As my kids have begun to compete and travel as junior golfers, I have morphed into a "golf mom." At times, the learning curve has been steep. I didn't play golf until my 40s, and think I score much better as a supportive parent of golfers than I do with a club in my hands. Here are my tips for helping your competitive young golfers retain a healthy and joyful balance of activities while, you, the parent, maintain a semblance of sanity.
- Be organized. Planning a young golfer's schedule of lessons, practice, tournaments, travel, study, social life and other activities can be overwhelming. What I lack in golf skills I make up for in organizational prowess, planning and budgeting months ahead for these activities. To be sure, it requires a big commitment of time.
Find a parental mentor. In my early days of being a golf mom, I asked a lot of questions of other parents about what works and what doesn't. I had to try to catch on quickly as I grappled with how kids earn their way into tournaments along with so many other challenges. Fortunately, many golf parents are happy to share their experience and insight (there's certainly plenty of time around the clubhouse), and I, too, now enjoy sharing what I've learned with others.
- Make it a family affair. The job is not for everyone, but it sure is helpful when family members take on responsibilities and work as a team. Two of my three children, the oldest and youngest, play junior golf. The oldest is on a golf scholarship and a freshman in college. Our middle child keeps us all in touch during tournaments, texts updates from one location to another, picks the food and music while on the road, and provides comic relief. She and I went kayaking during one recent golf trip, and we catch every one of her high school tennis matches.
- Find the right moments and points for counsel. My kids don't look for golf tips from me, but they appreciate encouraging comments and quotes I find from tour players they admire. I also ask them questions to spark further learning about golf mechanics, rules and etiquette. My husband, a longtime golfer, can afford to be more technically critical. Nevertheless, neither of us initiates golf talk right after a bad round. Instead, we try to find something positive to focus on or wait for them to begin the discussion.
- Help them deal with stress. I don't know of any way to completely avoid the stress of competition, but I can help minimize it. My husband and I have walked courses with our kids to point out good and bad behavior. It doesn't take long for them to learn that getting upset looks bad and usually adds strokes. We tell our kids to stay steady -- enjoy the game and keep stress to a minimum. Play with a practice-round mentality.
Let them process losses. Allow teens to express the disappointment of a loss. Before any "lessons learned" discussion, let them get upset off the course and work through it in their own, reasonable way. Golf teaches life lessons that toughen kids up and keep them motivated. As parents, our job is to help our kids realize their potential, all the while helping them keep things in perspective.
- Manage your own stress. I used to hide behind trees so my kids couldn't see me, and so I couldn't watch. I still close my eyes sometimes on big putts, but watching has become easier as I've grown more confident in their ability to handle victory and defeat. A deep breath and a "reminder to self" that it's only a game also help. I guess as my kids have matured as players, so have I as an observer.
- Make road trips a rich, well-rounded experience. Tournament travel should be about much more than just golf. These trips provide remarkable opportunities for kids to learn to balance practice sessions and tournament play with a healthy dose of studying, reading, socializing, and even a little sightseeing. I view the experience as a part-time job for my kids -- one that requires dedication, discipline and an appetite for personal growth. Too much focus on any one thing can lead to burnout. The goal is a well-rounded child. Junior golf provides an excellent opportunity to interact with kids and adults from around the country, develop good sportsmanship and social skills, and build confidence.
- Tee it up, but don't push. Our oldest daughter chose to give up softball for golf. My husband bought her a set of clubs and she took to golf right away. The youngest has followed suit, and now our middle child has taken to borrowing our clubs and heading out to the course on occasion. It's a gift that our whole family shares a love of golf, but the passion for practice and competition must come from the kids themselves. As a hard-driving person, it's difficult for me to resist pushing my kids to practice more. So, I try to step back and remember what's most important: the joy, passion and life lessons of golf.
Guest blogger Lyndean Brick is the Senior Vice President of Murer
Consultants, Inc., in Joliet, Ill., and the mother of three young