDowell. He says that if the players apply the concepts and work hard, results will come.
“You can see that what we’re doing is working. The kids who really take hold and are committed to all the steps and the processes often make the U19 team, and they continue to play great. I can see confidence growing in the kids. When they’re in the program, with the other juniors, they feel a part of something. Just being accepted into the program, I can tell that many of them feel like they believe that they are good players. Their confidence and their play improves.”
This year to join, players are only required to pay a nominal fee of $500. The remaining half is covered by Alberta Golf’s sport development budget with funds provided by membership dollars. Along with coaching, the players receive Team Alberta uniforms and equipment.
Deneer says that they’ve worked hard to ensure that the program remains “very affordable” and that he and the organization “don’t want people not to be able to participate due to costs.” He says that players usually only participate for a few years before they advance to higher levels.
“I think we’re hoping, that the 13 to 15 year olds are only here for one or two years and that they step up to the top team. That’s the goal of this program. We’re helping them here, but we don’t want them to stay here. We want to get them to move up.”
The success of the program has even started to draw attention from other provinces. “Talking to some of the parents from different provinces, they are just so impressed with all the options and training we have for our kids. It’s very cool,” he says.
Overall, Deneer believes that as the years go on, the U17 Regional Development Program can only get better. He says he loves to watch what’s possible and what could be next.
“As much as the kids learn about their game and what they have to do, I learn as a coach. I learn what worked, or maybe certain things I have to change about my communication style, my scheduling, my everything. It’s nice knowing that we’re improving. I get to see how this program is going, and I’m already thinking about ways to make it better and what else we can do to help more kids. To me it’s never ‘this is it.’ It’s what can we continue to do to make this program better.”
John Deneer has been a PGA of Canada golf professional for 12 years. He has worked at various courses, helping in a variety of areas, until a significant life event caused him to ultimately focus on his passion for working with kids. “I suffered a pretty significant brain injury. Then once I was going through all the rehab, and everything was getting better, I thought: why am I spending my time doing a job, like in the golf shop per say, that I don’t enjoy fully? Then I started to think about what I wanted to do. I thought, I love working with kids, I love coaching, I love mentoring, why don’t I focus on that? That happened six years ago, and as soon as I got cleared to get back to work, I focused fully on kids and I know that’s never going to change.”
Deneer is a certified Coach of New Competitors, having taken multiple PGA of Canada seminars and learning from numerous coaches in the industry. On top of overseeing Team Alberta’s U17 Development Program, this will also be his tenth year running the Bearspaw Country Club junior program.