Brain, Podcast, Season 2

The Psychological Impacts of Early Specialization with Dr Bhrett McCabe

Learn why most early specializers and junior golfers loose their dominance as they get older and what to do to combat burn out in golfers. Fantastic info every golfer, coach, parent, and jr golfer need to hear from Dr Bhrett McCabe.


Pitfalls of Early Specialization

How Early Specialization Typically Looks in Junior Golf

Let’s say we have a young golfer who is nine, and spends five days a week at the golf course learning how to hit a driver and learning how to hit and putt and chip.

Because of that that practice and the skills they develop they rarely make the big numbers that a lot of junior golfers make, and are able to shoot at par. They also might be strong enough to overpower a golf course, and only have to hit a driver and a chip, while everyone else is having to hit driver, three wood, and wedge.

Who is going to probably enjoy the game more? The kid who is the early specializer and the kid who has put all his time and effort into golf.

The problem typically starts to happen around 14-15 years old when the other kids stop playing the other sports and they are growing and maturing. All of a sudden their learning curve is pretty fast and they have now brought in other skill sets and experiences into their golf game. They have the ability to fight through challenges and the ability to win and loose and all the other aspects that go along with it.

Now all of a sudden, those kids are really good; so the kid who is the early specializers who has never psychologically been in the situation to have to fight through it, and that is why early specializers, the psychological impact of it is, they tend to quit sooner, they tend to give up on challenges faster, they tend to burn out so much faster because they have never had to fight through the challenges.

Early specialization works; kids are good when they do it, it just doesn’t last and eventually when the talented kids move in from other sports and now they are hungry to improve and win, they tend to pick it up pretty quick and eventually surpass the early specializers.

Creating Well Rounded Junior Golfers

The important thing is early diversity and the early exposure to other sports that teach kids how to sit on the bench and realize that maybe you are not the superstar. And if you are not the superstar, can you be a role player? Can you be the guy that goes into a basketball game and only gets to play a third of the minutes, but you can learn how to play defense and maybe score two points?

The amazing thing about sports is that everybody is on a different maturation schedule and the guy or the girl who is four inches taller and stronger, who grew early may not grow last.

We have to start developing the psychological resiliency, communication skills, and how to deal with failures in juniors. For juniors that play other sports there is a benefit to playing with kids that are better than you, there is also a benefit of playing with kids that are not as good as you we have to allow for as many experiences as possible.

Failure Drills

It’s important to put an athlete through drills that forces them to not succeed and see how they deal with failure. We’re looking for players that go, “That drill that we did, kicked my butt, when are we doing it again? I’m going to get it this time” versus, “I don’t want to do that drill ever again because it made me lose my confidence.”

A drill can’t make you lose your confidence unless you chose to allow that drill to make you lose your confidence.

We have a putting drill that I do that is really hard called the ‘The Closer’ which is eight stations from five feet away around the hole and you have to make 24 in a row to win it, all from five feet or you have to start over.

The average completion time is over an hour-and-a-half the first time because the nerves start kicking in and the last putts are hard to make.

It’s a failure drill, you are going to fail at it, but can you handle the failure in order and put it in the back of your mind to focus on the success?


About Our Guest

Dr Bhrett McCabeBhrett McCabe, PhD is a performance and sports psychologist that has worked extensively across a variety of settings and athletic groups through his company, The MindSide, LLC. Dr. McCabe has a diverse background of working in the pharmaceutical industry in clinical trial research and education prior to returning to his academic and professional training as a clinical and sports psychologist.

At the present time, he is the Sports Psychologist for the University of Alabama Athletic Department, providing both performance and clinical services for all sports within the department, and maintains numerous players on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, and professional golf tours.

It is through the combination of being a clinical and sports psychologist that provides a unique angle for Dr. McCabe to address both performance and clinical issues in a manner for athletes to feel comfortable and motivated to enhance outcomes in a personalized and specific nature for the athlete or team.

Dr. McCabe is a licensed clinical psychologist, a graduate of Louisiana State University (BA, MA, and PhD), and completed his doctoral internship at the prestigious Brown University Clinical Psychology Training Consortium at the Brown University School of Medicine. With a clinical specialty of Behavioral Medicine and Health Psychology that emphasizes the role that psychological factors play in medical conditions, fitness, and health, he understands the physiological bases for performance as well as the psychological factors for success. Dr. McCabe provides or has provided consulting services to several members of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), including the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the University of Mississippi, as well as Samford University and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, among others.

He also worked with PGA members Kevin Chappell, 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, Heath Slocum, John Peterson, Brian Harman, Harris English, Tom Purtzer , Gary Christian, and Lee Williams, as well as LPGA players Dori Carter, Angela Stanford, Ryann O’Toole, and Haley Millsap. His amateur players have achieved top-ranked world amateur status, with multiple players competing in the US Amateur and US Junior.

While at LSU, Dr. McCabe was a four year letterman on the baseball team. During his tenure from 1991-1995, he was a member of two (2) NCAA National Championship teams, three (3) Southeastern Conference teams, and three (3) College World Series teams, all under the direction of College Baseball Hall of Fame coach and former US Olympic Team Head Coach Skip Bertman. During the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Dr. McCabe was in the top 10 in several SEC pitching statistical categories, and competed with many teammates who went on to long professional careers.

It was a result of his playing career and his own struggles overcoming an injury that led him to pursuing a career in injury rehabilitation, performance, and sports psychology.

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