When my father first introduced me to golf he had one goal in mind: He wanted to make sure it was enjoyable. To facilitate the fun, every time we went to the course or the driving range, he would set up a game or challenge. More importantly, we never kept score, and only occasionally did instruction take place.
What instruction my father did provide was always useful though. As a Class A PGA pro, he has a firm understanding of the fundamentals of the game and never tried to teach me a “perfect” swing. Instead, he embraced my individual swing and adopted Arnold Palmer’s “swing your swing” motto.
As a result of my dad’s guidance and approach to teaching me golf, I fell in love with the game. And I say game because my dad would always proselytize, “Golf is just a game.”
As my game evolved, my relationship with my father on the course began to evolve as well. He realized I had a talent for golf, and wanted to push me to excel. Every day he would remind me to practice, and every day I would tell him that I had. When I reached my teenage years, I became increasingly more independent and wanted less hands-on involvement with my game. For my dad, this was difficult. He wanted to guide me and help me realize my potential, but his encouragement felt like smothering.
Being the parent without falling into the trap of being the coach is a challenge many parents struggle to navigate. If you care about your child staying passionate about the game you will have to monitor yourself and make sure you’re not overbearing, and learn to realize when it’s time to bring someone else into coach your child.
If your child already has a coach and you still sometimes catch yourself pushing too hard, ask yourself, “When someone nags or pushes me to do something, does it make me feel annoyed and irritated and less likely to perform that task?” The answer is likely yes, and you’ll likely perform said task begrudgingly. It’s no different when trying to keep your kid passionate about golf.
So how can you maintain a balance? Jacqui Nicoletti McSorley, author of Golf Guide For Parents And Players: Secrets Of Success For Junior And College Golf, The Pro Tour And Beyond, has played the role of a mediator often between the child and parent. McSorley, who is Class A LPGA instructor and an instructor at the Golf Academy of America, has taught countless juniors over the years, many of who have received golf scholarships to play in college.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make is that they push them too hard. There was a parent I dealt with who would make his son do push-ups if he hit a bad shot. He was like a drill sergeant with the kid, and it sucked away any joy from his son playing golf,” McSorley said.
According to McSorley, parents need to be careful to not treat golf like an end-all-be-all with their child. “There is so much pressure around kids trying to get golf scholarships, so we place these false hopes that there’s this scholarship at the end of the tunnel, which for most kids there isn’t. So not only are the parents stressed, the kids get stressed too.”
Parents also need to be willing to be coached, “Often times I am coaching the parents more-so than I am coaching their child. But they have to be willing to learn, and see where their shortcomings are and how they can be a better support system for the children.” This means relinquishing control to instructors like McSorley, and trusting the process rather than dictating every step of their child’s future in golf.
In my case, my father eventually stepped back and put his ego to the side. He allowed me to make my own decisions regarding the future of my game, and only stepped in when he felt so strongly that he couldn’t stay silent.
I know it wasn’t easy for my dad. He believed in me more than anyone, and his main goal was always to make sure that I reached my potential. His willingness though to allow me to carve my own path and to focus on encouraging me rather than pushing me, led me to keep playing a game that I loved. It also allowed me to involve him in my game when I wanted him to be more involved.
He caddied for me in several junior tournaments, and when I went to qualifying school for the LPGA, he carried my sticks and provided emotional support on the golf course. Joyfully, on my third attempt to qualify for the LPGA, I earned my card with him on my bag. It was a moment I will never forget, and one I know he cherishes as well.
So, to all the parents out there who coach their kids, focus on what makes it fun for you to be with each other on the course. As a result, the game can be something that brings you and your child closer together – their success will just be the icing on the cake.