As coaching and training methods improve, the ranks of skilled junior golfers has grown steadily over the years. Just a few short years ago, it was uncommon to see younger players with tour level club speed and regularly shooting under par scores. That’s no longer the case. At our Academy, we have several high school players who swing as fast as the pros and I just came from a tournament in which there were 30 scores of 69 or lower. Therefore, junior golfers must look for and take advantage of every opportunity to separate themselves from the pack.
One of the easiest and best ways of gaining important insight on your game is with the use of a well-established statistical analysis program. The best among these programs will enable you to do three important things.
Identify Strengths and Weaknesses
A very basic feature of a good stats program will be to clearly identify a golfer’s strengths and weaknesses. The best golfers in the world know exactly how and why they play well. They no doubt attempt to lessen the impact of their weaknesses but they are typically more concerned with making sure they can rely on their strengths for scoring. In contrast, we see junior golfers spending too much time on their weaknesses with little benefit or reduction in scores.
Direct Your Practice Time
Once strengths and weaknesses are accurately identified with the help of a stats program, it’s easy to come up with an improvement plan that strategically divides up a player’s training and practice time. As an example, for a player struggling off the tee, it could make sense to allocate the bulk of practice time to this part of the game until there’s noticeable improvement in the stats. Better players with clear strengths and known weaknesses, still must be careful to spend enough time on all parts of their game to stay sharp and tournament-ready.
Pick Up on Trends
Because stats paint such a clear picture, they’re enormously helpful when it comes to spotting trends that could impact a player’s game in the future. Young golfers tend to focus too much energy and emotion on an occasional poor shot and often miss the bigger picture. By comparing statistics from one tournament to another or even from one season to the next, players can spot trends an act upon tendencies before they have a big impact on their game.
I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is for a competitive junior golfer to be using a good statistical analysis program. As a coach, I insist that our students enter their stats after every round. I use the information to determine what changes need to be made to improve a student’s performance. There are several good stats programs from which to choose. We use ShotbyShot.com but also like the DECADE system by BirdieFire.com. Both rely on strokes-gained analysis, the same approach used by the pros.
In the hands of a competitive junior golfer, the right equipment will speed up development, lower scores, and add to the overall enjoyment of the game. Poorly fitted equipment, on the other hand, will contribute to poor contact, erratic ball flight, slow progress and, ultimately, discourage younger golfers. Therefore, as parents and coaches, it’s essential to make sure juniors have equipment that works for their game.
In recent years, the options for younger juniors has increased but it still is limited relative to the options available for older juniors and adults.
Buying the right clubs is a challenge especially for growing and developing junior golfers. The investment, physical changes, and shifting golf swings only add to the challenge. Thanks to the experience from hundreds of fittings, we know the steps to take and the mistakes to avoid to help you make a good club-buying decision. The list below is a quick summary of the recommendations we make to the parents of students. These recommendations are geared towards younger players.
The goal of every golf parent should be to act in a way that increases the likelihood of having a positive golf experience with his or her young golfer. In last month’s blog post, we introduced the first five of 10 Keys to Being a Great Golf Parent. In this month’s article, we present the second half of the list. We encourage you to use this list as a guideline for raising your junior golfer.
6. Calm the waters. Golf is an emotional sport, especially for competitive juniors who are trying to manage their own expectations and do the best they can to impress and please their parents and coaches. Parents that understand this, would be wise to react calmly to the natural peaks and valleys of competition. Steadiness from parents will enable young golfers to focus on long-term improvement, a requirement for those will high aspirations.
7. Memorize the magic five words. After watching a round of golf for 4-6 hours, most parents can’t wait to share their advice (and sometime their criticism) as soon as the round is over. But take it from me, this is the worst time to offer feedback. Instead, I recommend memorizing and repeating the following phrase: “I love watching you play.” That means being engaged and present and looking for opportunities to catch them doing something right rather than pointing out mistakes and second guessing them.
8. Hold your child accountable for his or her effort. In golf, coaches and players only get to spend a small fraction of time together. Therefore, it’s up parents to ensure that their child is following the directions of their coach and investing an appropriate amount of time on their game. I can tell you firsthand that our number one priority with students is to establish a supportive and trusting relationship. We can remind students of what’s required to play high level golf but we have limited control or leverage over how they actually spend their time.
9. Make school work and family responsibilities the highest priorities. As parents and coaches, we should be most concerned with raising young man and women of high character and strong values. The best way to do that is to assign appropriate priorities to school work and family responsibilities. By their over-the-top reactions, too many parents unknowingly present golf as the #1 priority. On a related note, most young golfers are over committed and struggling to get enough sleep and recovery time. It’s up to parents to enforce appropriate bed times and impose necessary restrictions on social media.
10. Forget about the score. That’s right, I said forget about the score. In a sport that takes years to master, your son or daughter’s record will be filled with bad rounds and poor scores. I urge you to keep your eye focused on the long run. This will help encourage your child to do the same. Improvement and good scores will be your likely reward for taking a more long-term view.
When we embark on the journey with our children, we assume that playing competitive golf will be filled with exciting times and great memories. But as a late specialization sport in which even the best players lose much more than they win, the ride is filled with unexpected challenges and pitfalls that can test even the closest of relationships. Here’s the good news. By paying attention to some guidelines we’ve developed over the years, you can greatly increase your chances of having a positive junior golf experience.
In this month’s blog, we’re going to introduce the 10 Keys to Being a Great Golf Parent.
1. Make it fun and keep it fun. In the early years, kids play sports to have fun and if it’s not fun, they lose interest. Instead of worrying about technique and other issues more appropriate for older kids, do everything you can to keep things fun and simple. One simple trick is to associate golf with another fun activity (e.g. getting ice cream).
2. Understand the stages of development and key milestones. Many parents underestimate the complexity of the game and the length of time it takes to build the skills necessary to shoot low scores. Each junior golfer develops at a different pace and it’s unfair to compare your child’s progress to another player’s progress, even if they’re the same age. The focus should be on long-term improvement and reaching appropriate milestones.
3. Select and experienced coach that specializes in junior golf and can commit time and attention to your child. This might be the most important factor in your child’s ultimate success. Experience with juniors and their unique development cycle is a key requirement. It makes a big difference if the coach has successfully guided other juniors through the entire process. Finally, make sure the coach you select has enough time and energy to make your child a priority.
4. Support your child’s coach with your actions and words. Great coaches work hard at their craft. They know it takes a mix of experience, knowledge, and interpersonal skills to be effective. When you find the right coach, he or she deserves your complete support. Without realizing it, parents can undermine their child's coach in subtle ways. For example, giving your child the "okay" to quit an assigned task or criticizing your child's coach in front of them weakens the coach's standing and credibility. I recommend supporting your coach's decisions even if you would do it differently.
5. Familiarize yourself with the sport and have realistic expectations. Regardless of their skill, we can’t expect junior golfers to play at PGA tour standards. 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 important for your son or daughter to acknowledge the difficulty of the sport and expect the same fluctuation in scores.
In next month’s blog, we’ll look at the next five on the list. If you’re anxious to see the rest of the list before it’s published, feel free to contact me directly.
We talk to many young players and their parents who are under the misconception that if you want to be a great golfer, you need a great looking golf swing. That is, the style of your swing is what matters most. When style is the focus, you’ll hear things like, “your club face is closed at the top”, “you’re not on plane”, or “your finish isn’t high enough.”
Some golf coaches are guilty of this same kind of thinking. But the best coaches know better. The simple truth of golf is that the way in which your swing works (how it functions) is the key to better ball striking and lower scores. One thing we know for sure about the players on tour is that there are a lot of different looking swings – some pleasing, others not so much – but they all function at a very high level.
Since the golf ball only responds to the physics of the collision between the ball and clubface – what we call impact, it makes sense to focus on things that actually influence that small moment in time. With the help of technology like TrackMan, we now can measure the impact interval (which is only about 450 microseconds) for the full swing, short game, and putting and thus, have a better chance of influencing how the club and the ball interact.
That means that no matter how much time you spend working on your setup or your backswing or your mental game or your decision making, better ball striking depends entirely on controlling impact. So, if you’re a young golfer wanting to hit 300 yard drives, laser-like iron shots, or chips that grab and stop on the green, you better be able to identify and improve the following:
1. Where and when did I contact the ground?
2. Where did the ball strike the clubface?
3. Where was the clubface pointing at impact?
4. What was the path of the clubface at impact?
In summary, you must be able to connect your ball flight to impact by knowing the answers to the questions above. Once you do, you’ll be in position to start to change and control your ball flight like the best players in the game. As experienced coaches with the right technology, we can be a big help in guiding you through this process.
It’s been almost six months since I originally wrote this blog and I felt that it was important enough to publish it again. There’s absolutely no doubt that if parents follow the simple guidelines outlined below, they can help their children have a positive sports experience. On the other hand, over-involved parents that ignore the advice of experienced coaches and advisors can have the opposite effect on their children.
Here’s the original blog published on December 4, 2016.
I'm the first one to admit that it's hard to figure out the appropriate role to take in helping our kids navigate youth and competitive sports. If you're like most parents, you struggle to find a balance between being helpful but not overbearing. You want your kids to experience success but you know you can't do it for them. It's hard to see them fail but you know that life is tough and challenges provide valuable lessons.
Take comfort. if you're willing to consider and address the issues I've listed below, you'll be on your way to becoming a better sports parent. These guidelines have been developed from the latest research and almost two decades of experience in coaching youth sports. I hope they're helpful.
Playing competitive golf comes with certain obligations. In addition to making sure physical and mental skills are sharp, players must be prepared for the course and the conditions. Younger competitors rely on their parents to help with tournament preparation. Older, more serious competitors need to assume responsibility for their own preparation. This is good training for college, where golfers are expected and required to handle these responsibilities on their own.
Here are the basic steps all competitive junior golfers should employ in preparing for an upcoming tournament.
1. Check the tournament information page to confirm yardages and tee times. Tours like the TJGT do a great job of providing important information in advance of a tournament.
2. Play one or more practice rounds preferably at least a week before the start of the tournament. Develop a course strategy and identify the parts of your game that will need work (e.g. low cuts, long bunker shots). Be sure to spend extra time during the practice round getting used to course conditions like the green speed, bunker texture, rough length, etc. Also, do not keep score in practice rounds. It limits your view of the course and reduces your opportunity to hit a variety of shots.
3. Check the weather forecast, especially the wind direction and speed. This can affect strategy and club selection.
4. Create a yardage book that includes notes on wind direction, lines off the tee, targets around the green, and trouble areas to avoid.
5. Create a daily practice plan leading up the tournament and reduce the focus on technique several days before the tournament. Instead, spend more time on the course working on important skills like tee shots, controlling trajectory, and lag putting. Practice the par-3 distances and other shots that are unique to the course and its design.
6. Get your bag ready by cleaning your clubs and checking to make sure you have balls, gloves, and tees, and other essential items.
7. Because of busy schedules and distractions, many junior golfers struggle to get enough sleep. It’s vital to get plenty of rest in the days leading up to a tournament. The research is clear that rest has a big impact on physical performance and mental acuity.
Tournament performance is dependent on many factors but there’s no doubt that the right kind of preparation can make a big difference in scores.
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.
Every year starts with the promise of change and improvement and that’s certainly true for us as we look forward to the beginning of 2017. Even though we were pleased with the progress our students made in 2016, we are looking forward to implementing several new initiatives that will help them progress at an even faster rate in the next 12 months.
To begin with, we have ordered the new TrackMan 4 launch monitor and the all new K-Trainer from K-Vest. With dual radars in the TrackMan 4, we’ll be able to accurately track and measure shots from 6 feet to 400 yards. The new K-Trainer hardware and software will allow our students to receive more accurate feedback when learning new movement patterns or working on drills.
There’s no doubt that golf instruction has changed significantly over the last few years. You might even say that new technology, motor learning research, and big data have caused a revolution of sorts among the best coaches in the industry. To keep you posted on the changes and how they affect your child, we will be hosting a monthly Junior Golf Parent's Forum where will be discussing important topics and answering your questions about junior golf. To sign up for our first forum on January 9th, please click on the following link: Junior Golf Parent's Form.
Finally, you can expect to see improvements in our coaching curriculum that will include more clearly defined development phases and additional structure for students.
On a more personal note, Coach Kaylin and I were recognized this year by our peers. Kaylin was selected as one of Golf Digest's 100 Best Young Teachers in America and I was selected as one of Future Champion Golf's Top 50 Elite Junior Coaches in America. We're both honored to have been selected and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do what we love on a daily basis.
Thanks for your ongoing support and I look forward to seeing you soon.
Jeff Isler shares his observations, insights, and experiences on the game of golf and those that play it at a high level.