It happens sometimes that junior golfers enjoy a lot of success young in life. They are natural golfers with a swing reminiscent of the Big Easy himself and skills that put the two year old Tiger Woods on the Mike Douglas show back in the day to shame. There are a great number of very young golfing prodigies out there with magnificent You Tube worthy drives and trophy cabinets full to the brim by the time they are 10 years old.
When you have a very talented junior golfer you are tempted to imagine that this is it. At 8, or 10, or 12 years old his professional golf future is decided and every decision, vacation destination, spare hour and dollar is directed to that dream (whose dream it really is remains somewhat vague) and those articles that recommend kids not specialize in one sport too soon - well, they can hardly apply to golf which is such an individual sport, so technical and highly competitive from such an early age.
I have one of those young golfers with the overflowing trophy cabinet and there are two major obstacles that I see with this way of thinking. Firstly, as parents we've got to stop stressing ourselves out. Many of today's young junior superstars will drop out for a variety of different reasons but I suspect mostly due to undue parental pressure. Puberty will wreak havoc on their swings and spirits. There will be girlfriends and snap-chat and the sheer burden of AP classes and peer pressures. And if you, as a parent, have so much invested, both financially and emotionally in your 10 year old's future golf career you are setting yourself up to be severely disillusioned.
As much as we have to protect our junior golfer's mindset (see Junior Golf Mental Game) we have to protect our own as well and we do this largely by remaining as emotionally unattached as possible to all golfing outcomes that we cannot control, while at the same time giving freely and within our circumstances to opportunities for the junior to play, grow in the game and enjoy the process. As trite as it sounds, you cannot do it for your child and the more you want to, the less likelihood of your child coming along for the ride.
We are die-hard junior golf parents and yet this year, out of the blue, we have both our boys playing travel basketball. Golf tournament weekends take precedence of course, but contrary to the paranoia and personality of the average hyperextended golf parent we are embracing a second sport on a competitive level and finding it extremely beneficial!
The physical training alone that the boys are subjected to is making them faster and stronger than they have ever been. Basketball is a great second sport for a golfer because it is intensely aerobic and there is no danger of compromising the swing. Their coach is an old-school, in your face, ain’t how hard you hit but how hard you get hit and keep moving forward ex-pro-baller ….. They love him and respect him and work hard for him.
And even more than the physical conditioning, there is a mental toughness that holds a team together in a fast paced battle of wills and wits when you take on opponents bigger and stronger than you. Mental toughness is what takes you to another level in any game you play. It is not something that can be coached into you. It percolates organically through preparation and pressure.
And even more than that – and I don’t really understand the correlation, if indeed there is one – I am more relaxed. I’m less obsessed with his golfing ambitions, my golfing ambitions for him, whatever ……..
Sports coaches and psychologists credit a multi-sport upbringing primarily with reducing injuries, stress and burnout and facilitating better overall motor and athletic development, confidence and ownership of the sports experience. It is not a scientifically proven fact that single sports specialization at a young age can lead to physical imbalances, overuse injuries, early burnout and poor overall functional movement skills. The Titeist Performance Institute (TPI) is one of the leading authorities over golfing athletic development for juniors as well as adults. A brief visit to their site will show you all you need to know about why single sport specialization is not recommended for junior golfers.
All junior golf coaches worth that title know that single sport specialization is not a good idea. Many of today's top pro golfers grew up playing multiple sports well into high school. Pictured below is Jordan Spieth pitching.
For us personally, having our middle and high school boys playing basketball, cycling, kayaking, doing fun runs etc. is turning into a real win-win for both the kids and the parents.