If you are wondering how to be most helpful for your junior golfer, here are some points to consider:
MANAGE EXPECTATIONS AND FRUSTRATION
Parents, as well as their junior golfers, have high hopes. Dreams are wonderful, but the path to realizing them can be difficult. Frustration is a part of the process and largely comes from not meeting expectations. It deters the learning process and growth of a golfer. So, how do you establish realistic expectations and decrease stress?
“Learn the game of golf,” says Boyd Summerhays, renowned golf instructor. Golf is difficult. In order to know what to reasonably expect, you need to study it. This is easier to do than ever with the detailed statistics available to you online (i.e. Shot Link on www.pgatour.com).
A lot of parents and junior golfers think they have a serious problem with their technique or mental game if their child isn’t making nearly every eight-footer in competition. However, when you delve into the stats, you find that PGA Tour professionals only make fifty percent of them! Should your junior golfer make putts at a higher rate than a professional golfer? Shot Link also shows the proximity to the hole that each PGA Tour player hits it from 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, all the way up to 250-275 yards away. It shows how close they hit their green side shots, and much more.
Boyd councils all his parents and their juniors to take the time to learn what the best players in the world do. Then, remember that those stats would and should be incrementally “lower” on average for mini tour pros, college golfers, high school golfers, top junior golfers, and developing junior golfers.
He also pointed out that if your 12 year old son hits a 7 iron 125 yards, compare that shot to the proximity to the hole from 175 (a tour player’s approximate yardage for a 7 iron, not 125 yards for a PGA Tour player, a wedge). Then don’t forget to lower that expectation incrementally from the PGA Tour pro, mini tour pro, college player, high school, top junior golfer, and developing junior golfer.
Another common misconception parents and junior golfers hold alike is that “good golfers don’t hit bad shots.” For the most part, the only shots you see on television are the highlights or the leaders who are playing their absolute best that week. Amateurs erroneously develop an assumption that professionals are never making mistakes. According to Boyd, “golfers rarely go a single round without hitting a couple of significant miss-hits, not just good misses.”
You and your junior golfer’s development as a golfer will benefit greatly from a detailed study of the game. Having realistic expectations will make you more tolerant to disappointment and will foster more effective growth.
BE A PARENT, NOT A COACH
Being a parent is hard. Being a coach is hard. When you blend both of those roles together, it doesn’t magically make them easy! Some parents have been able to find harmony with both roles, but overall, it can be a difficult balancing act.
A child wants to impress both his coach and his parents. Those strands combined together make for a tightly wound rope for the parent and junior golfer. It can strain the relationship. The respective functions of a coach and a parent differ and there’s a benefit of keeping them separate.
A parent’s primary role is to provide a secure base for their child. That security is a certainty that regardless of how they perform, they can return home and feel accepted. Like a boat preparing supplies for their next voyage, they receive encouragement from their parents to prepare for their next adventure (or competitive round of golf).
Research is very clear that a secure attachment to a parent figure leads to higher resilience to stress, overall well-being, and courage to face new and difficult situations (John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth). A child’s basic need is to feel acceptance, approval, and praise from their parents. Feel free to give that to them! Be proud of their willingness to go into the arena and compete, regardless of the outcome.
A coach’s role is different. The purpose of a coach is to give objective and un-biased feedback to improve their golfer’s consistency, capability, and performance. A coach is responsible for criticism and objective feedback. Let the coach handle the negative feedback and minutia of what they need to work on in their golf game. Enjoy the fulfillment and joy of the parent-child bond. Enjoy preparing for the journey, rather than feeling responsible for the outcome.
Objectivity is difficult when your own child is swinging the club. Just watch the stress the parents exhibit during the Drive, Chip, & Putt Competition. It is evident that those parents are in no emotional state to provide rational, objective feedback! As Boyd pointed out, “facts are liberating, emotional reactions can be destructive and damaging.” Let the coach, who is being paid to be objective and honest, deal with the components of the golf swing. Let the encouragement and support flow unrestrained from parents.
Boyd pointed out that one of the most common traps parents find themselves in is the need to provide constant critique. Research continues to point to the importance of having at least a 4:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback from parents (Harvard Business Review). Why? Too much criticism undermines a child’s confidence and leads to fractured relationships.
Aside from the praise, it’s important to allow your child some time alone. When they are on the course, or even in life, they are going to make decisions and perform on their own. Golf is a great training ground for life. Don’t rob them of opportunities to learn from their own mistakes and successes. This is a powerful concept, taught beautifully in The Inner Game of Golf.
AVOID THE ALLURE OF PERFECTION
Dr. Bob Rotella has instilled into our awareness that Golf Isn’t a Game of Perfect. However, this doesn’t change the fact that it is extremely alluring to perfectionists—parents and children alike! Golf seems to attract people who have the tendency to be hard on themselves.
Perfectionism is directly related to perceived individual worthiness and a desire for acceptance: “If I am perfect, I will be enough and people will like me.” The messages that are sent to your child become pivotal in forming their self-concept and confidence throughout their life. Messages of encouragement and acceptance allow a child to be flawed, both in their golf game and in life, and still be enough. A sense of individual worth increases amounts of resiliency and creativity in children—both essential attributes for an aspiring golfer (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection).
DREAM, BUT TAKE IT ONE STEP AT A TIME
Boyd said that he is frequently asked by a junior golfer or their parents: “Can I (or my child) make it onto the PGA/LPGA Tour?” His response is to slow down and take it a step at a time:
“Well, first you need to get on to your high school team.
Then, you need to become one of the top players on your high school team.
Then, you need to get to the point that you are winning a/some junior state, national, or international tournaments.
Then, you need to put yourself into a position to make a college team.
Then, you need to play your way into being one of the top players on that team.
Then, you need to be an all-American.
Then, you need to qualify for partial or full-time status on a consistent tour.
Then, you need to obtain partial or full-time status on the PGA Tour.
Then, you need to be consistent enough on tour to retain your playing privileges.”
His answer is wise and true: You must start where you are and take it one step at a time. Trying to take it more than one step at a time will only lead to frustration. “You have to take the steps. The players on the PGA Tour have followed a very similar progression to get to the top. Nobody cheats the process.”
One of the books Boyd recommends to anyone wanting to pursue a competitive golf path, is Talent is Overrated. This book is an exhaustive study on the effort required to attain the upper echelons of any field where a specific skill is required. Understand the amount of work and deliberate practice needed to be the best of the best. It’s alright to dream big, but the grueling process of fractional improvement is part of the process.
DIVERSIFY THEIR IDENTITY
An individual’s developed identity is directly related to confidence. We tend to correlate our identity with what we do: “I am a golfer.” However, surely there is more to us than one single activity! There’s a difference between your golf identity and all of the other complex components that make you who you are. Your child is more than their golf identity. When golf is the only source of identity, immense pressure ensues. A child is much more than what their most current scorecard reads.
Remember, these kids are still kids. Let them go bowling, paintballing, to concerts, or even go on a few dates! Let them develop other interests that are enjoyable to them. It’s important for kids to just play. In fact, unrestricted, uninhibited play is one of the key components to healthy cognitive development (The Power of Play, David Elkind).
Children’s brains crave new and novel experiences. Boyd pointed out the observed happiness in the “new-age golfer,” referencing the various hobbies and interests that Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, and Jason Day have outside of golf. Part of the appeal of these top golfers to the newer generation is that they are having fun outside of golf. They have differing, but developed identities and brands.
When a child understands that they are a conglomerate of many wonderful interests and attributes, they become more resilient to missed putts and mistakes. If you put all of your eggs in one basket, the set-backs or disappointments that are inevitable in golf will be felt much more acutely.
It is entirely pointless to compare one golfer to another. Every child has different strengths and weaknesses. It’s alright to become familiar with what those are, but don’t compare them to others’. Like fingerprints and people, every golfer is one-of-a-kind.
Each of the aforementioned professional golfers has a distinct identity and they are not trying to be like one another. They understand and accept that they differ—and that is alright. You don’t see Zach Johnson trying to bomb it like Dustin Johnson. Zach has had plenty of success just being Zach. Embrace the differences, rather than try to be something you are not. It’s an annoyance when someone starts comparing apples to oranges. The process is entirely futile!
When we make biased comparisons, we get a distorted and skewed concept of reality. Comparisons are a trap. A parent or child will compare their worst day of golf to another player’s best. Comparing can lead to making excuses and finding something to blame the outcome on: “He is just lucky or I am just unlucky.”
As Boyd points out, “the truth is that everyone gets good and bad bounces. Everybody has good and bad days. It is what it is. Don’t make excuses. Don’t compare. Instead, learn accountability for your own game and goals.” Accountability leads to more growth than comparison does. Comparison leads to a distorted self-concept. Avoid comparison, it will lead to negativity. Be happy for others’ successes and your junior golfer will find a more robust mentality.
IT ISN’T ONLY MENTAL
Much to the chagrin of a family therapist, Boyd was able to illustrate that even though Sport’s Psychology is beneficial to all golfers, there is more to successful golf than visualization, positive self-talk, guided imagery, and deep breathing. Sports psychology can be very helpful, but isn’t the entirety of it.
“Countless times, before ever meeting the junior golfer, I have been told by their parent that their junior golfer was mentally weak. But often, once I see their junior golfer, I conclude that they are technically weak or deficient, not mentally. Poor or unreliable technique produces poor results, which eventually leads to low confidence and sometimes even anxiety, which then the untrained observer or parent will label or diagnose as mental weakness. This frequent mis-diagnosis only further undermines the ability and the confidence of the junior golfer, making it increasingly more difficult for them to succeed. Strive to achieve technical soundness in each aspect of the game. A strong mind then complements greatly the strong technique.”
Boyd explicated a systematic relationship between the mental game and physical technique: “It is 100% technical and 100% mental. You can’t embrace the mental and not the physical, and vice versa. They are both vitally important.”
Daniel Summerhays, Boyd’s brother and successful PGATour Member, put it profoundly: “If you are struggling with your golf game, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It just means there’s something you don’t know yet.” True Knowledge, whether tangible or intangible, is liberating to the mind.
You may find that seeing a good sports psychologist or even family therapist can be helpful in supporting the mental and emotional strains of competition that children and parents face (Boyd particularly referenced the talents of Tiger Woods’ sports psychologist, Jay Brunza).
Golf is an expensive and emotional sport. It requires significant amounts of time, training, money, energy, coaching, and many other additional supports and resources. Supporting a child on their journey of competitive golf involves sacrifice. It’s a unique illustration of the amount of love and care that parents have for their children. Parents, for the most part, are happy to sacrifice anything and everything for their young athletes. It is a beautiful thing to observe and can be a part of close bonds and traditions.
When someone has given so much, it’s human nature to expect something in return.
Ironically, giving can create an unintended sense of imbalance. A parent may expect a certain level of dedication or commitment from their child in exchange for their support. A child may feel pressure to repay the debt, so to speak. Sometimes parents get so emotionally and financially invested in their child that it can be detrimental to the relationship.
Remember this is a path that your family has chosen. There are many other paths that lead to success in life. It may be helpful to allow the child to be the one to choose golf. The support you give to them is also a choice. A child is never in debt to their parents or owes their parents anything in return for the support they have given. This taxing emotion of being in debt is detrimental to the growth of the child and can lead to resentment. It is a giving, with no expectation of success or repayment in the future, which allows for the most fulfilling experience.
If relevant, free yourself and your child from any sense of obligation or indebtedness.
Shakespeare’s advice in Hamlet is definitely pertinent to a parent-junior-golfer-relationship:
“Neither a borrower or a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend.”
In this case, expecting a return on your investment may mean a loss of your relationship with your child. It isn’t worth it. One of the great heart-breaks in life is to see anything get in the way of such a meaningful relationship.
Much of a child’s core identity is formed during the ages of Junior Golf. The memories and messages that are received during this age stay with children throughout their lives. It’s more knee-knocking than a downhill putt at Oakmont to think about the responsibility parents have in the development of their children. Your influence and role in your child’s life is indescribable. Never underestimate the impact you have. Seek out supports as is helpful. Be cognizant of the messages you are sending (and what your child is receiving).
Even with the best coach, mentor, psychologist, and knowledge, there will be struggle, set-backs, and disappointment. Those set-backs may be a sign that growth is occurring. Good luck in your journey. Play Well.
Boyd Summerhays is one of the nation’s most qualified swing coaches. He has had success with PGA Tour professionals (such as Tony Finau and Daniel Summerhays), as well as top-level amateur and junior golfers, acquiring expertise through personal experience and an intense study of the game. His combination of passion and knowledge helps parents and children on their journey of competitive golf.
Michael Morgan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in working with the relationship strain and individual stress that competition can place on individuals and families. He practices in the Salt Lake City, Utah area.
For further inquiries regarding how you can help your child perform at their best on or off the course, please contact Michael Morgan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.