Golf Tips - Be Your Child's Biggest Fan... But Not the Coach

By Dr. Bob Phillips, Golf Psychologist

Most parents want their children to enjoy and be successful in sports. They spend time and money in helping their child have the best chance of becoming a good golfer. Unfortunately, many also spend a lot of time either trying to be the child's coach or acting like the "practice police". Parents can become very active and supportive in the mental side of training.

It is almost always a mistake to become either officially or unofficially the child's physical trainer or coach. This is usually a bad idea because, first, you probably are not qualified to teach golf. Twenty years of lessons is not the criteria for being your child's coach, nor is the fact that you have won the club championship three times. It is much better to be the child's biggest fan and supporter than it is to be his or her trainer. You can help the child in the mental area of golf by learning all you can about how the mental game disrupts and also enhances physical performance. While it is true that no amount of mental training can make up for improper or incomplete basic skills, it is also true that most golfers add five to ten strokes to each and every round because of mental errors.

The mental game begins with the big picture. Golf is a game and should be played for fun. Sometimes the fun is postponed while you go through hours of practice and slow physical improvement. But nevertheless, it is fun when you have begun to master the physical skills and you are improving in competition. Competition is the reward for good practice and without good practice, mental or physical, there will be no payday and therefore a lot less fun. The process of learning includes failure. As a friend of mine likes to say, "When you fall on your face you are still moving forward."

Most people, let alone children, seem to not understand that it is not what happens to you but how you respond that matters. When a child learns golf it would be most helpful for the child to also learn that making themselves upset adds nothing good to the situation and usually greatly reduces their ability to play at their best. How marvelous it would be to teach each child to not make things worse than they are by thinking of it in the worst possible way. There are few things as important as controlling our thinking. In golf a child can become very frustrated and even quit the game because of how bad they make it when they play poorly or compare themselves with other more physically developed children. It is vital to help the child accept themselves as they are and enjoy getting better. This process has to come from both the coach and the parents. This attitude is not taught by telling the child what to do. This attitude is taught by the parents and coach acting like it is true and being consistent about it. If your attitude says this is awful then the child will learn that it must really be awful. If you act like it is unpleasant but not a big deal, then they will believe that that is what it is. How good or bad sports are for a child is determined by the adults around the child.

Children have a natural tendency to use imagination and imagery. This is perfect for learning the proper ways of mental rehearsal and preparation. The parents should read books on how to use mental imagery and teach the child, with the verbal support of the coach or trainer, age appropriate ways of mentally preparing to play comfortably and well. This imagery is also used to prepare for the unusual and potentially troublesome situations that can easily throw a child's game off. If you are prepared mentally, very little can force you off your best game.

Learning the mental game, and how to control your responses, will go a long way toward eliminating the frustrations, hassles and slumps that make it hard to keep going while learning a complex game like golf. But once mastered, there is little else that can help and support the child's mastery of this wonderful game as much as mental training. *



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