A tutorial from one of Australia’s top coaches opened Sebastian Howell’s eyes about how best to coach juniors

Sebastion Howell wasn’t all that much older than the kids he was trying to wrangle when he was handed the junior program during his PGA training at Burleigh Golf Club on the Gold Coast.

Up to 25 kids at a time, all with a golf club in their hands, some listening, some not. It seemed only a matter of time before something went wrong and was enough to convince Howell that he wasn’t cut out to coach kids.

Fast forward to now and Howell is the driving force behind a booming junior program at The Coast Golf Club in Sydney, which saw him named the 2023 MyGolf Deliverer of the Year at the PGA Awards.

Given his inauspicious beginnings, Howell credited a webinar through the PGA of Australia’s Accreditation and Continuing Education (ACE) Program conducted by Marc Leishman’s coach, Denis McDade, for showing him the way.

“The one thing that helped me to understand junior coaching was a module in the ACE Program that Denis McDade developed,” Howell says. “I watched that and suddenly it all made sense. By him explaining how to communicate with kids, how to incorporate games and make it enjoyable… I just did that.

“I didn’t really know how to break it down and use the simplest form of ‘throw this’, ‘catch that’, ‘balance here’, ‘kick this’, ‘swing it like this’. Make it as easy as possible for them to understand. He explained that you can’t tell kids this and that, you have to play games and actually make it enjoyable.”

The head of the Titleist Performance Institute Junior Advisory Board, game-based learning remains one of McDade’s key tenets for coaching juniors. While parents may raise an eyebrow at the sight of tennis balls being thrown, frisbees tossed and soccer balls kicked, Howell has found that the benefits are twofold.

“If you start with warm-up drills, such as throwing a frisbee or playing catch, they’re not only developing fundamental movement skills but their desire to start playing golf grows and grows,” he says. “That makes them more keen and more engaged when the golf-specific drills start.”

The awareness of how to coach juniors also shone a new light on how Howell coached elite amateurs and adults. He uses different coloured ropes to indicate swing path and other apparatus that he incorporates into his junior clinics.

“I’ll have a red rope going back and then a blue rope coming through and they find it so much easier to understand,” he says.

“Really basic information is just as effective for elite players. There are times when we can overcomplicate coaching when our goal should be to have people understand concepts as easily as possible. All the stuff that I teach kids I tell the adults; they just don’t know that’s what I’m teaching the kids.”

Nominated for the award by more than 60 members at The Coast, Howell is now extremely passionate about bringing new kids into the game, his greatest reward seeing the joy they derive from that first well-struck shot.

“The first time I teed it up was a Sunday-morning junior comp when I was 7, and I just remember flushing one 150 metres down the middle,” Howell recalls. “The head professional asked me, ‘How long have you been playing for?’ And I said, ‘That was my first shot.’

“I was hooked from the get-go.” 

To find an accredited PGA professional delivering the MyGolf program closest to you, visit golf.org.au/mygolf/home