The Golden ZimpertBy: Josh Alpert, PGA
While to this day I credit my grandpa for instilling in me a love for playing the game of golf, both my grandparents helped shape valuable aspects of who I am as a golf instructor.
Every summer growing up as a child my parents would drive my brother and I down the 5 to SoCal (exiting Woodman Avenue off the 101) to spend a week of vacation with my grandparents. Our week was filled with fun, games and an overall environment that developed enthusiasm for participation in just about every activity imaginable. They even made the “not so fun stuff” feel like fun. Helping put the dishes away quietly was a game. How fast could we clean up after a game of Monopoly? Sweeping pine needles off the back deck became an art project using only the broom to create a picture. To drive up Rand Court and see their house with a week’s worth of adventure ahead was as good as it got. Anticipation! We would park the car, run into the house for hugs, a quick update, I love you, how are you, oh my how you’ve grown. And then my brother and I would begin the relentless questions about when we were going to have an opportunity to earn a visit to Ickle Pickle’s Treasure Chest.
I’m going to cut to the chase in the spirit of this article and simply let you know that Ickle Pickle was a fictional character that my grandparents created. Although never actually seen, he was the guardian of an old shoebox kept on the top shelf of the closet in the room where my brother and I slept. For a young boy it was a fantastic treasure chest filled with unimaginable wealth and gifts. A deck of playing cards, a magic trick, pick up sticks, Jacks, scratch and sniff stickers, a pack of baseball cards, a book of puzzles, a magnifying glass and a host of other grand yet totally unimpressive and useless dollar store items that fit into a shoe box. A visit to Ickle Pickle’s Treasure Chest was always earned. Winning certainly was rewarded; a game of nerf hoops, monopoly, or my favorite, a 9-hole putting challenge. Under the bed, down the hall, behind the lamp without hitting the wall (1 stroke penalty) and into a coffee mug. Clink. But Ickle Pickle was also known for rewarding something very different. It could sense good sportsmanship or kindness between my brother and I and it somehow knew when we offered to help out beyond the normal call of duty. Looking back, I don’t remember visiting Ickle Pickle’s treasure chest more than 1-2 times in a week and I certainly don’t remember finding anything deemed “valuable” among the items to be selected. There was just something about the world of imagination combined with the playing of games for prizes that remains a wonderful memory. I will be forever grateful for the childhood experiences with Ickle Pickle that helped shape my value system as an instructor to motivate young golfers.
I have been running golf summer camps for over 15 years. All summer long 30, 40, 50 kids at a time spend a week with Good Swings Happen Jr. Golf Academy, developing a love of the game and all that goes along with it. For those of you who have never worked camps with that many kids in one space, (let alone for 5 hours at a time) please understand that the potential for chaos exists at every corner. Safety, safety, safety… Rules, rules, rules. The first 20 minutes of camp is often the most critical. The staff gets a feel for the level of energy within the group and the kids get a feel for the level of control (or lack thereof) that exists within the framework of the program. The goal: create the same “motivation through imagination” for our academy kids that I experienced growing up while also creating a mechanism for ensuring a safe and controlled environment. Hence the creation of the ZIMPERT and the grandest of grand prizes of them all- THE GOLDEN ZIMPERT.
Zimperts were ultimately just plastic poker chips, a currency that we drew a “Z” on with a sharpie. But to the kids they were so much more. During our fireside chat on the morning of the first day of every camp we revealed the Zimpert and all the various ways players could earn them. We also shared legendary stories about the Golden Zimpert and how only a few kids in the history of our camps had ever seen one. Would this be the week? There were opportunities to win Zimperts as a team and opportunities to win them as individuals. Certainly the art of presentation and the story telling aspects add tremendous value while creating intrigue and wonder. Examples of ways you could win a Zimpert:
- The first team to sit quietly at their tables during break
- Make ten 3-foot putts in a row
- Achieve a certain number of team points in the chipping station challenge.
- Best team name, Rock-Paper-Scissors match play challenge (during a break)
- Answer trivia questions about etiquette, rules of the game and scorekeeping
- Draw a golf hole and explain to the group what makes it cool
- Picking up trash without being asked after lunch
- Making a completely rhythmic and balanced golf swing as a team all at the same time
- Random acts of kindness that a coach bears witness to
- For saying “nice try, get ‘em next time” to a kid who might have been struggling
- Pending the player and the focus of the program, you could earn for just about anything
You could also lose Zimperts, but never for poor play. But for poor etiquette, foul language, disruptive behavior, or breaking safety rules (you get the picture). The kids got wrapped up in an imaginary world earning points (motivation through reward) and we were able to teach valuable lessons beyond the game while keeping control of the environment. Goal accomplished.
The Golden Zimpert was a large gold medallion that could be worn around your neck. No one ever really got to see the Golden Zimpert, and there were very few winners each summer. We kept it out of sight and away from the kids. Every so often a kid would catch a glimpse of the large shiny gold sphere and would promptly run to tell the other campers “it’s real, it’s real”. There was an opportunity to earn the Golden Zimpert every day of camp after lunch and tension would mount through the camp as everyone rooted for someone to make THE PUTT. Although the long putt on most occasions proved too difficult, a camaraderie among our campers was ultimately created.
The legend of the Golden Zimpert grew throughout our local golf community. I occasionally see kids who I worked with over a decade ago and while catching up they ask if there have been any Golden Zimpert sightings recently. There is something about the imaginary as a kid that has the potential to stick with you forever.
My advice is to create an atmosphere that motivates play and rewards beyond the win. Reward leadership, reward kindness, reward creativity, reward effort, reward helping, reward etiquette, reward responsibility and of course reward shot making in its finest forms. Be creative, have fun, use imagination and tell stories. Remember, at the end of the day we are in the business of shaping young people as much as we are shaping young golfers. Motivate youth to practice and play through structured games that are fun and educational. It is our greatest opportunity as golf professionals, perhaps now more than ever, to make a positive impact in young people’s lives. Got Zimperts?
Josh Alpert, PGA