Mental Coaching for the Junior Golfer, part 1
Junior Golf is a wonderful opportunity for young golfers to develop their skill and love for the game. It is a well-organized organization across the United States and offers many competitive opportunities for the young golfer. It is a pathway for some to the PGA Tour and college golf scholarships.
Junior golfers are very sophisticated today with the advent of advanced teaching methods and great swing coaches. We see so many young golfers with incredibly good swing mechanics shooting low scores. Proper equipment and great swing mechanics go a long way to help young players be their best.
However, great equipment and good technique can only take you so far. It still remains that the person hitting the ball and making the shot is the most important thing. The sport has evolved and it is common knowledge that a player’s mental, emotional, and spiritual attitude has a lot do with winning and success. We see Tiger making a comeback after two years. I am not surprised that it has taken him that amount of time. He made some bad decisions that led to his identity and life falling apart. It takes a lot more than practice to put all that back together again. Personal development does not happen overnight. And the fact is, the better the foundation, the easier it is to change, grow, develop, evolve, and recover after breakdown.
Part of our purpose here on earth is to grow and develop. The early years of a junior golfer can establish a foundation for life. Golf is such a great game because it offers the opportunity to learn so many things: values, integrity, patience, accountability, responsibility, emotional maturity, discipline, focus, determination, balance, respect, self-worth, service, acceptance, and love of nature. There is a lot to gain from this game. Lessons learned at this early age can last a lifetime and great positive habits and patterns for success in every aspect of life can be developed.
However, these valuable lessons are not automatically learned. Every child and adolescent can use wise parental guidance and coaching. It is the responsibility of a parent to create a healthy emotional and spiritual environment, which will support a child’s development. Sometimes, a parent can be too emotionally involved in the success of their son or daughter. It is all too easy for a parent to live out their childhood dreams and wishes through their children. Parents who wish they could be a professional athlete often work to create that in their children. Parents who have high expectations can often take the fun out of sports and place too much pressure on their children. It is impossible to separate the psychological functioning of child from the family environment. Children feel and respond to everything. Parental desires, fears, and wishes are expressed both verbally and non-verbally. Who you are does make a difference in the ultimate performance of your son or daughter.
When a junior golfer has great talent and great practice rounds, but is not performing at his or her best in competition, it is usually because of deeper emotional issues, not raw talent. Here is where a good coach can be very helpful. Good coaching creates a safe environment where everyone can explore his or her feelings and learn new ways of thinking and being. A good coach will help you all get to another level that you cannot access on your own. If you look at the greatest athletes on all sports, they all have coaches. It is not a sign of weakness or failure to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and maturity to enlist the help of experts who can show you how to define and achieve your goals.
Mental Coaching For Junior Golfers
So, what are the six most important issues in mental coaching for the Junior Golfer?
· Emotional Control
· Focus and Concentration
· Realistic Expectations
· Personal Responsibility
· Self-Worth Beyond Golf
What are the four most important issues for the parent of a Junior Golfer?
Let us take a look at these.
One of the biggest causes of breakdown for this age group is a massive meltdown due to one bad shot. One slice, pull hook, shank or duff can lead to an explosion of anger and frustration that can last for the rest of the round. Emotional control and the ability to “bounce back,” the title of my last book, provide the foundation to recover from breakdown. Lack of emotional self-control is a sign of immaturity at any age. The ability to have emotional control in highly intense and stressful situations, such as competition, is a huge advantage over the field. Most kids are losing it. Overly high expectations can be a cause for loss of emotional control. If you think you should execute each shot perfectly, then it is easy to be upset when you do not live up to what you think you should be doing. High expectations are not the same as having lofty goals. A mature person, junior or adult, accepts mistakes and learns from them. In fact, taking risks can lead to great learning and higher levels of performance when learning occurs in the process.
One of the chapters in, Bouncing Back: How to Recover When Life Knocks You Down, is on Emotional Intelligence. In that chapter I state, “We all have emotional reactions to various situations. It is what you do with them that makes the difference. Emotional intelligence is the result of several factors: the awareness of your feelings, the ability to express your feelings, the ability to contain your feelings, the ability to organize your feelings, and the ability to resolve your feelings. It is possible to be intellectually intelligent but not have an equal and corresponding emotional intelligence. Just because you have a good mind does not mean you have done any work on your emotional self. Emotional intelligence is something that can be developed and learned.”
If you are wondering how you or your child is doing is this area you might consider the following questions. This is taken from Bouncing Back.
Would you like a free 15 min consultation to discuss coaching for junior golfers? If so, book here.
Answer the following questions: True or False
1. I realize what I am feeling in specific situations.
2. When I become upset, I know why I am reacting.
3. I introspect daily to deepen my self-awareness.
4. If I have interpersonal conflicts, I am able to distinguish between my feelings and the feelings of others.
5. I am not quick to anger.
6. I am able to articulate my feelings to others.
7. I can describe my emotions with clarity.
8. In highly charged, complex situations, I am able to discern the various feelings and issues involved and take appropriate action.
9. I speak up when necessary.
10. I have clear and well-established values that guide my life.
11. I am able to define clear goals that guide my actions.
12. I am able to set priorities and adhere to them.
13. I am able to forgive others.
14. I am able to resolve old hurts.
15. I am able to let go of anger.
If you answered “false” to one or more of the above items, you may need to do some personal work in the area of emotional maturity.
Focus and Concentration
Lapse of focus and concentration is an issue for golfers of any age. The diagnosis of ADD or ADHD is so widely used today that many younger golfers feel they have concentration and focus problems. Personally, I think this diagnosis is overused. Golf is one of the sports where one’s inner life is paramount. Unlike other sports, which are more reactive like tennis or baseball, the little ball is just lying there on the ground. There is so much time to think that it is easy for the mind to wander or start thinking about things in the past or the future that do not enhance peak performance. Poor concentration along with lack of emotional control leads to poor decision-making and bad course management. Good decisions throughout a round can save many strokes and avoid big blowups. Greater concentration also allows for enhanced visualization skills ––another important factor in peak performance. Great performance results in the ability to stay in the moment and play one shot at a time. This is often very difficult in tournament play, especially if one is in the lead on the final three holes. One part of knowing how to win is to be able to manage intense positive emotions and increased adrenaline. A strong mental game of golf requires an ability to stay focused when it really counts.
There are a couple of things one can learn to help in this important area: meditation, self-hypnosis, and yoga breathing techniques. Also, diet can play an important role in supporting enhanced focus and concentration: junk food with lots of sugar will lead to mental breakdown.
The junior golf can spare himself or herself a lot of unnecessary frustration if he or she will realize that golf is a very difficult game to master. It takes years and thousands of hours of dedicated practice to become a scratch golfer. There are so many aspects to the game: driving, irons, short game, trouble shots, putting, chipping, and bunker shots. There are also so many different conditions that need to be learned: windy days, rainy days, cold days, hot days, foggy days, etc. This is not a game that one masters in a few months or every a few years. It is a game that requires a long-term perspective. Learning and change takes time. Bob Rotella has a great saying, “Golf is not a game of perfect.” The sooner a junior golfer can learn this and make peace with mistakes and the learning process, the happier and more successful he or she will be.
As I mentioned above, golf is a tough game. It does take a long time to become very good and a lot of practice and learning to become great. A player has to persevere and keep at it. If a child has a tendency to give up when frustration hits and expects instant success, then trouble lies ahead with this game. Patience is a virtue that supports perseverance. It can take a year to make a major swing change and as a child is growing with physical changes, he or she has to adapt –– all this takes time. Long-term goals are important for the junior golfer with the patience to keep working to obtain them.
Part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for your actions and behaviors. Since golf is such a difficult game, it takes a lot of work to become great. A junior golfer has to show up to practice, work on the thing that are identified by his or her coach, and realize that there is no one to blame for lack of progress and success: bad lies, tough greens, tough conditions, or other players are not the cause of poor performance. It is the person swinging the club. Golf is a great game for a child or adolescent because it does provide the opportunity to instill values that will last a lifetime. Learning to be accountable is an important part of integrity.
Self-Worth Beyond Golf
One’s sense of value and worth should be based upon deeper and more important issues than one’s golf game. Unfortunately, the junior golfer that is still developing a solid sense of identity may only rely on outer definitions like golf performance, what their friends think of them, or physical appearance. If your worth is defined by how well you hit a golf ball and how low you can score, then the door is open for an emotional roller coaster of elation and depression.
The junior golfer needs to know that their worth and value is inherent in their being. Spiritual families can draw upon their faith and encourage a child to realize that he or she is made in the image and likeness of God and he or she has a special purpose in this life, well beyond a golf score. Non-spiritually oriented families can find deeper value in one’s overall connection to life, people, and one’s ability to love and care about others. Whatever the source for self worth, it must be much more than how one hits a golf ball.
A key to success in any aspect of life is to believe in your ability. When you believe in yourself, you never give up. You are willing to work hard and take risks. A round of golf has its ups and downs. It is rare to play 18 holes of golf and not have a couple difficult shots or holes. The winner is usually the one who best handled adversity. If you make a terrible shot, you have to believe that you can make a good recovery shot. As an adult, if you make a bad business decision, you must believe that you can learn from that and do better in the future. Self-belief keeps you in the game. Self-belief is also the result of hard work and refining one’s skill. It is not just saying, “I am good.” Because, if you have not practiced, prepared and developed a level of skill, you know you are only hoping for the best. You know there is little depth to your belief. Hard work, perseverance, and good training result in a realistic belief in yourself that will sustain you when life gets tough.
This was written by Dr. Ronald L. Mann with website at ronmanngolf.com.
Photo by Aberdeen Proving Ground
This Post Has 4 Comments
Hello, Dr. Mann; I read this BLOG and I have a question. I have a young golfer who is exactly in this situation. He’s 10, he has been hitting a golf ball since he was 4 and has been competing since he was 6 (USKids/PGA Jr. League, 1st Tee) and definitely has the talent, desire, and technically speaking; a great swing and a lot of motivation to compete at the highest levels someday . however, at this point he’s physically smaller than average (Girth, not height) children his age, and he’s mentally/emotionally younger than most kids as well. I keep saying that all he needs is more strength and maturity… all of which naturally come in time, but at this point he’s at a plateau and is having a hard time finding the confidence to improve simply because he can’t seem to win, or at least play well in competition. When we play practice rounds, or just hit at the range, he does great, and I even see flashes of brilliance. BUT, as soon as we step on the 1st tee at a tournament, he’s obviously nervous (normal), insecure, unsure and very prone to ‘choking’… (ie, missing a 8″ putt). I try to help him be as positive as I can, but getting a child whos brain isn’t completely developed, to stay calm, is tough for a normal dad. I use info like, “The great Walter Hagen allowed himself up to 7 mistakes per round”, and still win. Trying to limit the damage of a single errant shot on his psyche. But, what I need is, something a child with his potential, can use during practice AND competition to help him get over that ‘hump’. He really needs this… He’s a great kid with so much potential. Thanks for listening…
Thanks for sharing your son’s story. It is good to know that people are still reading this article as it was posted a few years ago. I don’t have a quick magic solution to your son’s issues. It is an issue of maturity and development. It takes a lot of patience to wait for your body to mature and develop in order to be more competitive. It is also more difficult to keep a positive self image and positive self talk when you don’t feel you can rely on your body. As you have stated, he does not play his best because of inner doubts and fears.
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed:
How does he define his self worth and is it based on more than his golf score?
How can he manage his mind to control doubt and fear?
How does he manage his emotions when frustration takes over?
How can he learn to stay focused and live in the moment?
Since your son has real potential and wants to play well, you might be wise to invest in a GolfCoach for the Mental Game for him. There are a number of ways you can address the above issues and I do offer suggestions in my book: Learning to Win: How to Coach the Junior and Collegiate Golfer. You can find it on amazon.com.
If you want more individualized help with your son, don’t hesitate to give me a call or send me an email to set up an appointment.
I hope this helps,
Hi! I have a similar situation with my daughter. She’s 9 and has been playing since she’s 5-6 in tournaments for US kids golf. She has a bad mindset when it comes to golf. She thinks she can’t shoot Under par- that it’s impossible. She plays well in tournaments but not at practice and has never shot under par before. I tell her she can all the time that she has all the skills. If she hits any shot no matter where it is- if it’s perfect or a little off- she complains and blows up about something- anything. She slams her club down, moans and groans and whines the whole time. I tell her let’s take a break and she throws huge tantrums about it. She wants to play so bad and wants to “prove herself” but then when she gets out there it’s the opposite. Lately she has been 3 putting from like 5-7 feet and she RARELY does that. She just gets up to her ball and thinks she can’t do it no matter what anyone tells her. I don’t know what to do.
Hi Annette, my apologies I just saw this. How did your daughter get on this season?