It might just be biased dad pride when I say my daughter Vanessa was a pretty good soccer goalie when she was a pipsqueak years ago, but I don’t think so because a rep coach kept encouraging her to take the next step up and play at that level.
While my chest puffed out, Vanessa wanted nothing to do with it, saying she didn’t want to travel all over the region on weekends when there were other things going on. Soccer was fun, but that’s all she wanted it to be, so she declined the offer to play rep.
Every now and again, the coach would jokingly make the offer to Vanessa, but to her credit, she didn’t push too hard. Vanessa’s mind was made up and if you ever got to know her, you’d realize she doesn’t budge once that happens.
Even though she was pretty good in the house league ranks, Vanessa would occasionally ask to play out of the net, just to do something different. House league is supposed to be for fun and who was I, or anyone else, to take that away from her?
It may seem odd to be discussing soccer on a golf industry website, but kids having fun is the focus of this particular blog ahead of the specific game. Certainly, recent events in golf have players not much older than Vanessa when she was playing soccer making headlines in the big leagues.
The fun aspect of playing is explored by Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press in this story about 14-year-old Guan Tianlang who’s teeing it up again at this week’s Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour after making the cut at the Masters, despite an ill-timed slow play penalty.
A column I wrote here about Guan in the Toronto Sun prior to the Masters also dealt with the fun aspect and some of the expectations placed on what we like to call “phenoms.” Before you say it, I admit that I didn’t expect Guan to make the cut, so get your digs in now.
It seemed like a realistic expectation at the time, but now that he did make the cut at Augusta, will our expectations of him grow? Will we expect him to do the same in New Orleans this week? By the way, he shot an even par 72 on Thursday.
Back in 2004, on the occasion of his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, 19-time PGA Tour winner Tom Kite was discussing the fact that he waited until he was 42 before winning his one and only major at the 1992 U.S. Open.
For years, Kite was the best player never to win a major and he felt it was ridiculous at the time that Sergio Garcia was getting the same tag hung on him at the age of 24.
Kite was correct then and now. For such a young man to win a major is outstanding. Rory McIlroy had two by the time he was 23, but to expect that consistently of young people isn’t reasonable.
Garcia is now 33 and still without a major, so maybe, like Kite, he’ll be a late bloomer when it comes to the majors, maybe not, but he’s a player who’s needed to take time away from the game to refresh and recharge in a career in which he’s been in a fishbowl.
Fame can inflate expectations on a young player who is successful or forget about you or eat you up if you don’t live up to those expectations. That’s true of adults, but how can somebody Guan’s age or a 15-year-old such as Lydia Ko on the women’s side deal with that?
A big part of coping at that age is guidance from the adults around them and whether they’re wired to deal with expectations and pressure. When you throw a youngster into an adult world, the fun that is naturally important to them can be lost like a sliced ball into the woods.
There’s a trickle-down effect of that theory from the highest levels of competition to the grassroots of the game, where an instructor might see enormous potential in a student.
Understandably, the first thought is to develop that talent, spend some extra time with that student, beating balls on the range or on the practice green when all they want to do is play, or even do something away from the golf course. Balance isn’t a bad thing for somebody so young.
There is a tendency in golf to think that the more you succeed in the game, the happier you will be and there’s a certain amount of truth to that.
However, if success comes at the expense of not hanging out with friends or exploring other avenues of interest, an enthusiastic instructor may actually be dampening the desire of a young player, which could lead to the last thing you want and that’s leaving the game.
With your best intentions for developing a player, your enthusiasm could be putting blinders on that block out the other aspects of their lives that are so important to them when peripheral vision is needed, especially when each student will be different in this respect.
Development is not only about physical skills. It’s also about recognizing different personalities and their needs in order to better pinpoint at what point you may inadvertently be crossing a line from that fun that they crave. It is what brought them to the game in the first place.