Last year, my 12-year-old son, Jackson, was set for his final season at Encino Little League. He was looking forward to making the All-Star team, just like he had every season, and heading to Cooperstown to culminate his little league experience. But then the pandemic hit and his life was turned upside down like the rest of us.
Jackson has played baseball since he was three years old. He loves it, but the pandemic meant he had to put his passion on hold. With baseball on hold, Jackson took up golf, one of the only safe social-distancing sports a kid can play. His dad loves the sport and has played it for years and it wasn’t long before Jackson caught the bug too.
Golf became his new passion and he wanted to be on the golf course more than anywhere else. This was his new joy.
Jackson started taking lessons and found the coach of his dreams. James was the perfect fit for Jackson, the patient, talented coach every parent wants for their athlete. Jackson wanted lessons every week and then, when tournament play came back with guidelines, he was ready to compete. As a new kid golfer, he had to start on the Southern California PGA Junior Developmental Tour, known as JDT. It gave him the opportunity to learn how to play in a tournament, get used to actually competing and develop as a golfer.
Because Jackson is a competitor and always reaching for more, he quickly decided he wanted to move up to the next tour, the Southern California PGA Players Tour, and play 18-hole tournaments with more experienced and stronger players. In order to move up, a golfer must play at least 3 JDT tournaments and score a minimum of a 7 over par. Jackson reached his first golf goal and was ready to compete with better golfers. Or so he thought.
Playing golf, which had brought him so much joy, became frustrating, exhausting and not fun. He was struggling and beginning to lose his confidence—and his love of the game. After a few rough months, Jackson made a decision and wanted to talk it out with my husband and me. I thought he was going to say he wanted to stop playing golf, at least for a while. Instead, he asked if he could move back down to the Junior Developmental Tour.
Our highly competitive kid figured out what he needed to do to “get his joy back.”
Jackson went on to tell us he felt like he needed more time on the developmental tour and wanted to know what it felt like to win a tournament. He was reaching for the feeling of joy he had experienced with his earlier accomplishments. He didn’t care what anyone else thought of his step back. For him, it wasn’t about failure and not being good enough—he wanted to follow his heart to what would made him feel joy for the game again.
Since Jackson rejoined the lower level JDT, he has won two tournaments and has been in the mix for a top 3 finish is almost every event. He still plays on the developmental tour but has now expanded to play US Kids Golf tournaments, where he plays 18 holes and his best golf buddy in the world, Dad, caddies for him. So, while he continues to develop his skills, he’s beginning to stretch more too.
What I learned from this experience is that by giving my son the ability to move through activities freely, and to course correct on his own when needed, he learned to follow his heart. How he got there doesn’t matter. He got on the path, listened to his instincts and found his way to what would make him happiest. He’s learning to trust himself. And, as he grows, I know he’s learning to find his way, and his joy, no matter where life takes him.