Let’s face it, golf is a difficult sport to master. It often requires weeks or even months of work before we can recognize progress. It’s not unusual for progress to show up as a quick burst of improvement followed by a small decline in performance and then a long plateau. That means that if we’re intent on making lasting improvements, we must tackle our work with a long-term mindset. This approach works well for developing juniors who tend to work hard over time and be patient.
This chart displays the pattern more clearly.
While it’s hard to predict the timing of these breakthroughs, we can create a daily environment that makes them more likely to occur.
Here are some guidelines for doing so:
1. Identify the areas of your game that need to improve and that will produce the biggest change to your scores.
2. Have a thorough understanding of the changes you need to make and the work you need to do to correct your weaknesses.
3. Commit to working hard enough and long enough for improvement to take place and to be recognized.
4. Separate your work time from your course time. Many junior golfers get this confused and insist on working while they’re competing. This is a poor approach that will delay progress.
5. Avoid an outcome-based focus and instead concentrate on gradual but steady improvement.
A former tour player and friend of mine once told me that he never knew when a good round or good tournament was going to happen. His approach was to put himself in the right state of mind so that he would be ready for it when it came.
We encourage our competitive juniors to utilize a similar plan by minimizing the importance of the score (or outcome) and instead concentrate on the process and areas of their game over which they have complete control.
The three most important are:
1. Pre-tournament and pre-round preparation.
2. Strategy and on-course decision making.
3. Mental toughness and emotional control.
As always, it’s imperative that junior golfers find a qualified and experienced instructor who can help them with a long-term plan and the skills outlined above.
How do you set appropriate expectations when your son or daughter competes in tournaments? This is a tough question for both parents and junior golfers. The answer lies in whether your son or daughter is results oriented or process oriented and whether they can fix their focus on the things within their control.
Imagine they have a big exam coming up, and it is crucial they do well. If they’re a results-oriented student, they’ll be hyper-focused on getting a good grade which is great from a motivation standpoint. However, their obsession with the grade itself can cause anxiety and be counterproductive to performing well.
If, instead, they’re focused on preparing for the test by acquiring the knowledge they’re going to need and figuring out how to stay calm and think clearly – they’re operating in a process-oriented mode. This is the ideal approach for golf.
When a young golfer is process oriented, they’re able to immerse themselves in the moment without being distracted by the eventual outcome or score. With a result orientation, they’re constantly evaluating their performance, both subjectively (which has no standard and therefore no benefit) and in terms of score.
Scores matters, but a strong result orientation often gets in the way of focus and prevents players from hitting each shot in the optimal mindset – calm, confident, and carefree.
Here are examples of a result-oriented mindset:
· Need to break 80
· Reach the par 5’s in two
· Hit more greens in regulation
Here are examples of a process-oriented mindset:
· Complete pre-shot routine before each shot
· Visualize shots before stepping over the ball
· Commit to making good decisions
For developing junior golfers, there is no substitute for competition, and we encourage our junior golfers to compete on a regular basis. For those that are willing to take a long-term view of improvement, competition is a welcome gauge of how well they prepared, how good their on-course decision making was, and how well they managed their emotions.
On a practical basis, it’s important to note that the pros typically have a 12-shot spread between their low and high rounds. With that much variation in the scores of the best players in the game, it is critical for your son or daughter to acknowledge the difficulty of the sport and expect the same fluctuations in scores.
So rather than enter a competition with expectations about score, encourage your players to be excited about the opportunity to test the areas of their game over which they have complete control. After competition, there will be plenty of time to address ongoing weaknesses or shots needing more work.
This process-oriented mindset is the best way for your son or daughter to learn to love the game and increase their chances of participating for an extended period of time.
Jeff Isler shares his observations, insights, and experiences on the game of golf and those that play it at a high level.