Opinion & Analysis - Brendan Ryan (July 2018)


Welcome to Crazy Town: Golf Dads Need to Chill Out, Man!

Golf has become a big-time sport driven by not only opportunities for college golf scholarships, but also fame and fortune on the PGA Tour. Although some play for the love of the game, more and more start playing because they or their parents want them to be golf’s next billionaire.

I have watched the mania evolve over last the 25 years: first as a player, then as a junior golf coach, then as a college golf coach, and now as a mentor to some of the best junior golfers in the world. It’s all heady and intoxicating, and it has a huge impact on the relationships between players and their parents and coaches. What I see ranges from healthy and loving to what can best be described as “Crazy Town.”

Crazy Town is a land of delusion, frustration and slow, painful failure. It’s a place where the whole point of the process is missed. For me, golf is not about where a kid places in a tournament or shoots; it’s about teaching young people the habits and skills they need to succeed at everything, not just golf. Nowadays, too many parents and coaches create zero-sum evaluations during a child’s most fragile and important stages of maturation and development. The result is not only athletic failure, but also the erosion of faith in family, coaching, and the process of success.

Here are three key considerations for a parent who wants to avoid crazy town.

1. Do You Know Where You End And Your Child Begins?
The golf belongs to the kid. It‘s your child’s golf endeavor, not “yours” or “ours.” If you hear yourself talking about how “we” played today, what “we” shot, or what “we” won, then you already reside in Crazy Town.
Do you speak about “our” grades at school, “our” piano lessons, or cleaning “our” room? If so, maybe you have lost sight of where you end and where your child begins. Quickly get some separation, distance, and perspective. This is not about you or your family; it’s about your kid.

2. Who Wants This? You or Your Child?
The fact is that golf requires lots of long and lonely hours if your child want to play at the highest level, especially at the beginning when the child needs to invest huge sums of time in creating the proper patterns. The fact is that you can only demand they invest their time for so long. As children mature, they need to be able to explore boundaries and learn to be responsible for themselves. Once you have helped your child understand the investment needed and provided them a safe learning environment, your job is done.

At this point, your child is either going to have ignition and work at their game or not. If they don’t, then I recommend you help your child find another endeavor that does create a spark in them. It might be track and field that ignites the passion to learn and grow. Whatever it is, your job is to help your kid find it… then leave him or her to follow the dream.

3. Have You and Your Junior Learned the 6 C’s?
Dr. Richard Learner is a researcher at Tufts University where he’s the chair of the Institute of Applied Research in Youth Development. He’s known for his theory of relations between life-span human development and social change, and for his research about the relationship between adolescents and their peers, families, schools, and communities. His work centers around children developing what he terms the 5 C’s: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character, and Caring.
Researcher Jean Cote suggests a sixth “C,” specifically for sports: Competition. Together, the research suggests that when students work toward developing these skills, they become more successful human beings. Ask yourself if what you are doing is developing the 6 C’s in your child, because if it is then you and him or her are likely headed in a good direction.

Remember, introducing sport to your son or daughter is not about the scholarship dollars or potential fame; it’s a way to teach them the skills and habits they need to live enriching and fulfilling lives. Use sport to help your child learn competition, friendship, humility, self-confidence, determination, challenging work, passion, and honesty. Reward them for learning these lessons and remind them, using your own experience, why they are playing sport. Over the long run, I promise you will be happy you did.

Brendan Ryan has been working in the golf industry for 15 years. He has served as a coach for Division I, III, and NJCAA schools, as well as individual players, and has published several books about junior golf, coaching, and college golf recruiting. As a coach, he claimed 15 team titles, including two National Championships. As a college placement consultant, Brendan has had the opportunity to help over 100 of the world's top-ranked golfers find their perfect fit.