Young players have a lot to learn to compete at the highest level of the game. They have to learn the physical shots, the mental game and how to put their emotions in a place to help them, not hurt them. When coaching young players to be emotionally strong, my question to them isn't "How can you avoid that feeling?" Instead, it's "What is the opposite of that feeling?" You truly can't control your emotions, but you can choose to channel them the opposite way. If you don't believe me, think about hitting a shot into the water at an important time in a round with onlookers. Tell me you could control the disappointment or anger that would well up inside of you. To not feel those things would mean you didn't care enough. However, once you recognize the disappointment or anger, you can choose to move to the opposite side of the wheel and feel acceptance and trust. If you can make this move in an instant, you will be emotionally strong and your strategy will come from a place of strength. That is a goal young players can make when they play.
That brings us back to the idea of taking risks on the course. Many young players who take risks are doing so because of weak emotions. Look at the peachy part of the wheel above and notice the anticipation + anger = aggression. This is a classic place of decision making for golfers under pressure. Neither anticipation nor anger are "in the moment". Anticipation is an emotion based on the future and anger is based on the past. You are angry for hitting an easy 8 iron into the water and you are thinking about your score and holding the trophy. Those two things = aggression. If we can choose our emotional state and allow that to lead our strategy during a round of golf, we would choose the lime-yellow portion of the circle: joy + trust = love. It is in the moment, it is surrounded by acceptance and serenity.. In golf terms, that means positive emotions allow you to make strategy choices in the moment, not based on past results or worries of performance or score.
You might think it's crazy to think about love or joy after dumping that 8 iron, but you can do it! You can love the challenge, you can love digging deep, you can find joy in making a bogey, you can find joy in acceptance or you can simply remember how much you love the game of golf and the joy you feel when you play it. This is all within your control.
Risk isn't a good thing or a bad thing. Understanding when to take a risk during a round of golf is a crucial part of learning to win. Risk is only a bad thing when it comes from weak emotions. That turns risk into aggression instead of strategy. Our goal as coaches or parents shouldn't be to control our players game plans to the point where they aren't the decision maker when it comes to risk, but to help them understand if their decision making is coming from a place of strength or weakness. Strong emotions are positive and keep you in the moment. Weak emotions are negative and based on the past or future.
If I could wave a wand and magically give my players an emotion, it would be one of acceptance. Many of my players see acceptance as an emotion of forgiveness, but in my mind, it's one of honesty. If a player is honest about what she is capable of on any given shot, she can accept the outcome of the shot. Understanding that you can miss a four footer makes it easier to accept it when it happens. It goes a step past forgiveness to understanding you aren't perfect and have nothing for which to forgive yourself. The great players seem to understand this, which allows them to weather bad days without getting down on themselves or seeing it as carrying greater significance than just a bad day. It's part of the learning curve for young players who want to be great. It starts with flipping that switch after you hit that 8 iron in the water and it progresses to an attitude you carry 24/7.