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The Gift of Junior Golf: How To Introduce Your Child to the Game for a Lifetime

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Golf has been described as “the greatest game ever played” and “the game you can play for a lifetime.” It can be one of the greatest gifts a parent gives their child.

Introducing a youngster to golf and helping them navigate their formative years through junior golf can be both exciting and challenging. Most junior golf parent start with great intent, to give their child the gift of the game. Unfortunately, sometimes this original intention can get lost along the way by visions of potential opportunities golf can afford. Although it would be exhilarating to one day see your son or daughter playing college golf or on television celebrating a professional victory, I believe it’s important to see the bigger picture and stick to your original intentions. When a parent’s primary focus is to make the game a positive experience for their child, junior golfers have the greatest opportunity to reach their potential on and off the course.

Enjoyment of the game is one of the keys to junior golfers developing the motivation to consistently work hard at golf. Genuine intrinsic motivation increases a golfer’s resiliency and ability to bounce back. An inner love for the game also decreases the likelihood of burnout and dropout. Children who find an internal passion for the game will be able to share it with their children. The gift of introducing your child to the game can turn into the gift that keeps on giving; one day, you might find yourself playing golf with your grandchildren. Even with all these positives related to intrinsic motivation and passion for the game, however, sharing it with your child can be complicated. There is good news and bad news.

Bad news first. As much as a parent would like to instill a love for the game in their child, they can’t. Parents can’t give their children a love for the game; they can only give their children the opportunity to find their own love for the game.

Now for the good news. When you give your child the opportunity to experience golf without an agenda, everyone wins. Letting your child pursue sports, activities, and recreation with their personal interest in mind allows them to discover what they love. If it’s not golf, it will be a sport or activity that gives them as much enjoyment as golf gives you. It also allows them the opportunity to enjoy golf enough to do it as a recreational activity, even if it’s not their leading passion.

The following are some guidelines to consider when introducing and navigating your child’s experience in junior golf. These ideas are helpful to junior golfers of all ages and abilities. It doesn’t matter whether your child is 6 or 16, or a beginner or an elite player. These ideas will help lead to both a positive experience and performance.

1. Lead By Example

Children and adolescents are sponges, and junior golfers are no different. A lot of what kids learn and how they act is based on how the adults around them conduct themselves. This phenomenon is referred to in psychology as Social Learning Theory. For instance, if a child sees their parent or coach get angry and frustrated after a shot, the junior golfer will learn that it’s a socially acceptable to get angry after a shot. If junior golfers see their parents and coaches enjoying the game and persisting through challenges, they will have the opportunity to learn that golf is fun and enjoyable. They will also learn how to effectively deal with adversity.

2. Engage Your Junior Golfer In As Many Different Sports And Activities As Possible, Especially Early On

Even though parents would love to see their children play golf, it’s extremely beneficial to expose them to different sports, especially between the ages of 6-12. Participating in different activities helps develop motor patterns, balance, and coordination, which in turn will be helpful to their future experiences in golf. Playing other sports will also give juniors a break from golf, which can help them physically and mentally recover.

3. Focus On The Positives And Seek Solutions

There is a common practice among golfers to focus on the negatives. It’s important to be the mature voice of reason around your junior golfer. Parents should focus on the positives surrounding their junior golfer’s performance and encourage them to do the same. When juniors are experiencing genuine challenges, it’s important for parents to help them seek solutions instead of indulging in the negative aspects of the challenge. Optimism is a skill that can be learned; it’s important that parents help their juniors develop this skill.

4. Focus On Process Over Outcome

It is natural for junior golfers to focus on outcomes like score and the leaderboard and where they finished. Focusing on outcome can be a good way to build confidence. Unfortunately, many junior golfers have the tendency to cast their score and performance in a negative light. It’s important to help junior golfers realize what they did well when they are not happy with their outcome.

Juniors can focus on a range things relating to their process such as their: effort, attitude, preparation, decision-making, persistence, and sportsmanship. Focusing on their personal processes can give them positive takeaways and also help them learn how to effectively manage their responses.

5. Let Your Junior Golfer Choose To Participate

It’s important that junior golfers feel they are the one choosing to play golf. Feeling like you are being made to do something takes the enjoyment out of the activity. It’s always better that junior golfers feel they are choosing to play and compete. This promotes autonomy, self-reliance, and motivation. I am not recommending that you allow your kids to stay home playing video games (it’s important they participate in outside social activities), but let them choose what activities they participate in. Worst-case scenario, give them options to choose from: for example, golf camp or summer camp.

6. Hold Your Junior Golfer Accountable Once They Sign Up

Junior golfers should have the opportunity participate in the decision-making process and provide input regarding golf camps, clinics, and tournaments in which they wish to compete. Once they make a commitment, however, they should be required to stick to it. This will help them learn important values like responsibility and accountability.

There are effective and ineffective ways of holding your junior golfer accountable. Saying, “You signed up for golf camp, that’s the end of the debate,” in a loud voice is not typically the best approach. Explain to them before signing up that after they commit it’s important that they follow through and give a 100-percent effort. If your junior golfer says they don’t want to participate after signing up, tell them they can choose to not participate next time, but they have already made the commitment this time and it’s important to honor your commitments.

7. Let Your Junior Golfer Choose To Specialize In Golf

There is a lot of debate within sport science whether junior golfers should specialize and focus solely on one sport or play multiple sports. Junior golfers are specializing more often and at younger ages than ever before. Parents and juniors are feeling pressure to specialize in fear of being left in the dust. On the surface, specializing sounds like a great idea, but it’s an important decision that deserves further examination.

Jean Cote, Joseph Baker, and Bruce Abernethy have been researching this exact topic for more than a decade. They’ve found that specializing too early can lead to more challenges than positives, especially for sports like golf where athletes peak later in adulthood. Cote and colleagues make two important assertions regarding specializing in sport:

  1. Children should be the ones who choose to specialize and focus on a single sport.
  2. The earliest this choice should generally be made is between the ages of 13-16.

With that said, I understand that college coaches are recruiting earlier than ever, and parents may have concerns relating to getting a golf scholarship. I believe a positive balance can be struck.

Junior golfers younger than 13 can still focus largely on golf while still being engaged in other activities. It’s also important for parents of junior golfers to pay close attention for signs of overtraining and burnout, especially since burnout can lead to many negative outcomes including dropping out. Remember, it’s impossible to play college golf if you stop playing golf. Many of the concerns surrounding burnout are alleviated when parents follow the other suggestions in this article and stay focused on the No. 1 priority: making junior golf a positive and enjoyable experience.

8. Support More Than Coach

Being both your child’s golf coach and No. 1 supporter is a difficult balance to strike. With that in mind, I recommend that parents don’t coach their junior golfer outside the basic fundamentals. And even during this time, there primary focus should be that their child is enjoying the time with mom and dad.

I recommend finding a coach once your junior golfer decides to start competing and taking the game more seriously. There are success stories that contradict this philosophy, but the negatives generally outweigh the positives. There are many great junior golf coaches, but a junior golfer only has two parents. Being a parent is one of the most important responsibilities in life, so it’s imperative to do everything we can to succeed. When your child has an opportunity pursue the game of golf and spend quality time with mom and dad, everyone wins.

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Dan Vosgerichian Ph.D. is owner of Elite Performance Solutions. Dr. Dan earned his doctorate in Sport Psychology from Florida State University and has more than 10 years of experience working with golfers to maximize their mental game. His clients have included golfers from The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Latin America, as well as some of the top junior and collegiate players in the country. Dr. Dan has experience training elite golfers on every aspect of the game. He served as The Director of Mental Training at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, as well as a Mental Game Coach for Nike Golf Schools. He’s also worked as an instructor at The PGA Tour Golf Academy and assistant golf coach at Springfield College. Dan's worked as a professional caddie at TPC Sawgrass, Home of The Players Championship, as well as an assistant to Florida State University's PGA Professional Golf Management Program.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. drknowital

    Jul 25, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    Whenever Doctors get involved all hell breaks loose. They label everything… I’m almost 60 and grew up with very stern parents and being the youngest of 4 brothers, well people my age know what older brothers do… I’ve raised 4 beautiful children and have been married to my best friend for over 30 years. Parents just need to guide their kids in the right direction, and if they fail that’s a learning experience. Today it seems children are in control… My opinion…

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