Chad Nelson

How to Avoid My Mistakes as a Junior and High School Golfer

Golf is an amazing game that you can play for the rest of your life, whether you reach the highest levels of competitive golf or simply figure out that you just want to enjoy it as a weekend hobby. One of the simplest ways for us at Aspire Golf Performance to help young golfers get some clarity on their path forward in the game of golf is to share some of the mistakes that I made as a young golfer chasing my dreams to play the game at the highest levels.

As I think back on the many lessons I learned in the game and the many mistakes I made in my mindset and approach, there are some clear mistakes I want to help other young golfers avoid. I decided to narrow that down to a few of the most important general mistakes that should shed some light on how any young golfer can immediately change in the approach to improving their overall golf game.

Mistake #1: Compare Yourself to Other Golfers

It’s incredible to me when I read about talented young golfers these days. The low scores that some junior and high school golfers shoot in major tournaments make it clear the game of golf is more competitive than ever before. Young children are given access to great courses, top-tier instruction, and perfectly fitted equipment at such an early age. It can be intimidating for a young golfer starting out to see that junior golfers their age or younger are shooting scores that simply seem unattainable to them. When you hear about a junior golfer shooting a 62 or 63 in a major tournament, it can be easy to think you might have started too late. This could not be further from the truth. Right now is always the best time to start your journey forward in the game of golf.

You must understand that everyone develops at a different pace and you must have absolute confidence that hard work can pay off for you. I didn’t get serious about golf and started playing tournaments until I was 14 years old. When I did start playing tournaments, it was easy to look at some of my friends and peers and think that it would take years to catch up to their skill level, if it was even possible to catch up at all. When I look back now, it happened so much faster than I believed it could at that time. It took lots of long days on the golf course and range, but golf is a game where your progress can feel very slow and frustrating and then it suddenly clicks and you make some major breakthroughs.

Mistake #2: Obsess Over Immediate Results

If you love the game of golf, you’re never going to enjoy a tough day on the course or a poor tournament finish. That’s not exclusive to golf. It’s just a part of life. You want to perform well at the things to which you devote your time and energy. It just seems like young golfers place a lot more importance and significance on each round and tournament than is necessary or productive.

Performing your best in big tournaments requires determination and focus on every shot. I took that focus on immediate results to an unproductive level frequently in my junior and high school golf days. I can remember bad rounds and tournaments would stick with me for days or longer. That frustration would carry over into my practice routine and frequently my next tournament. As I matured in the game, I created a little post-round and post-tournament routine I still practice to this day. I would give myself about 10-15 minutes to just vent my frustration. I might scream a few unmentionables in my head or simply wander off by myself. However, I would quickly change my focus to specific things I could learn from that day. I would even get a pen and paper and write some of these things down so I was immediately focusing on positive things to carry forward. Did I keep a positive attitude on every shot? Did I stick with my game plan or try to get more aggressive when things weren’t going as planned? Did I trust my routine or did I start taking longer or trying harder to hit good shots? Did I have fun out there? Are there some specific things I need to practice or get better at?

Getting mad about a bad round is completely natural when you work hard. Staying mad and letting it carry over past that round is simply not productive. If you plan on playing golf at the highest levels, you will play in hundreds of golf tournaments and must be able to create a simple routine to channel that frustration into productive lessons.

Mistake #3: Fail to Make a Long-Term Plan for Improving Your Game

As I mentioned before, golf is a game that you will be able to play for the rest of your life. I didn’t always appreciate that fact when I was a junior golfer. I was focused on beating the person I played that day or winning the tournament and I realize now that was a major mistake. If I had worked to map out a specific plan for how to improve my golf game in stages, it would have been easier to stay focused on the importance of sticking to the long-term plan and simply playing to the best of my abilities every shot and round.

It is a common saying that people often overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and vastly underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years. This was a frequent mistake I made as a junior golfer. I would look at other golfers winning junior tournaments and think I should be at the same level next month if I work hard today. This would motivate me in the short term but also left me with unrealistic and unattainable goals. It’s great to have lofty goals. You just need to develop a long-term plan to get there. With golf, this is especially important because there are so many parts of your game you need to improve and continue to develop to compete at the highest levels.

Mistake #4: Let Doubt Overwhelm Your Desire to Get Better and Love of the Game

The final mistake I’ll cover in this post is the times I let doubt overwhelm my sheer love of the game. I always had a strong desire to get better. However, I would let my slumps get to me mentally. There would be times that I would waste time wondering if I would ever be good enough for the next level. Frankly, that was completely pointless. We all have doubts. It’s always going to be a part of life. Make a commitment to yourself that you will focus on your desire to get better and your love of the game whenever doubt creeps in. This can be as simple as pulling out your long-term plan and reminding yourself how far you’ve come. Sometimes, this will require taking a day off practice and spending some time away from the course. Other times, it will be as simple as playing a round without keeping score. Just hit some fun shots and remind yourself how much you love hitting golf shots and being on a golf course. Each person will have to develop their own mental tricks for moving past doubt, but it’s important to have clear and concise plans for when doubt about your ability or your path forward starts to enter your mind. You will never get rid of doubt completely. You do have to understand how to get past it and get back to focusing on why you work so hard at the game.

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