By Dr. Tom Dorsel, Ph.D.

It is to be expected that you want to follow your junior player because you are truly interested, want to show support, be a silent cheerleader, maybe even keep some stats; not to mention that you have invested a lot in your player’s development.

At the same time you are unsure of how your presence might affect his or her play:  Do I make him nervous, is she looking over her shoulder to see how I react, could I be a distraction, might they be playing to me, rather than to the course?

The short answer to this dilemma is to say that all players are different.  Some thrive on parental attention, while others are threatened by it.

In my case as a junior golfer, I did not want my parents around.  My mom was not inclined, anyway, and my dad made me self-conscious and nervous that he would be critical.  It got kind of comical in that he would hide in the bushes, peek out of locker room windows at nearby holes, or watch with binoculars from a distance.  And all the while, I would be looking around for him.  Somehow we survived.  Here are a few suggestions for resolving this touchy issue:

Discuss it.  Have a frank discussion with your players, assuring them that your sole concern is for them to play well, because you know that is what in important to them.   Since they might be hesitant to come right out and tell you to come or not to come, you might have to listen with a third ear, pay attention to their non-verbal, and, in effect, read between the lines to pick up any vibes regarding how they feel about your attending or not attending.  

You can also test your impact out based on how they play related to your presence or absence.  If you see a consistent pattern, that should be a big clue as to what you should do.

Patience.  Whether you are following the round or waiting back home, ease into the discussion of the round afterwards. For example, if you are riding home in the car, bring up other aspects of the day’s event, rather than diving right into an analysis of how your junior played.  

The ideal would be if the child brought the round up, thereby giving you an opening to explore further.  If the child played well, it is not much of an issue as to how the conversation goes.  But if the child played poorly, the fog of competition could turn into a storm, if approached too soon or too aggressively.

Positivity.  You can hardly go wrong by starting with the positive: “That was some shot you hit on #12 — tell me what your thought process was.  And you really hit your drives well today — were you doing something in particular to create that?”  

Here’s a radical idea:  Don’t even bring up the troublesome aspects of the round, if they don’t bring it up themselves.  At least, wait until tomorrow or the next day or even till before the next tournament; or just let them work it out themselves or with their coaches.

Drama 101.  When a junior is putting on dramatic displays during their round, like shows of temper or disgust, I sometimes wonder if they are trying to communicate something to the parent in the gallery.  Such behavior might follow from the child complaining to the parents that they are having trouble with, for example, pitch shots.  Then during the next tournament, when the child muffs a pitch shot while the parent is watching, they turn and show their anger to the parent as if to say, “See, I told you so.”  It’s almost like, in some strange way, the player is blaming the parent for not having done something about it when the player previously warned the parents of this.  

Such behavior would seem less likely to happen if the parent were not around.  I mean, most juniors don’t like to act immature in front of their peers (not to mention tournament officials).  On the other hand, they know they can get away with it with their parents, since parents can’t disassociate themselves from their sons and daughters.

Happiness Through Involvement

Of course, the main objective is for family members to grow closer due to golf.  If golf is driving a family apart, parents alone have the ability to take themselves out of the equation.  As much as a parent might want to be involved, sometimes the loving thing to do is to “let go, while remaining available.”  

I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s prescription for happiness (or, in this case, involvement): “Happiness (involvement) is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.  But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”.

Dr. Tom Dorsel is a clinical/sport psychologist working out of both Hilton Head and Pinehurst.  He is the author of “GOLF: The Mental Game,” and can be reached on Facebook or at