Psychology: The New Success of Junior Golf Programs

Junior golf is a great way to grow the game. If you are involved in golf you know there are tremendous efforts being made to grow the game through the youth. However, junior golf programs, like many golf programs, lack a foundation or underpinning. Enter Zachary Abels a PGA Professional from Twin Falls, Idaho and President of the Magic Valley Junior Golf Foundation (MVJGF). Zach is not just a PGA Professional, in fact, he is blazing a trail for how junior golf programs should be built and maintained. He doesn’t just focus on how the program can improve their junior participants’ golf game, but he focuses on how he can improve the physical and mental well-being of each junior golfer that enters his program.

Carol Dweck is the champion psychologist behind the growth mindset ideology. She explains that a growth mindset is one in which a person decides they can improve their performances with hard work, dedication, and a positive outlook on challenges. In fact, a person with a growth mindset is more likely to enjoy difficult tasks than a person with a fixed-mindset. A fixed-mindset person believes that talent, such as that in golfers, is a fixed trait. For example, a fixed-mindset person believes that people who are good at golf have natural ability and are better than others. Therefore, this leads them to believe their talent (or intelligence, motivation, physical fitness, etc.) is innate and they cannot improve. For instance, have you ever played with someone who stands on a tee box and says, “I always slice it into the pond on this hole!” And what do they do? They slice the ball into the pond. The slice has become their identity and the result is predictable. Simply put, a growth mindset person believes they can change for the better with practice while a fixed-mindset person lets failures and setbacks become their identity.

Zach has embedded a growth mindset culture within the MVJGF. For example, Zach states, “I have directly seen kids improve in the classroom, as well as socially, due to their involvement in the game of golf. We don’t expect our participants to become world class players, what we do expect is a fun environment to learn and grow in all aspects of life.” Zach, and the employees of the MVJGF imply that their junior participants work hard. They encourage all of their junior golfers to be the best they can be on a daily basis. They are using golf as a vehicle to enhance the mindset of each of the juniors. Golf encourages people to be creative, work hard, and be focused. When golf is viewed through the right mindset it enhances the psychological well-being of the child rather than discourages their abilities.

The MVJGF has also given its participants something to be a part of in order to continue their development. The MVJGF gained support from several community organizations and they were able to construct a building that allows their participants to practice year round. The building is equipped with:

  • A golf simulator
  • Two bay doors that open up to the driving range
  • A trackman
  • Geothermal heat for those cold Idaho winters
  • Food and drinks
  • Golf equipment

This is one reason why PGA Tour Professional Troy Merritt has endorsed the MVJGF and is an avid supporter. Zach, the directors, and his community partners have created a safe place for their junior golfers. In order for a child to be their best they must satisfy several physiological and psychological needs (see Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) before they achieve self-actualization. The MVJGF has developed a platform for their junior members to satisfy their psychological needs and fosters a growth environment. It is no wonder during 2017 the MVJGF cracked the 400 participant mark and they expect a larger enrollment in 2018.

Participants in the MVJGF always have something to look forward to and to work hard for. Through its efforts, the MVJGF has generated funds for college scholarships and delivered $50,000 to its participants. This generates a goal for the juniors that they can see is obtainable through the core values of the foundation. Each year college scholarships are earned by graduating participants and the younger participants witness this event. Therefore, the younger golfers are reinforced with the belief that if they replicate the behaviors of those who earned scholarships they too can benefit. All of these efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Rocky Mountain Section of the PGA awarded Zach with the 2016 Youth Player Development Award which consists of a “PGA member who provides [an] excellent experience for junior golfers and who best exemplifies the ideals of those who work with youth.” Clearly, Zach’s knowledge of psychology, business, and golf have allowed him to entrepreneur a field that needed a dose of creativity.

Psychological science is a great vehicle for understanding human behavior. It suggests ways in which people function their best and how they can reach their optimal performance on a variety of platforms. However, too few organizations, businesses, and even golfers use psychology to enhance their performance. This is why I write about how psychology can be applied to such industries and individuals. The MVJGF has shown that psychological underpinnings can enhance the outcome of an organization. I am not implying this is the only organization that uses psychology and I would encourage people to uncover organizations that are not just making a financial difference, but a human difference. Therefore, I leave you with the purpose and mission statement of the MVJGF as a model for youth golf programs.

MV Junior Golf Foundation, Inc. was formed to provide junior boys and girls in the Magic Valley and surrounding areas with the opportunity to play golf in competitive and noncompetitive environments while learning life skills of respect, sportsmanship, perseverance, etiquette, and honesty. It is the mission of the Foundation to provide ALL juniors, regardless of economic, physical and developmental challenges, the opportunity to experience junior golf.

To get in touch and learn more about Michael, visit his site at athleticconsultingmk.com

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