Matt Kilgariff, Director of Player Development at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) says parents need to understand that it is not just about winning or losing, but about self-growth, education, fun and competition. Club professionals should remind their junior players that “learning and improving is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says.
Parents of junior golfers often ask me, “When should my child start playing in tournaments?” This is a tricky question because there is no one correct answer, just as there is no one correct way to swing a golf club.
What I share with parents is that if they are looking to get their child into tournament golf, it must be for the right reasons. Parents need to understand that it is not just about winning or losing, but about self-growth, education, fun and competition.
I teach juniors and their parents that golf is a game “of and for life.” Junior-tournament play can be rewarding and life- changing. The goal is to play regularly and progress at a level where personal goals can be successfully achieved.
I remind my juniors that learning and improving is a marathon, not a sprint, and that “slow and steady” wins. I promise them that if they stick to the processes I create for them, are patient with me and themselves, practice hard and commit to the game for the long term, they will be successful.
When the junior players is ready, my favorite places to introduce them to tournament golf are the PGA Junior League and Operation 36. PGA Junior League allows kids to compete in a fun, low-pressure environment. The format is a two-person scramble, match-play event, where the kids can win points every three holes.
The Operation 36 format has kids playing in reverse, from the green back to the tee. The kids start at 25 yards out and must shoot 36 or better before they move back to the next target distance. This takes away the intimidation factor of having to start the game from the tee and navigating their way through an entire hole.
After a student participates in these programs, you can begin to investigate ways to get them in to U.S. Kids and local junior tournaments, with the end goal of having them compete in the American Junior Golf Association or other national events.
There are several differences in the roles that coaches and parents play when it comes to a child and tournament golf. It is important that these different roles are well-defined and understood by both.
Coaching golf is quite different than coaching other sports. A golf coach is not usually present during junior-tournament play, while coaches in other sports are easily accessible—usually from the sidelines. A golf coach teaches the child a variety of skills, from the basics to more technical details that include proper mechanics, an understanding of their own golf swing, and course management and strategy.
Coaching a junior to develop a strong pre-shot routine is critically important. It is a process they should go through for every shot, as it will keep them focused. Tiger Woods told his son, “The next shot should be the most important shot of your life. It should be more important than breathing.” The message: It’s OK to have emotion, but more important to immediately find a way to get back to the present and prepare for the next shot. Prepare a student for their “next shot” through complete and thorough process development.
Golf is a challenging and frustrating sport. The role of the parent is to support and encourage their child to be the best they can be. It is vitally important that the parent have a good understanding of the processes we are developing to help keep their child focused and “in the present” during their round.
When parents know their roles, that will ensure they are part of their child’s success. Their focus should be on adhering to the process, versus the mechanics of the swing. Their goal is to help their child stay focused and in control of their emotions.
Parents are responsible for building their child’s confidence. At the end of a round, the conversation should begin with the parent sharing what they saw their child do well. Parents should then ask questions and become “active listeners.” Encourage the child to share what they felt were their strengths, and also where they feel there were opportunities for improvement. Trust me—kids know how they did, and if given time and a listening ear, they will share their thoughts.
The roles of coaches and parents are equally important and must be defined and understood by all parties. I write about “the process” frequently, and there is a good reason for that. A well-tuned process is a map for success, in golf and in life. Develop a successful process, and success will follow.
Matt Kilgariff is a PGA professional who spent much of his career working for Butch Harmon and the Harmon Family. He is currently the Director of Player Development at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Prior to joining The Bridges, Kilgariff was Director of Player Development at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. He has also been part of TaylorMade’s National Advisory Staff since 2012.
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