Many people insist some of the best deals on the planet are made on the golf course. There’s a certain ring of truth to the statement since golf is frequently the game of choice for influential politicians, attorneys, business moguls, doctors, and other movers and shakers.
Little effort is required to buy into the “golf course deals” theory, but what about golf as a teacher for the more profound aspects of life? Golf as a character builder? Golf as a moral benchmark? Some of those may sound a bit far-fetched until you speak with 16-year-old Miriam (Mia) Salloum and her father, Eyad, a realtor with Weichert Classic.
Mia’s voice is youthful and extremely pleasant, but her vocabulary and overall articulation sings with the poise, confidence, assurance, and understanding of someone much older. She is delightful. Father and daughter attribute those positive characteristics to Mia’s participation in a program called First Tee, which Mia joined at age nine.
For the multitudes who are unfamiliar with First Tee, it’s an international youth development program introducing the game of golf and its inherent values to young people. It’s available after school and in-school, depending on the chapter location. The focus is on shaping the lives of young people from all walks of life through the reinforcement of life values such as integrity, respect, and perseverance.
It does all that through the game of golf?
Yes. It uses golf to teach youngsters what it means to be a person of character and integrity.
“I found out about the program when Mia told me she wanted golf lessons when she was nine,” Eyad said. “I didn’t play, and I knew nothing about lessons for kids. I did what anyone else would do and went to Google to search. I found First Tee and, luckily, they were having a nearby open house. We went, and Mia absolutely loved everything about it.”
For $10 per week, Mia became a member. Financial aid is available if needed.
“I was only nine,” Mia said, “and, at that age, it’s not easy to identify all the things I was learning. I think it sinks in as you grow older. And then, one day, you realize you truly understand values such as honesty, integrity, responsibility, and much more.
“The program has given me so many opportunities to grow and to learn. It’s allowed me to develop values that, under ordinary circumstances, I wouldn’t have been able to put names to until I was much older.”
That’s cool. Like what, specifically?
“Core values,” Mia answered. “Academic honesty. The responsibility of thinking about my future, of setting goals and a timeline to achieve them. It’s no different from setting a tee time on a date and at a time that I know I have free, and then being there when I’m supposed to. That’s all my responsibility.
“Golf is not a team sport. You may play as a group but not as a team. That means you must develop self-reliance and confidence.”
Mia traveled to Pennsylvania last month as one of two Texas youth chosen to participate with 46 other First Tee members in the Game Changer Academy.
“It was a wonderful four days,” Mia enthused. “There was golf but there were also some wonderful discussions. We talked about racism and privileged wealth, as examples. The topics were things we’d never discuss in school. It was an incredible learning experience.
“One of the things difficult to verbalize is the sense of connectedness between all of us. We come from this awesome, mutual exposure of developing core values, and it gives us a sense of comfortable pride. It’s a little hard to express.”
First Tee believes experiences build everyone’s character. Therefore, First Tee constructs experiences that are fun as well as meaningful, that promote growth within an environment where it’s safe for success as well as failure. Golf is beautifully integrated with a life skills curriculum promoting inner strength, self-confidence, and resilience. The relationship between golf and how it relates to interpersonal and self-management skills on and off the course becomes apparent.
Defining goals and turning them into reality may boil down to adding five yards (or less) to each drive. Conflict resolution between individuals or with a ball that refuses to respond properly to a putt are reduced to the reasons for the conflict and the strategies for moving forward.
There are approximately 150 First Tee chapters and, in 2019, 120,000 kids passed through the program. That’s a lot of solid character-building for the world’s future citizens. By anyone’s standards, that’s a lot of bang for 10-bucks.
photos courtesy of Eyad Salloum