This article is written exclusively for The Junior Golfer by David MacKenzie, Mental Coach and the founder of Golf State of Mind.
Junior players of all ages are having to adapt to some major changes in their lives. Many are having to wrap their heads around not finishing their final year of school or college. Some are left in the position of not knowing whether they will be starting college in the fall. All junior golfers are having to deal with not playing spring golf and the uncertainty of no set return date.
I speak with 20 or so junior players individually each week and I can see first hand at how disappointed they are by not being able to play golf, go to school or attend important events. The structure that they had from school and golf has disappeared, and many are left feeling not knowing how to best use their time.
Turning a setback into an opportunity for a junior golfer
If you are a parent or a coach of a junior golfer, now is the time to step in and help your junior players use this time as productively as possible. There is a lot of progress that can be made during the “lock-down”, which can ease any anxiety they might be feeling. For one, it’s a great time to help them strengthen their mental game. Here are 10 ways to do it:
1. Validate their disappointment
Instead of telling them to just “think positively”, acknowledge and validate how they must be feeling. For many of them, what has happened is devastating and those types of feelings can’t be ignored. Your interest in how they feel will not only make them feel supported and understood, but it will help them accept it and move on from obsessing over things that are not within their control. If you are a coach, reach out to all your players and make them feel supported.
2. Help them structure their time and set daily goals
What is the plan? Although they probably have school assignments, because they are at home, there will be a feeling like it’s a break and time to relax. Most of the junior golfers I work with are using this time to the max and have a clear plan for each day and week - you should help yours do the same. This break is a good time for them to do some reflection on the behaviors that they must change to take their game to the next level, and how they are going to do it. Teach them the importance of time management and accountability by requiring that they tell you what the most important goals are for the week and what they are going to get done each day. We know from many research studies that accountability is a key success factor.
3. Motivate them
Emphasize that how they use this time (even without being able to practice and play), could make or break the upcoming season. Time is of the essence. A good way to maintain or improve work ethic is to reward the junior each day for getting their goals done - perhaps some special time with you doing an activity, getting to do something they enjoy, or at least some verbal recognition of focused work. Help them keep a log of what they did and share it with you each day. I have all my junior player’s enter their daily goals into the CoachNow platform in the morning and follow up in the evening with what they achieved. This helps them prioritize, stay on track and get a boost from feeling like they’ve achieved something.
4. Use this time for self development
This time away from golf tournaments and other activities is a great time to work on their mental game of golf. Learning the mental skills of being more present, mindful, focused, managing distractions, being more productive and dealing with challenges, will help them when the season starts up again. I set all my players weekly reading and audio assignments from my Mental Game Training Program and other podcasts to help them improve their specific weaknesses, which we discuss during our remote mental coaching sessions every week.
5. Challenge them
What are they learning each day? We all grow and learn most effectively when we’re being challenged. Instead of allowing them go through the motions and telling you what they’ve been reading or learning about, ask them questions about it that will challenge them (which will help you learn too). Help them put it into context, which will make it more engaging. Give them (hypothetical) challenging situations (in golf) and ask that they tell you how they would tackle it. One of the great things about developing mental skills is that it doesn’t have to require a club or a ball. Get them to visualize it in their minds, overcoming challenges successfully using their mental tools. All the world’s top athletes practice “mental imagery” as part of their mental training.
6. Help them find ways to lower stress
Firstly, allowing them to see their parents dealing with this crisis with calm and poise, will help them model that behaviour when they are facing their own setbacks.
For a lot of juniors (and golfers generally), golf is a way to relieve stress and escape, so we need to make sure they are still getting that outlet.
A great way to do it is working on flexibility, gaining strength and overall fitness levels. A gym isn’t necessary to make this happen, as you can see in these golf fitness workouts from Mike Carroll.
7. See this as an opportunity for gratitude
The fact that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their lives in the coming weeks puts golf in perspective - which ultimately is just a game. Highlighting this is something that might enable your junior to be more grateful for it when they return. Going without the game for several weeks will hopefully make them appreciate every opportunity that they get to play it when they return to it. Framing it in this way could help your junior return the game with renewed optimism and gratitude, which will help them stay calmer on the course.
8. Get creative with practice challenges - they can’t play but they can still compete
I’ve given all my students plenty of “performance drills” that they keep scores for every practice session. If they are able to get to practice, ask them how they are spending the time to keep their competitive skills sharp.
9. Improving focus and self-awareness
Most juniors need help improving their focus and being aware of what they are choosing to focus on and what they feel. Being able to exercise non-judgmental awareness will help your junior with self-control both on and off the course. Most of my junior students are doing some form of meditation and mindfulness practice, which is proven to improve focus and lower anxiety. Here are 2 apps that my junior students find helpful: Calm Meditation (30 day free trial) and Smiling Mind
10. Limit time on mobile devices
Research shows that juniors who spend more than 7 hours of the day on a mobile device have lower cognitive skills than those who only spend 2-3 hours. Help your junior see the benefits of really getting into a task and not being distracted by their phone. Focus is a skill that can be trained and having their phone with them during every activity works against it.
Try these with your junior player - as my experience shows, it will help them through this time and with their long-term growth as a player. If you would like a free consultation with me to find out how I can help your junior, please use this link to book a time.
David MacKenzie is a Mental Coach and the founder of Golf State of Mind. He currently works with golfers of all levels from club player to Tour pro on how to develop the mental skills required to access their best game more consistently.
David’s “Golf State of Mind” is one of the most popular on-line resources for improving the mental game of golf, with over 350 articles published. David has also been featured in Golf Digest, Golf WRX and Golf Tips Magazine.
David is able to quickly identify and effectively communicate the optimal mental process for each individual player and how they can improve on their weaknesses. His system develops mental toughness, improves emotional control and holds golfers accountable to staying focused on what’s most important to maximize their chance of success.