Parenting at Junior Competitions
How Junior Golf Parents Can Influence Performance
As coaches, we strive to help young athletes enhance their performances in every way possible. As such, it is relevant to study the role which a junior golf parent plays on “game day” and how this can influence performance. Over the next series of posts, we would like to discuss the many ways in which parents can help to enhance the performances of young athletes.
Because of the blurring of boundaries between the players and spectators in most junior golf tournaments, and the subsequent impact this can have on performance, it is essential to understand how parents might act in order to positively influence the development of their athletes.
From our experience, a good start is to define parenting in this context as offering unconditional support to the player, no matter the outcome or score. Parents need to understand which variables are under the control of the player and which are not, and then they need to provide encouragement from those actions which are under their control. This can mean commenting on things like how they walked between shots, how well they treated the volunteers, or how they controlled their emotions through the up and downs of the day.
With that in mind, we would like to propose an overarching goal in all of the decisions we make, as parent or coach, which is: “To act in a manner which positively impacts performance and creates young athletes who are independent, self-determined, and confident.” From that overarching goal, the role of the parent can then be examined in the hopes of uncovering the “best practices” for parents of competitive players.
Firstly, it important to understand that the parents’ experience must be different from the players. In the countless years we have been watching competitive junior golf, we have found that when this principle is violated the players’ performance suffers in the long run.
If we look into a typical day of competition, a good place to start is in the car on the way to the golf course. If you will be driving your child to the event, it is your responsibility to ensure you have communicated with your athlete in regards to how much time they would like to have at the course to warm up. Please ensure you have looked at the directions to the golf course and looked into any issues which may alter the course of your route to the course (ie. construction or traffic).
Your main goal in the car is to help your athlete establish optimal arousal levels. We have found the best way to do this is to talk about things which are not related to the upcoming round. Engage in conversation outside of the golf arena which may include other sports, school, or family. Please understand that your role is not to help them establish a game plan for the round or try to motivate them. This would fall under the responsibilities of the coach – who may be supporting the player before and after the round. If you plan on speaking about the upcoming round, you could let the athlete know how many holes you may or may not be watching them play today or reinforce your unconditional love and support for them with statements such as:
“I want to be proud of your behavior when I do watch you play for a few holes”
“Success today will be valued in terms of attention to process”
“I love watching you play when you are in control of your emotions, when you walk proudly between shots and you seem to enjoy playing the game”
The environment at the driving range / clubhouse prior to competition is one of the main areas where we recommend that parents take a very passive approach in terms of interaction with their athlete. Time before a round is often very nerve racking for a player and being under the watchful eye of a parent typically further increases anxiety levels. Therefore, we recommend that you find a nice spot in the clubhouse or watch other players hit off the first tee. Or if you plan on dropping and picking up your child, give them a big hug (if they still let you do that in public) and be on your way.
But if your intention is to stay around, then please stay clear of the practice facilities. Our goal, let’s remember, is to create an independent athlete who does not start looking for a parent or a coach when they may not be striking the ball exactly how they would like. Let the player figure things out! Do not try to help them if they are struggling on the driving range before a competition. They need to learn to come up with the answers themselves and if they have spent time with a good coach this should be a task well within their capabilities. They will figure everything out if we let them have the answers.
The minutes leading up to your child’s first tee shot will likely be the their most difficult (in terms of nervousness) shot of the day, and being under the watchful eye of a parent usually only adds to the anxiety. Remember that all of your actions in competition should be based around positively influencing your athlete’s performance. Therefore, we recommend that you find a nice relaxing spot in the clubhouse and not watch them hit their first tee shot. If you plan to observe them throughout the round, meet up with them on the second or third hole or work to watch the action from a distance.
No matter how you choose to act at your child’s competitions, we appreciate that you will be striving to make your child as happy as possible. But if we can also account for the equation of performance – that, as Tim Gallwey has described, their performance will be equal to their potential minus the interference – then our work as parents and coaches is really to remove the causes of interference. In many cases, this is usually a strategy of getting out of the way…
Please let us know your own thoughts on this topic of parenting young golfers, we will be discussing the best strategies for observing during the round in the next part of this post.
Also – please check out our previous post on best practices for introducing your child to the game… – click here