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First Tee – Greater Detroit: Building character and developing youth through golf

By Leslie Green from Crain’s Content Studio

First Tee – Greater Detroit uses golf to build character, instill values and enhance the lives of its young participants.

In July 2020, First Tee – Greater Detroit, one of the initial First Tee chapters in the country, became an affiliate of The Children’s Foundation.

“First Tee has an outstanding history of providing meaningful programs that help empower kids through a lifetime of new challenges and personal growth. It is a great fit,” said Larry Burns, president & CEO of The Children’s Foundation and chair of the First Tee – Greater Detroit Board of Directors.

Independent research of the program found that after three years of participation, 73% of youth reported high assurance in the ability to succeed academically, and 82% felt confident about their social skills.

Kids as young as seven years old meet once a week at one of First Tee’s eight Metro Detroit locations. Coaches introduce the lesson by discussing a core concept or value such as respect, courtesy, or judgment. They then tie that concept back to the students’ lives by asking open-ended questions, like “How do you show respect at school or home?” Then they learn the fundamentals of golf to spark curiosity about the game.

The golf lessons and core concept discussions become more advanced as the kids develop.

“We take a holistic approach. Our coaches act as mentors for the kids, emphasize fun, build positive relationships, and show consistency. The golf really comes second,” said John Page, program director of First Tee – Greater Detroit.

He said coaches have varying skills on and off the course and use those skills to capture kids’ interests.

“For example, we have some participants that like to play chess, so we’ve connected our chess-playing coaches with those participants to practice chess,” Page said. “They can also chat about it and make a connection.”

He said it’s essential to establish positive relationships because they don’t know what the kids have going on at home or school.

Their experience at First Tee may be the only positive experience they have all week.

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