Food For Thought: Junior Golf Parents

Alright. So I obviously played a lot of junior golf. I started out in our local junior golf program in my hometown (VJGA) and worked my way up through SCPGA and AJGA. I played in the U.S Junior Girls, chosen for the U.S Junior Solheim Cup Team and The Canon Cup (I think its a different name now.) Anyways, I played a lot of Junior Golf so been there, done that. Also without going into detail, I also have some experience with an “intense” parent. There is a fine line between “too much” and “just enough” and it can be difficult for parents to find that line and scale it. This past weekend I was able to spectate at a junior golf tournament. Here is what I saw and my advice for parents as someone who was one in their kids’ shoes and is now a parent myself.

First thing to remember at a junior golf event is that you never know who is watching, and not only your child, but YOU. There are college coaches, club company reps looking for talent and influential people out watching your kids and they’re not only watching your child but they’re also watching you and how you interact with your child. If your child hits a bad shot how do you react? Do you try to talk to them every chance you get? What is your general body language towards your child? On the kids’ side, your junior may be leading the tournament but if he or she has a terrible attitude or is disrespectful, I promise you these people of importance will take note and there is a good chance your son or daughter will be overlooked. Remind your kids of this and remind yourself as well. Composure on and off the golf course is a highly sought after quality. Don’t ruin your junior’s potential opportunities because you want to act like an a-hole (since it’s super helpful anyways.)

Let me share one families story that I witnessed during this weekend and how I saw the writing on the wall the minute I saw the parent. We were watching one of the leaders in the boys division on the first day. He was 3 under par through 13 holes. All of the sudden I see dad huffing down the cart path on number 14 (the minute I knew.) His son had pushed his iron shot to the right of the green and dad quickly huffed over to where the ball landed asking everyone in sight if they saw where it went as he frantically searched for the ball. I was getting PTSD just watching him!! The kid comes up, makes an average chip shot with dad standing close by giving him stress vibes, he lips his par putt out to make bogey. Dad takes off his hat and grimaces. They BOTH walk to the tee together (Why is this allowed?) Kid pushes his next drive right into the hay. Dad of course huffs over to frantically find the ball, racing up to talk to his son. Needless to say, he ended up shooting 3 over that day and obviously was no where near the lead. I know there were college coaches and reps standing by and watching this as well. Do you think they went to talk to his dad after witnessing this? Kids feed off of their parents energy and this was disappointing to watch. Again, I could see the writing on the wall.

Now speaking from experience and speaking of energy, Parents: Do you honestly think your child can’t feel your nervous breakdown energy pulsating from your anxiety aura?? YES!! They can feel it and no, it doesn’t help. I understand that watching your child play and analyzing what they need to work on is important and you’re obviously nervous for your child… but if you are THAT parent that can’t hide it, do yourself and your junior a favor and either hang way back so they can’t see you or more importantly “feel” you or send someone else out to watch. And for God’s sake do NOT go up and talk to them every chance you get! It is not that hard to figure out what they need to work on. The most important thing your child should be working on in their game at this point in their career is sharpening and honing their mental game and learning how to make good decisions on the course INDEPENDENTLY. Because golf can and will drive you to drink so your brain better have really thick skin and be full of confidence if you want to even sniff getting into a top college program or on tour. In other words, golf is hard enough; don’t add to the cocktail of emotions they will have to deal with by being an anxiety ridden pushy parent breathing down their neck. Susie or Billy isn’t going to blow their chances of making it on Tour because they had a bad day at the xyz 12-13 year old junior golf tournament. This also applies to a big xyz tournament. RELAX.

Alright now that that’s off my chest. Switching gears to the more technical side.. If you feel like you have taken them as far as you can, do CAREFUL research on who to hand them off to next. Also, don’t keep trying to be their coach, one day they will know more than you (unless you’re a former tour player) and you will lose credibility. Do what is best for your child. This may mean you coaching is not the best thing for them anymore. Let me reiterate being careful with who you do choose to take the reigns.. make sure your child is in the best hands possible because it will impact their future one way or the other. I can promise you that.

Fitness and Injury prevention is getting much more momentum these days and I couldn’t agree more with it. My dad was very into fitness and had me working out at a young age. He was a little ahead of the curve. Have your junior start working out but again be VERY careful with who you choose to help. I can’t stress enough finding a fitness coach who is familiar with golf and preferably TPI certified. You can really mess someone up if you go to the wrong person, like, no more golf messed up. Especially dealing with young kids, their muscles and bones and tendons are still developing. Tread lightly. Yoga and Pilates type of stuff is probably pretty safe to start out with. I love Yoga not only for the strength and flexibility but for the mental training and balance. Injury prevention is obviously a hot topic and highly debated right now with the theory that kids are getting injured earlier because they’re becoming “one sport” focused too early. I can’t say that I disagree with that. My parents did a nice job letting me play other sports even through high school (cheerleading IS a sport ;-)) Golf was always the main focus but they let me do other stuff which I think was really great. I know I would have burned out a long time ago if I wasn’t able to do other stuff and I knew way too many girls that did burn out for that very reason. At a certain point golf will take a lot of sacrifice and commitment but when your child is 13 and under, RELAX. Golf should always be a priority but they need something else in their lives. Not only for the physical aspects but for the mental and emotional aspects as well.

Kids need your support and constructive criticism, they do not need your anxiety and your flat out negative criticism. Focus more on your relationship and what is best for your child as a human being. Their self worth is not defined by their performance on the golf course. Now Im not saying you should baby them or let them off easy.. that isn’t helping them be a good athlete or human being either. Kids need to be pushed and held accountable, and they do NEED you. The bottom line of this article is that sometimes backing off a little bit will get you what you want: your kid to have the best shot they can at making it to whatever level they are trying to aspire to. Guide them to be their own toughest critic and their own motivator, don’t hinder them by doing it for them. Guide them into loving the game and to loving themselves, don’t push them into hating the game or hating you in the process. That my friends will go farther than any pushy golf parent can dream of pushing. Self motivation is the most powerful weapon there is and the goal is to make them want to push themselves.

Happy Golf Parenting :-)

Sydnee Michaels