When I became a parent, Mother’s and Father’s Days turned into days of introspection. What was my childhood like versus the one I’m providing my children? Am I learning the lessons or am I repeating the mistakes?
When I was young I was a hockey nut. I literally remember sitting in the kitchen of our house on Vansickle Road at the age of four or five on Saturday night, waiting until the clock hit 8 for Hockey Night in Canada to come on. I started out a Leaf fan (I evolved into a Canadien fan as my critical thinking started kicking in) and I was desperate to play hockey. We had four young kids very close together in our family and not a lot of cash, so playing organized hockey with equipment wasn’t happening meaning I spent my thousands of hours like many other kids out on the driveway scoring Cup-winning goals.
I was eight when bits and pieces of hockey equipment starting showing up. I always had skates but then I got blue and white gloves, and then some Bobby Hull elbow and shin pads and something resembling a margarine container for a helmet. I also got one of the worst presents I’ve ever received. Don’t get me wrong— I loved it when I got it. I think my mom picked it up at the Avondale store while getting me my 10-packs of hockey cards for 50 cents. It was a Bobby Hull skate sharpener. It was a four inch long skinny piece of plastic with a sharpening stone tucked up inside.
The equipment led up to the big announcement that I was finally going to be allowed to go to hockey school. In my infinite wisdom, I thought players in the NHL sharpened their skates to a point like the blade of a knife. I thought the two edges that came on the blade from the store were to help people who didn’t know how to skate keep their balance. (I was eight. Cut me some slack). So in the months leading up to the magic date I took this skate sharpener and tilted it and spent countless hours trying to sharpen my skate edges to a knife point.
I can only imagine how round they were by the time I was allowed to go to hockey school. I begged for years to play hockey and when I finally got there I could not stand up and I hated it. My father is an Italian immigrant who I don’t think has ever skated in his life. He put my equipment on the best he knew how, tied up my skates, and sent me on my way. When I started to dread going, I’m sure he just wanted to kill me. I didn’t realize it until the next year when I was looking at skates at the old K-Mart, and I asked the guy where were the ones with the sharp edges? He looked at me like I was a nutjob and said all skate blades are like that. Oh.
Can you imagine this happening today? If little Johnny is having trouble skating today, get out the Visa, put the skates in the oven, and call up the personal power skating coach and don’t forget the nutritionist.
When my father handed down his first set of clubs to me I held them cross-handed. They were mens length and weight, and I was seven and about 4’ 6 and 60 pounds. To top it off, I wanted to play left handed and held the club with my hands reversed. My father’s answer of course was to tell me my hands were backwards.
I don’t write these things to belittle my father. He did the best he could under the circumstances, and worked very hard to provide us with what we had. It’s more to show the absurdity of the extent some parents have gone the other way.
I have coached a lot of hockey and have been around junior golf for a lot of years now. Some of you folks have got to back off. There is a fine line between supporting and smothering your child.
The people who run the game of golf at the Royal Canadian Golf Association have been roundly criticized for being out of touch with what the average golfer wants out of this game. They do have a great program, however, for kids who are looking to make it a career. Be the best you can be by 23 is the name of it (or something like that) and that is just about right. You kids and parents who are so worked up about winning tournaments and championships before you start your growth spurt are wasting your time.
It is great to play tournaments to learn how to function and react under pressure and learn the challenge of focus and routine, and winning is great, but sorry, your abilities are meaningless. When my son was 13 years old he faced a few babyfaced kids who could pass as ten and a whole whack of grown men masquerading as boys in both golf and hockey. How does how well you do as a bantam-age kid have any correlation to how you will do as an adult? There is just too great a gulf between physical and mental maturity among kids this age.
If you are serious about golf, get on a path that will see you start to maximize your abilities by the age of 23. Yes, there are some exceptions, but most great players aren’t showing any signs of it until at least that age.
I know it is very difficult for a young kid to look that far ahead and that is where the parents need to help. Allow them to be kids. They will learn as much about how to lead a good life from losing as winning, as long as they are guided through the process wisely. Support them the best you can financially but more importantly emotionally. Give them that hug (or kick in the pants) when they’re down, and tug them back down to earth if they get a little too high. It is not the outcome, it is the process which is important.
(There is a new book out by David Epstein—Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World (Penguin)—about the path to greatness. It’s an interesting take on the tendency to have our children specialize at an early age. Any of you out there with thought of greatness for your children might want to give it a read.)
I learned a lot of things from my parents. My mom taught me kindness and to put my passions in line behind the needs of others. I learned from my father that who you are is not an act to put on and change based on where you are. I learned humility (that one took awhile) and to be harder on yourself and the ones you love and care about (much to my children’s dismay) than on others. I learned my father would have parented differently under more favourable circumstances by watching the way he cherishes his grandchildren and I cherish my children more because of it.
I haven’t been able to master the skill of piloting a five tonne Mercury Meteor with one hand while whacking delinquent children in the back seat into submission with the other. (Damned mini-vans.) There are things our parents did that we really don’t need to emulate. The one thing I do think we can get back to is mellowing out a bit and letting our kids find their way. Yes, make sure their skates are sharp, and figure out what hand they are, but then let them go a little. If you create the right atmosphere they’ll let you know when they need you. ♦
John Piccolo is the golf instructor and runs Piccolo’s Custom Golf Shop at Eagle Valley Golf Club in Niagara Falls. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org