How To Teach The Mental Game Of Golf To A Teen
It’s the 18th hole and my 15 year old son, AJ walks up to the green. He takes his time eyeing his ball that is laying about 25 feet from the hole. It’s a double breaker that requires a bit of an uphill putt. He needs to make this shot in one stroke to win his bet with me.
I follow him around the green as he squats behind the ball to take a look at the slope, carefully calculating his shot. He is determined to show up the old man for the first time in our many years of playing together.
I hover around him — enjoying his tension. I decide to give him a little lesson in the importance of managing his mental game.
I ask him: “So AJ, right when you take the putter back, do you breathe in or out or do you hold your breath?” I smile, but he sends mental daggers my way through his eyes.
He is trying not to think of how he breaths and it throws his concentration off. I notice his body language now reeks of tension and he tries to refocus.
Flash backwards in time for a moment with me… I’ve been playing and teaching AJ golf since he was 3 years old. Before that, I actually pushed him around the course in a jogger’s baby carriage, while I played the game. Heck, I figured it was the only way I was going to get playing time in on the occasional weekends I got to play. He seemed to enjoy it.
I’ll never forget the crazy things I did to keep him asleep or entertained so he stayed quiet on the course. From a distance, I am sure the other golfers must have thought I was nuts doing crazy dance moves around my funny-looking golf cart!
Come to think of it, those times were very instrumental in my ability to deal with distractions and stay focused on my game. Amazingly, I continued to play at a high level.
Did you know that Tiger Wood’s Dad purposely would yell and throw clubs in front of Tiger while he was swinging to teach him that famous focusing ability he is known for?
But I digress…up until about the age of 12, AJ actually listened to me and would hang on every word I would say about golf. I started him with a very simple swing that served him well for the many years we played together. He talks fondly of how we would drive the golf carts in crazy ways and always celebrate another outing at the course with a tall soda (and beer) at the 19th hole.
And then, something happened…AJ hit that age where he all of a sudden he “knows everything”. His game started to get better and I could see a wall come up any time I would talk about the mental game of golf. In his mind, it was just a matter of him playing and practicing more and he’d seen the beginnings of improvement from that formula.
Never mind the fact that I write a blog for over 10,000 golfers every week. Never mind that I’ve worked with hundreds of kids and elite athletes from all over the world on their mental game. Never mind the fact that I took my own golf handicap down to a 5, shot a 1-under and a hole in one, all using my “without practicing techniques”….No, never mind all that…I’m just Dad and I don’t know anything, right?
Flash forward to that 18th hole, where he had challenged me to a high stakes bet. If he won, I would have to buy him some new Nike shoes and if I won, he would have to wash my car 10 times. He really wanted those shoes bad.
I just grin at him as he walks all around his putt, taking an unusually long time to line it up. I know that he is a bowl of jello inside and his legs look like they will give out from under him at any moment.
He takes the putter back very hesitantly and leaves himself a 4-footer. I joke with him that I am looking forward to a very clean car in the near future and ask if he will breath in or out.
Hi misses the putt and I don’t say a word. We walk to the car in silence. I know to let him process this his way. I turn the radio on in the car to his favorite station, trying to break the tension as we drive home.
A few weeks later, he comes to me and tells me he is ready to learn about the mental game and we get going in earnest.
I am happy to report that, as I write this, AJ has earned a scholarship to play golf at the college of his choice. He is a fine, upstanding, moral young man, who impressed the college coach not only with his golf skills, but with his personality and character.
As parents we learn that kids need to get their lessons in a way that works for them. After working with hundreds of youth athletes one-on-one and online, I’ve learned it all starts with their ability to deal with pressure. I’ve developed a 6 step process to Master the Pressure and it is one of the key elements I tackle in the Mental Toughness Academy online training. Go to to learn more.