I remember it as if it was yesterday. “Sir, could I ask you a question about the rules?” The question came from a nine-year-old with a face contorted with obvious shock and horror. The question, directed at a rules official at a youth golf tournament within earshot of yours truly, could have been about a bad lie, a ball that moved or what G.U.R actually stands for. Instead the question had a much more serious origin. The youngster’s follow-up literally silenced myself and the rules official, and in my line of work being at a loss for words normally means running at a loss!
“Is it allowed for a dad to throw a club at his own son?” You could’ve cut the atmosphere with a knife. After carefully making sure of the facts we ascertained that the incident involved a bad club-selection by one of the nine-year old golfers in the field, an even worse shot and a father that saw it fit to express his desired club choice by throwing the club in question at his own son. Later we would also find out that it was in fact the youngster in the firing line’s first such tournament and subsequently he quit golf after the incident.
This true life example illustrates many of the challenging relational issues we as sport psychologists face when it comes to parental involvement in not only golf, but all youth sports. Many parents will be reading this and convincing themselves that they have never or will never behave like the father in question.
Ask yourself these questions. “Is my body-language the same if he or she makes a birdie or a triple-bogey?” Do I remember that as in the classic saying, ‘winning and losing are both intruders and should be treated equally?’ And lastly do I remember that my talented youngster is first and foremost a human-being and not a sporting robot?
If you can relate to, or are worried about the above questions and want to know a little bit more of how to not only raise a top sportsperson but also a joyous competitor, we at PSP have a few suggestions.
Always ask: “What did you learn?”
Success in youth golf can be hit-and-miss. Dealing with puberty is tough enough. Having to perform at high levels on the fairways while maintaining good marks and having some semblance of a social life can be almost impossible for talented youth athletes. This pressure is compounded when parents always have the same question after every round, “What was your score?” I have dealt with many clients that are so fearful of the tongue-lashing from mom or dad after a bad round that they would rather die (or cheat) than admit to poor play.
This is where parents can not only remove some of the pressure but also remind them of what is actually important in life – continual learning not just short-lived glory. By changing the standard question you ask after a round you can change the self-perception of your talented youngster from one of incompetence to one who is moving towards it. “What did you learn today?” takes one beyond a score that could be influenced by bad and good bounces and all the other tricks of fate associated with golf.
It also allows the young golfer the opportunity to share with mom or dad their own views and thoughts and by strengthening this learning one imparts not only the desire for future success but also future communication on their golf. Lastly, it also removes emotional reactions such as the one by our dad in the example above when things in golf do not go to plan, and believe me, this is most of the time they play.
The golden 45 minutes
From experience the thing most young golfers admit to, is the dread of the drive home after a poor round. The reason being they are a captive audience. Captives to the things that mom or dad saw them doing wrong, captives to the summary of poor decisions and even worse shots and captives to negative comments that make them want to stop playing golf, not get better at it.
If there is one thing I remind parents about it is the fact that in the hour or two after competition, in-depth analysis is potentially the most damaging thing to a sporting parent-child relationship. The reason for this is that the atmosphere is so emotive that objectivity often goes out of the window and things said in anger could cause permanent harm.
Rather give the analysis a break until you have regained objectivity or have cooled down. By doing this you will avoid the emotional trap that goes with bad performances and by having a proper conversation a few hours after the event one can thoroughly highlights pros and cons without harming the relationship.
X+Y does not equal Z
Golf confounds most if not all parents. The reason? We look at it like a business, put in 10 hours at R100 per hour and that gives me a R1000. Unfortunately golf does not respect the principles of business much less the principles of time and effort.
Stop wondering why if your child practices four hours a day and has a good coach and plays often why they are not shooting the same scores as Johnny or Jane. Most of the great golfing champions only truly mature after age 30 and always remember that if your youngster starts with golf it is a lifetime commitment to improvement. It cannot be equated to timelines and mathematical equations if you want to follow formulas then golf is not the game for you, but then again is it not your child’s choice in the first place?
Who’s the boss?
In the documentary, “Tiger Woods: His Life”, Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, explains how Tiger was always the “boss” at tournaments. Earl allowed Tiger the opportunity to lead from the time they arrived at the course parking lot until they left after the round. Imagine the implication of this: Tiger decided when and how to warm-up, what he would eat and drink and how he would play his round. Granted, Tiger is one of a generation, but could this insight not be a contributing factor?
At junior tournaments one could sometimes equate it to watching little radio controlled robots being controlled by mom or dad to execute the shots mom or dad thinks are the best. The player gets told what to do, what to eat, how to swing and what line to putt on. How could this contribute to self-belief, self-confidence and being self-sufficient? Instead this creates a fearful and doubting young golfer who cannot make a decision without mom or dad.
Rather start to wean them off your advice earlier than later. It will be tough in the beginning when other golfers who are lead like robots play better than your youngster. Rather remember that junior golf is but a pre-amble to being a top amateur or a tour pro and that to be the latter one needs to be able to think for oneself. Are you helping or hindering this process for your talented youngster?
Lastly, remember there will be a time when you are not there anymore and your true legacy will be if your children can live their lives and play their sport with your example and advice in mind.