As a parent, I think one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is helping your junior golfer manage their attitude on the golf course. With a positive attitude, golf is a whole lot of fun; without it, golf can be a pretty miserable experience. Like everything else in golf (and life), maintaining a positive attitude isn’t something that you finish as much as it is a process you have to continue to work at. Here are a few of the ways we try to keep it positive on the courese.
A big part of how we view our own performance is by measuring that performance against our own expectations – and those expectations often come in the form of how we expect to hit the ball or the scores we hope to shoot. As adults, we typically can choose the degree to which we place expectations on ourselves; however your junior golfer might end up trying to manage your expectations of them on top of their own – this is especially true if you, as the parent, are actively trying to help them improve their swing and their golf scores.
When you are out on the course with your junior golfer, try to make expectations about things solely within their control. Specifically that might be their breathing, the pre-shot routine, visualization, or putting process. David MacKenzie from Golf State of Mind recommends using a Mental Game Scorecard to shift the measure of success to the process and not the outcome.
In practice, this really becomes a matter of what we emphasize is important during the round and what praise is provided for. That means that, even on bad shots, you can and should look for ways to encourage them and provide praise for using the right process.
“I really like how you lined up that putt and anticipated the break.”
It also means that before the round we talk about what we are working on (within our direct control) – not what we expect the score to be (out of our direct control).
“Today, let’s focus on making sure we try to feel the distance on every putt with our practice stroke.”
You definitely don’t want to ignore the great swings/outcomes (as we’ll discuss later), but you should always make an effort to celebrate when they follow the process (regardless of outcome).
Really Remember The Good Shots
According to Pia Nillson’s book “Be A Player: A Breakthrough Approach to Playing Better ON the Golf Course“, we tend to really remember the bad shots because of how our brain is wired. In fact, recalling bad shots or poor outcomes is something we just do naturally; recalling good or even great shots, not so much.
So that your junior can get into the habit of positive visualization, we have to make an effort to really try to help them encode positive memories into their brain. We need to help them remember those awesome shots to provide a frame of reference when they are in a similar situations. As parents, we can do this by celebrating their great shots.
Of course, you say: “why wouldn’t we celebrate great shots?”. While that might be reflexibly true in the beginning, as your junior golfer gets better, you will start to expect them to hit better shots more often. These sorts of expectations can feed into a bad attitude when they aren’t playing their very best.
Call Out Negative Self-Talk
When you hear your child using negative self talk, or engaging in behaviors that indicate that they are beating themselves up, it’s important to take the time to actively identify the behavior. By naming it, we can start to actually address what is happening without internalizing that behavior. Instead of “stop being so angry” the conversation shifts to “it sounds like you are using negative self-talk” (yes, I actually say this). One barometer Henry and I have, is whether we would feel comfortable using those same words when talking to a friend.
When Henry was a younger, we would talk about him having “pouty cheeks”. Dad (in character) was motivated to give kisses to pouty cheeks and would act happy to find them. By doing this silly bit we could: A. identify when he was being hard on himself and B. provide a fun incentive to avoid such a behavior (because who wants kisses from Dad!).
Enjoy The Moment
We play our best golf when we are “in the moment”, focused only on the task at hand. As parents, it’s all too easy to get carried away with trying to coach, obsessing over their next shot (“that could be a birdie!”), or what they have to do next time (like when they play this hole in their next tournament). Stop!
If we want our kids to learn how to be in the moment, we have to also be able to identify when we, as parents, are not. When you find yourself slipping to the next golf outing, the next practice, or even the next shot, it’s important to pull yourself back to the here and now. Try to appreciate where you are and how fortunate you can be playing golf with your kids. Tell them what a lucky parent you are.