Since beginning ForeCollegeGolf, I have been on a quest to find out why parenting in junior golf is typically more like a stressful headache and less like the enjoyable family experience it should be.
This might come as a shock, but when I began ForeCollegeGolf, it was difficult for me to speak with parents about how to better parent to their children.
I quickly understood that each parent/child situation was exceptionally different. In many of the initial encounters where I played mediator, the conversations tended to be very touchy, emotional, and even uber-sensitive. Surprisingly, to this day, I still encounter players and parents who have never talked to each other about how they feel in certain situations.
Being a great junior golf parent, starts with you, the parent, and your selflessness. From my experience, the junior golfer’s middle school and high-school years can be the most challenging years in parenting. During this time, tournaments, homework, tests, girls, boys are adding stress, expectations, pressure, and panic to their lives. This is when young people start to understand that almost everything is judged on outcome or performance. This is also about the same time when parents feel like they need to take control and instinctually feel that if they aren’t doing everything then they aren’t contributing. This is where the problem lies.
Here are my “ForeCollegeGolf Parenting Rules of Thumb” to assist you in better parenting your young student-athlete.
“Parenting Rules of Thumb”
· Rule #1: Keep Expectations Low
o Lower expectations by separating EFFORT from OUTCOME, especially before competition. Efforts are under our control, outcomes are not.
o DO NOT say “I think you will win today” or “Today has an under-par round written all over it” … This might actually increase expectations and add unneeded pressure, tension and panic.
o DO say “Give it your best effort” or“Keep going, you got this”
· Rule #2: Unconditionally Support your Child
o Supporting your child financially is NOT the be-all-end-all. Even if your child has all of the material “bells and whistles”, it does not give you a free pass from supporting your child mentally and emotionally. Your child needs true unconditional love and support to be successful.
o DO NOT act as your child’s biggest critic or take your momentary frustration out on them if you feel like they aren’t showing progress.
o DO Support your child, be their biggest cheerleader. No. Matter. What.
· Rule # 3: The Car Ride Home should be Enjoyable
o The car ride home is sometimes the most dreaded part of a junior golfer’s day, don’t make it be that way.
o To truly support them, we need to leave them feeling confident and ready to strike the next day. Additional statements like “Did you have fun today?”, “I loved watching you play”, “I’m proud of you having the courage to compete and battle it out today”, and “I love you” are all you will ever need. Keep it simple.
o Let your son/daughter initiate the conversation in the car after a competitive round, always!
· Rule #4: Perspective is key
o Being a good person > being a good player.
o Your child’s ability level does not reflect on your level of parenting but their behavior or attitude and the way they carry themselves does. Players should strive to be good people first.
o Even if your end goal is the PGA or LPGA tour, golf will always just be a game. Make sure golf is put in a healthy perspective.
· Rule #5: Struggle, Pressure, and Frustration are healthy, and needed, in practice and competition.
o The majority of the “struggle” in junior golf should happen in the practice environment but it should also be expected and welcomed in the competitive arena.
o True learning begins when your junior has an opportunity to “figure it out” on their own. Therefore, you can let your child ask for help, but don’t run to help at the first sign of failure.
o Allow your child to fall, wipe themselves off, and get back up. “Failure is learning, and learning is progress.”
· Rule #6: If you have to have to plead, insist, or beg your child to practice or play in tournaments, you are doing it wrong.
o You are then forcing them, and stealing the reason for them to love the game of golf.
· Rule #7 Parental success can be trained…
o Here’s the good news, over time you can learn, develop, and master the skills it takes to be a better parent to your junior golfer.
o Just like a junior golfer works on his/her competitive skills, I believe parents should work on their body language, emotional reactions to outcomes, and teen communication skills.
· Rule #8 Adopt a “growth mindset” for the long haul
o Don’t create problems, they will affect your child
o For example, if your child finishes a tournament and they obviously chipped the ball poorly, telling them their chipping is bad will only crush whatever confidence they had. Also, don’t even tell their Coach it’s a problem or continue to bring it up as the first issue of conversation. It’s simply an area that needs work. I’ve seen simple frustrations manifest into larger problems for this reason.
· Rule #9 “Be Aware of your Tongue”
o “Whether you think you are being discreet or not, your child will hear you.
o If there are constantly negative things or outcome-based conversations, this had directly added more pressure on the player
I’d also like to outline the characteristics of the BEST parent/player relationships and the pitfalls of some of the worst relationships I’ve seen firsthand.
Characteristics of the BEST Parent/Player Relationships
· Parents praise ‘the process’, hard work, and true effort
· Junior Golfer is in-charge and takes center-stage
o Calls Swing Coach for Lessons
o Signs up for Tournaments
o Speaks for themselves when on Campus Visits
o Organizes and takes ownership of their weekly schedule
· Unconditional love & “Parents just being Parents”
o Supportive, patient, and unemotional on the course
o Parents focused on “finding the fun” in every situation
o Reinforcing patience and proactiveness –
o Adopt a growth mindset and understand there is no straight line to success/performance; golf success is a confidence builder and golf failure is an opportunity to learn/grow
Characteristics of the WORST Parent/Player Relationships
· Parents praise intelligence, ability or performance outcomes
· Parents visibly showing their disappointment – vocally or bad body language
· The parent is more vocal or emotional and visibly cares more than the player
· Parents gossiping about performance and overstating their child’s true athletic ability while trying to live vicariously through their child
· Relationships where the player and parent are almost inevitably on “different pages” – mentally and emotionally
My best professional advice for junior golf parents is to stay on the sidelines, allow your junior to take center stage and put golf in a healthy perspective in your household. This is much easier said than done, however, but I believe that if you practice the characteristics of the best relationships defined above and understand the Rules of Thumb; you too can be an “All-Star Parent”.
Now that you’ve heard from me, let’s see what College Coaches have to say…
“Parents are a great asset in the recruiting process to their junior. The need to point the child in the right direction, but allow their child to do the research and communication with the programs they are interested in. Help them with their options, but ultimately it’s best to let them do the work!”
Coach John Sjoberg, Head Coach, Emory University
“In college golf, we are recruiting the parents as well as the players”, “solid parenting absolutely lays down a solid foundation for future college golf success and beyond”
Coach Ryan Jamison, Head, Coach, Florida Atlantic University
“Parents need to be parents, not friends. Be an example for your son or daughter on how to conduct yourself through both the good times and tough times that golf will inevitably present.”
J.C. Deacon, Head Coach, University of Florida
Thanks for reading!
Michael J. Smith
Mike Smith is the founder of ForeCollegeGolf, a college placement and recruiting business where he aims to apply his background in competitive golf and recruiting education to help educate players, their families, and coaches about the college recruiting process.