Doc Sailes on The Role of Golf Parents

Doc Sailes the role of golf parents

Know the role of golf parents with advice from Doc Sailes. Doc, as he is affectionately known in the sports psychology world, is an Associate Professor Emeritus at Indiana University and a sports performance consultant. He works with high school, college, professional and Olympic athletes, teams and organizations in the area of performance psychology. 

He has written The Role of Golf Parents for us and we are excited to bring his wisdom and experience in the field of performance psychology to our junior golfing readers. 


A few years back, the NBA Players Association commissioned me to conduct an investigation to determine the role of the parent in the development and transition of their elite basketball sons. The information would be included in a parents’ class that was held during their annual Top 100 Camp at the University of Virginia where those high school basketball players most likely to play on an NCAA Division 1 team and with the best chances of making it to the NBA were invited. I researched the corresponding literature as well as interviewed sport psychologists, the athletes themselves, parents and coaches to gather my data. What follows are my recommendations based on the findings which are applicable to all parents of aspiring athlete children, including golf parents. 

I concluded there are three primary individuals in the development of the elite aspiring athlete. They are the coaches (the experts), the athlete and the athlete’s family, which includes for the most part, one or both parents. I call this core group of individuals the Athlete Development Team

The coaches are responsible for teaching and developing the athlete’s physical training, skill development, mental toughness, course management, nutrition and all the other components of sport science that intersect with golf performance. The athlete’s role is to learn, train, develop and compete. The parent’s role is to be a parent, period!

The role of the parent is multi-faceted and perhaps the most challenging. The parent serves as nurturer, motivator, cheerleader, fan, disciplinarian, planner, mentor, financier, chauffeur, chef and sometimes the assistant coach following the lead of the coaches. The parent’s role is critical to the success of the athlete because as an assistant coach (sort of), they must enforce the training recommendations taught and/or recommended by the coaching team (swing coach, nutritionist, trainer, psychologist). 

Consequently, the parent should strive to increase their golf sport science knowledge to assist in their child’s development. For example, the parent may not be able to afford to retain a sports nutritionist. It would be a good idea to read about proper golf nutrition and implement a program on their own which would include general nutrition content, balancing carbohydrates, fat & protein, preparing pre-competition and post-round meals, proper hydration and more. Golf Sport Science information is readily available on the internet. Just Google a topic and you will receive links to free articles and videos. An informed parent is a more effective parent.

Based on my research, it appears the role of the golf parent should be as follows:

*  Be aware of the athlete’s goals and aspirations. This will serve as the foundation for their motivation. Use that information as you establish family, golf, educational and development goals and to motivate the athlete to make the necessary investments to become a successful golfer. Remind the golfer of their goals on those days where motivation appears to want.

* Be an Assistant Coach and follow the lead of the coach(es) and encourage/require your son or daughter to follow their instructions. You become the eyes and ears of the coaches when they are not around. Consult with the coach to establish a plan of action to reach outcome and performance goals. Be a part of the process.

* Provide the finances to support the athlete’s development. One parent informed me, “I can pay $125,000 for college later or invest in my child’s golf development now and earn a college scholarship later. We know it’s sometimes a stressful and unpredictable journey but it’s a family goal and that makes it all worth it.” Another parent said, “My husband and I are the chauffeur, chef, banker, mentor, motivator, supporter and disciplinarian! There is no getting around it. We are committed to the process!”

Problems arise when parents step outside their role as parents and openly criticize the coaches, instruct their child in a method contrary to the coach’s direction, focus too much on winning and not on development and performance, pushing too hard, not pushing hard enough or being too busy to be involved in the golfer’s development, training and competition. 

The biggest complaint I got from athletes was seeing the negative body language or hearing negative verbal comments from their parents when they make a mistake during competition. Mistakes are a part of the game and parents need to dial back their negative or positive reactions when they are spectating their child’s competitive rounds.

When the athlete observes these negative reactions from their parents, it can lead to distraction, increased pressure, loss of confidence & focus, fear, low energy, disinterest, under-performance and the desire to quit playing golf altogether. Trust me when I tell you your athlete child notices everything and will internalize what they see.

Parents need to be supportive, positive, progressive learners themselves. I recommend that parents keep the player’s stats (fairways, greens in regulation, saves & putts) during a round from a distance, be aware of their negative body language and become a positive part of the training program. Stats will indicate what part of their child’s game needs work and recording them will involve the parent as part of the process rather than as a spectator.

In summary, your biggest challenge as a parent is to just be a mom or dad. Support, love, encourage and respect your golf playing child. Support their training and competition, support the coaches, learn golf sport science and accept the fact that you will not agree with everything that is said and done regarding your child’s training and development. When that time arrives, private conversations with the coaches are the key to achieving respect and understanding as you move forward. Remember, the primary focus is the development and success of your athlete child. It is a team effort. So, just be a parent, it’s the best job in the world and has its own rewards which is the success of our children. 

Good luck in your golf journey. -Doc 

Dr. Gary "Doc" Sailes Bio

Doc Sailes is an Associate Professor Emeritus at Indiana University and a Sports Performance Consultant who works with High School, College, Professional and Olympic athletes, teams and organizations in the area of performance psychology.
Doc Sailes Role of Golf Parents

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Additional Reading:

Golf Stats for Junior Golfers

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