Juniors & The Parent’s Role


Charley Hull… Child to Superstar, the best nurtured “Golf prodigy” I know and have ever seen

Recently I had a long and interesting conversation with a very famous Professional footballer who is a very good friend of mine. We were talking about the coaching of children and the myriad of challenges that now seem to attach to it. It was interesting to see how many parallels and indeed synergies there were with football and golf however he was more than a little surprised to learn of some of the experiences I had been through and had witnessed in golf when dealing with parents.

Immediately he stated that when coaching on the football pitch the parents could only really shout, gesture, and sometimes they may even swear and scream however they could never actually stop a game, whereas contrary on a golf practice ground you will often see a parent standing right by the child and coach, in many cases over ruling, interfering or advising the coach / teacher that their child should be doing this or doing that as they (The parent) know what is best for their child. Worse still the parent will often bark out instructions as a coach looks helplessly in utter disbelief and bewilderment. In my book this is not just an example of micro management at it’s worst, or even undermining an instructor at it’s best, no in the world I operate in this is possibly just about the most counter productive and destructive action any parent could demonstrate.

I have travelled the World extensively, in essence it has been my education. In that time I have met many amazing people that are at the very top of their professions, experienced all sorts of diverse cultures and in between that I have coached many young golfers. Some of them it can only be said are indeed quite brilliant. However I find myself more and more disappointed at just how many parents will interfere and inadvertently slow down or in some cases stunt and halt the child’s natural progress. I am often at pains to point out that I do not know of a Professional Tour that exists for 13 year olds (Thank goodness), that I only know of one Tiger Woods, one Se Re Pak and as far as I am aware Rory Mcllroy has not been cloned as of yet. However the parents seem to continually use the same two or three golfers as role models and yardsticks and yet there is over nearly a thousand golfers playing on at least 8 or 9 recognised Tours Worldwide and many of them are incredibly successful. There are many ways to skin a cat so is it really reasonable to compare your 11 year old to the three afore mentioned golfers?

An example of quite brilliant parenting then would have to be Dave Hull. I do count myself extremely lucky and very fortunate to have known Charley Hull since she was 13 years old. I have watched Charley closely and her development, spoken to her on Tour, and had more than a few long one to one discussions over quite a few cups of tea with her father Dave. Like many I was extremely happy to see her win first LPGA Tour event last month following on from a quite stunning Solheim Cup debut.

The minute she holed out to win, my immediate thoughts went straight to her father Dave. As I watched on in admiration at how this precocious talent coped with the pressure of the last two days and how well she played over that weekend, my thoughts always returned back to that of her father Dave and the great confidence and belief he steadily and continually instilled in Charley from an early age. More impressively it is the best example of a child/parent relationship I have ever come across in golf. If ever there is a golf parenting blueprint made, then succinctly put “This would be it”.

In 29 years of coaching I have to say one of the very rewarding aspects of my job has been working with Children. Looking back developing children and encouraging talent to progress and watching them grow has played a huge role in my teaching life and indeed my very own learning. However one particular day stands out for me and it involved the then 15 year old Charley Hull.

The venue was Panmure Golf Club, the event none other than the final qualifying for the Ladies British Open. Already there was a height of excitement as the 15 year old stood on the first tee and duly dispatched her golf ball some 240 yards right down the centre of the fairway. What would unfold some 25 minutes after will stay with me forever.

After hitting a great wedge shot that just rolled past the pin and off the green on the 2nd hole, Charley duly chipped up to look like making another obligatory par. As she walked on the green horror suddenly struck as she realised she had chipped on with the wrong ball! A quick search confirmed the error and Charley then played the correct ball onto the green. The travesty of the entire situation was a spectator and huge fan of Charley had spotted her ball incorrectly and pointed to it. What struck me whilst it all unfolded was that Dave (Charley’s father) looked on throughout, never changing his demeanour and then just calmly walked down the next fairway talking to me as if nothing had happened.

We spoke about numerous other things during the next few holes and then a good hour and a half later I had to ask Dave if he was ok. Dave replied “Yep, I am fine Ian, because you know what, its the best thing that could happen to Charley as she will never do it again and better to be now than in 5 years time where a 2 shot penalty could cost a lot of money and be an expensive mistake.” I remember walking the rest of the round with Dave and being taken aback at how calm and relaxed he was about Charley. I started to compare him to the other parents that I dealt with on a regular basis. It really did get me thinking more deeply about my own experiences with countless numbers of parents that I deal with and being with Dave that day had really got me thinking.

After the round I asked Dave if I could go and talk to Charley for a couple of minutes. She was in the scorers tent and he said that was fine. At the stage Dave had not even spoken to Charley. As Charley appeared out from the tent she started to walk to the car park. I stopped her and told her that she must not cry, her time would come and that she was a brilliant golfer that should be proud of how hard she had played and how that set back would be an invaluable lesson. I also told Charley that this was just a small event in what was going to be a fabulous career and that one day she would be able to look back on that incident and actually think it was a good lesson too. That day arrived two weeks ago, Charley Hull has now arrived. How much of that conversation Charley recalls is not important, what is was that her father Dave again stayed a long way back and gave Charley some space, incredibly wise.

Dave Hull and I would drink tea and talk at Tour events. Those of you that know me well will know my ability to drink copious amounts of English breakfast Tea is quite something to be seen. Dave would sometimes have a cuppa and tell me his hopes and aspirations for Charley however behind them was the common (or not so common as it turns out) theme that Charley must have fun, enjoy her golf and also be a teenager. He explained the strategy of exiting slowly thus giving Charley the confidence to go forward and continue her development with Dave slowly taking a backward step. I watched this executed with almost military precision as a very happy, talented and by this stage supremely confident Charley started to grow and develop.

One day Dave said to me “I want her to develop naturally on her own, be her own person, she will make mistakes but its about giving Charley the confidence to learn, grow and make her own decisions under pressure and think for herself, after all she is the only one hitting the ball.” This was for me was golf parenting summed up in a sentence and again Dave had got me very much into a stage of serious reflection.

To detract a little, reflection is important to me and is something I do on a regular basis and especially when coaching juniors. More often than not it will enable me to change the ways of going forward. I call it my own constant internal revaluation process, however “they” say (and often parents state a “They” quote) it is not good to look back? I often sit and wonder where these “They” quotes originate from, who “They” really are and what “They” actually achieved and in reality how substantiated many of the “They” comments really are? I also wonder if people and many parents just intrinsically link and then attach themselves to the mythical quotes and magical comments of the “They” brigade as it serves as some kind of confirmation bias, supporting their very own preconceived ideas. They will often recall these “They say” quotes whilst discounting contrary and even factual information. Suffice to say if it is supporting what someone believes then when that person (So often a parent) states and puts a “They” in the sentence, then their comments are seen and commonly deemed to have more credence, even though often they are not backed up with any factual substance. Call me cynical if you want, however many parents adopt this strategy and I for one have never been totally convinced by the status quo and what “They” say. Anyway enough about internal reflection.

The flip side of this is I would never underestimate the positive role that parents can actually play in Junior golf and especially the golfing development of their own children. We should however bear in mind that whilst they may be fine parents they are definitely in many cases not always fine teachers and when they employ the services of a coach they should really allow them to do just that… and coach. The old adage of having a dog and barking yourself often springs to mind.

The more I see on my travels the more I genuinely start to fear for the future of golf and our production line of future stars. Having my own children I have seen quite clearly the different stages of their key development. Babies to children, children to early teenagers and then into adolescents and finally young adults. Each stage brings it’s different challenges of how to manage expectations and guide them through what can only be described as unchartered territory for us all. It really is very hard trying to be everything to them. Father/ Mother, Parent, carer, advisor, protector, teacher, facilitator, friend and then adding to that the role of unqualified Golf instructor, it then starts to imply that the last role may be one bridge too far.

This year I have come across a couple of young golfers that could be viewed as exceptional. They already look like at the age of 8 and 11 respectively they could both have the golfing World at their feet! Sadly peer pressure is not just evident in both instances it is actually positively at the fore-front of the coaching sessions. I already feel quite compromised, looking on at a parent slowly ebbing and sapping away the confidence of their own prodigy, the fun taken out of the sessions and also the process that their own child should go through and theoretical enjoy. My advice has often fallen on somewhat deaf ears.

Finally if form does follow function then the intended purpose of anything we do should be relative to us anatomically and physically and even mentally. We are what we are and that is after all human beings. It is almost impossible to repeat the unerring consistency that our parents often demand and request, as unlike computers we are made up of many different emotions and many other variables. We will always have some human margin of error and even the very best computers sometimes malfunction. Therefore at what point should many of the parents take a more rounded view and realise that often we are in reality asking our children to do some things that are just humanely not possible? Many people jump on the “consistency” theme as being paramount when in reality the very best players I see making it to the very top have “adaptability” in abundance. But thats another subject that I will write about soon. So do remember Dave Hull, as we could all certainly learn something from him.