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Advice for the Golf Parent

by Mike Grevlos and Kelvin Kelley

Are you a parent of a son or daughter who plays golf? If so, how involved are you in their development as a player? If you’re involved, what role are you taking and how is it going? We ask because the parent-as-coach experience can be fret with frustration, anger, and relationship conflict. On the other hand, being a golf parent can also provide an opportunity for joyful engagement, parent-child bonding, and lifelong enjoyment. In this article, we give two red flags and two suggestions for optimizing your experience with your child-as-golfer.

1st Red Flag: Teaching Isolated Tips (Mike Grevlos)

As the saying goes, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Unless you are a teaching professional, giving technical advice can be hazardous. The main problem isn’t a parent’s total lack of knowledge; it is the lack of “organized” knowledge. The golf swing is a complex, interconnected system of stable and moving parts. Well-intentioned swing tips are often accompanied by additional changes unbeknownst to the parent, leading to unwanted outcomes and ongoing frustration as the parent provides new tips to correct for the side effects of the previous ones. If the parent doesn’t have well-organized knowledge of the golf swing and the cause-and-effect relations in the swing, it is difficult to be effective.

Earl Woods, Mike Thomas, Victor Garcia, Mike Furyk, Davis Love Jr., and Stefan Schauffele represent a rare group of fathers who show that it is indeed possible for parents to successfully guide their children to world class skills and super successful golf careers. However, with the exception of Earl Woods who primarily offered course management and mental toughness/focus training to Tiger and hired a swing coach for Tiger when he was only 5 years of age, the rest have actually been teaching professionals.

1st Suggestion: Support the Teaching Professional (Kelvin Kelley)

The golf swing can be looked as a pattern of movements of the body and club. The best way to set up to the ball and move the body can differ from player to player. Unfortunately, all too often players will take a tip or something they see from another swing and apply it to their own.

This can cause more harm than good. This is why letting the teaching professional coach the junior is usually ideal, as long as the coaching professional truly understands how the body and club influences contact and direction of the ball flight.

Here’s a quote from Mike Thomas, father of PGA tour player Justin Thomas. “I would say very few parents are credible teachers. While they may know some golf and be decent players themselves, there is an art to communicating with your student. Not all teachers have that art and very few parents do. Additionally, few children are receptive to parent’s instructions versus their instructor. While you may mean well, let a qualified teacher work with your children.

2nd Red Flag: Doing the Work for Your Child (Mike Grevlos)

Parents often find themselves in a motivational dilemma when a child likes the game and wants to get better, but is struggling and feeling the pain of disappointment. They realize that it is probably best for their child to take ownership of their game and initiate their own improvement efforts, but they also want to rescue the child from their struggle and provide direction. To provide emotional support and help them develop resilience is highly valuable; however, sometimes parents become the caretakers of their child’s game, attending all of their practice sessions, giving too much feedback, analyzing every round, and studying the game for their child’s sake. This can rob the child of a sense of autonomy, which is defined as freedom of choice or self-endorsement of decisions and activities. The opposite of autonomy is the feeling of being controlled or coerced, which often inhibits a child’s enjoyment and reduces motivation.

2nd Suggestion: Parent-Coach-Child Collaboration (Kelvin Kelley)

It is best for parents to allow junior golfers to take ownership of their own game. As in school, if parents do their children’s homework, the children do not learn. This applies to practicing and working on the golf swing. It is more important for them to be there more for emotional support and to help build resilience. Great golf parents are never overbearing and don’t make the swing or game more confusing, but are there to assist the coach and support their children’s development.

If parents are overbearing, a junior will often lose interest in golf later on in life. They can fall out of love with the game and everything golf has to offer. If the junior player and the parent enjoy playing golf together, the parent can easily collaborate with the junior golfer. If the junior asks, they can assist in keeping stats or help record a video sent to the coach.

In conclusion, if a parent is struggling with their relationship on the golf course with their child, the parent can always discuss this with their son or daughter’s coach. This is easily the best and healthiest way to enjoy golf and ensure the junior loves playing golf for the rest of their life.

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