Golf is fundamentally a mental game and understanding the mental aspects of golf for the junior golfer is vital. Before the age of 13 the emphasis really needs to be on keeping the junior improving, having fun and keeping expectations to a minimum. There are many promising players who burn out by the age of 12 due to unrelenting pressure by their parents.
Starting around the age of 13 the junior will start to decide whether they truly want to proceed along the rigorous path to playing college golf or if they simply want to continue to play for the sheer love and enjoyment of the game at their own leisure, on their own schedule and at a competitive level of their own choosing.
The more elite and ambitious junior, from the age of 13, may well benefit at this point from a talk to a performance and sports psychologist. There are many excellent people out there, people like Dr Bhrett McCabe of The Mindside. He is the author of The Mindside Manifesto and does a regular podcast aimed at helping you to tap into peak performance on demand. Our older son works with Dr. McCabe’s partner Meighan Julbert who stresses the importance of ‘mastery of the craft’ and has a gift with focusing the mind of a young teenager. Not an easy thing to do !
For parents of young golfers Dr. McCabe advocates, amongst other things, an attitude of gratitude and positive reinforcement. There is little you (as a parent) can do during a tournament except cultivate a casual nonchalance and shoot a quiet reminder to the child, when necessary, to breathe and follow their post-shot routine and focus on the next shot. Other than that the parent (as spectator or caddy) should remain emotionally detached regardless of the state of play. This will help the player to learn to help him/herself through failure and disappointment – imperative in junior golf.
The Positive Coaching Alliance Organization focuses on 3 fundamental principals for junior golfers : Redefining “Winner”; Filling the Emotional Tank; and Honoring the Game.
A fundamental goal in youth sports should be producing young people who are winners for life. Winners are people who : Make Maximum Effort. Continue to Learn and Improve. Refuse to Let Mistakes (or fear of mistakes) Stop Them. This is called a Mastery Orientation with the Tree of Mastery being the ELM (Effort, Learning, Mistake rebounding). Athletes who are coached with this orientation tend to reduce anxiety and build self-confidence.
When filling an emotional tank, the ratio of 5:1 (praise to criticism) is ideal. A parent’s job is to fill the child’s emotional tank: encourage, don’t give a lot of advice, acknowledge feelings of disappointment. Praise about 5 times for every criticism – this will allow the child to hear the criticism without going too much on the defensive.
Honoring the Game gets to the ROOTS of positive play which is the cornerstone of maintaining a positive mental attitude. ROOTS stands for Respect for : Rules (we don’t bend rules to win), Opponents (a worthy opponent is a gift that forces us to play to our potential), Officials (we treat officials with respect even if we disagree), Teammates (we never do anything that would embarrass our team on or off the field) and one’s Self (we live up to our own standards regardless of what others do).
From one of the greatest fathers of the game of golf, Arnold Palmer : “The whole secret to mastering the game of golf — and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro — is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad days, keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top.”