Disc Golf in a Vacuum, Part 1: The epiphany

The School of Disc Golf has had the same mission statement since it’s founding in 2010: ‘to provide the  information and resources necessary for organizations and individuals to embrace the sport of disc golf in healthy and meaningful ways,’ and ‘to inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf’. So yes, we’re committed to spreading the word about disc golf and helping players improve. But creation of the School of Disc Golf was really inspired by a philosophy we call Disc Golf in a Vacuum- an approach to the game we believe takes the playing experience to a much more meaningful and enjoyable level.

I’m not a fan of first-person blog posts. They tend to read more like diary entries. But the best way to help readers understand the concept of Disc Golf in a Vacuum, and internalize it if you are so inclined, is to first explain the circumstances and history of its discovery. So here goes.

In October 2009, I played in what would be my last sanctioned PDGA event for more than four years- my one and only USDGC. A month earlier, at age 43, I had suffered what would turn out to be a serious rotator cuff injury, but I stubbornly refused to withdraw. It had long been a goal to participate in the most exclusive event in the sport of disc golf- considered a zenith in terms of competing at the highest level. This was what I had worked for, what I at that time considered the ultimate measuring stick of my game. Missing it was out of the question, even though I knew I wouldn’t come close to playing my best golf. It had to be checked off the list of disc golf achievements that seemed to important at the time.

Hole 17 at the 2009 United States Disc Golf Championship in Rock Hill, SC. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The basket and line of hay bales that mark the OB line on Hole 17 at the 2009 United States Disc Golf Championship in Rock Hill, SC. Photo by Jack Trageser.

The results were predictably brutal, and I had plenty of time to reflect on my disc golf life during the long plane ride back to California. Besides the aching, throbbing shoulder, the main feeling was one of emptiness. Not based on the poor results so much, because I’ve had a similar feeling after winning tournaments as well- when both the relief and then the rush wears off. More like a sense of something that didn’t quite provide the anticipated level or duration of contentment.

For more than a decade I had worked hard to keep getting better, with performance in competition and player rating (I ironically peaked at 999) being the ultimate barometers. Now, as I stared out the airliner’s little oval window at the topography 30,000 feet below and mused to myself about its suitability for disc golf, something changed. The thirst to compete and gauge my talents against others had finally been quenched.

Fast-forward several months, during which time I hardly touched a disc in an effort to let my arm heal. After the first week without playing a hole of disc golf, it became obvious that my love for the sport had not diminished. I was itching to get back out there. But something was definitely different.

Hole 1 at DeLaveaga veiled by a morning mist. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Hole 1 at DeLaveaga veiled by a morning mist. Photo by Jack Trageser.

My first time back on a course after USDGC was early morning on December 31st, New Years Eve. The fog hung low and heavy at DeLaveaga, obscuring all but the immediate surroundings and anyone else who might have been on the course. I was playing alone and as far as I could tell had the whole course to myself.

From the first hole, as I figured out an adjustment that allowed me to throw without too much discomfort, there was this new fascination with the flight of the disc. Maybe because I had decided beforehand to abort the round if the shoulder pain got to be too much, score was barely an afterthought. I simply focused deliberately on what I wanted to do on each shot, visualized the exact flightpath, threw, then spent the walk to the disc reflecting on what went right or wrong and why.

After months without the game I love, I savored each shot like a guy shipwrecked on a deserted island who is picked up by a cruise ship and turned loose on the breakfast buffet. The expectations based on score were gone, replaced by what I can only describe as a detached yet absorbed state of mind.

It went on like that hole after hole. For most of the round my only specific thoughts were relief that I was able to throw without too much pain and a vague sense of excited discovery- not unlike the first time someone took me disc golfing.

Hole 27 at DeLaveaga, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Photo by John Hernlund.

Hole 27 at DeLaveaga, with the city of Santa Cruz and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Photo by John Hernlund.

When I arrived at Hole 27 – the final and actually now 29th hole of the course – I sat down on the bench and just took in the sights and smells and sounds. The fog had mostly lifted and I could see the basket 580 feet away and 300 feet below through final wisps of mist. The morning chill was disappearing quickly as well. The only smell was that nondescript ‘fresh air’ smell, and I could now hear the faint rhythmic ringing of someone putting on the practice basket by the parking lot. It sounded like some kind of ceremonial music.

Hole 27 at DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course has for decades been known as ‘Top of the World’. Maybe what happened next was no coincidence, then. It was like one of those mountain-top epiphanies (minus the encounter with the long-bearded wise man who supposedly knows the secret to life).

I had been enjoying the round so deeply because I was getting fulfillment from being fully immersed in each shot, without a single thought about all the extraneous stuff. The golf and game management strategy was there somewhere in the background, on a sort of ‘auto-pilot’ setting in the back of my head, but my conscious mind was absorbed in only the planning and execution of the current throw. It’s not that score didn’t matter . . . but rather it felt like something to be set aside for later observation. And when I had a bad break, like an unlucky roll or a perfect putt inexplicably sliding through the center chains (or a good break for that matter), my reaction was just a “huh.” It wasn’t good or bad. It just was.

Aptos DGC Hole 7 Double RainbowThe only two things that did matter were: 1- whether or not the disc flew (or rolled) as I intended; and 2- that I had to take my next throw from wherever it landed, regardless of how it got there. All other value had been stripped away, and what was left was a pure, concentrated form of disc golf experience that I knew I wanted to consciously pursue from that point forward.

As soon as I got home that day, I did my best to write about the experience with the hope that I might achieve the same transcendent state next time I played.

It worked! The philosophy of Disc Golf in a Vacuum was born, and I’ve been personally embracing it ever since. And as I felt it would be criminal to keep the discovery to myself, I’ve shared the concept with anyone who would listen. School of Disc Golf was founded not long after that day as a way to formally commit to this pursuit.

To wrap up this story and provide a lead-in to Part 2 on the subject of Disc Golf in an Vacuum, I’ll briefly share what happened on the drive home that day.

After I had spent some time organizing my thoughts on what would become Disc Golf in a Vacuum, it occurred to me that I had no idea what my score was for the round. I had played by the rules and completed every hole, so I decided to go back through the round in my mind and add it all up. To my amazement, even though I had made no effort to keep track of my score I had a perfect recollection of every throw and had no problem reconstructing it. Even more surprising was the actual score: with most holes on the course set up in their most challenging positions, I shot a -3 with five birdies and only two bogies. Nowhere close to a personal best or anything, but with the months-long layoff and the bum wing I had told myself before starting that anything under +10 would have been fine.

Could it be possible that Disc Golf in a Vacuum leads to lower rounds in addition to all the experiential benefits described above- and in spite of its intentional disregard for score? Stay tuned.

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Disc Review: Vibram O-Lace

For me, the Vibram O-Lace fulfills more than four years of eager anticipation. It is the disc I’ve been itching to have in my bag since the first time I held a disc made with Vibram’s X-Link rubber compound in my hand.  Before I get to my full review, though, please indulge me by first reading a little history:

When I got to throw Vibram putters for the first time, part of my initial reaction was ‘the grip is fantastic. I can’t wait to see how the midrange discs and drivers perform when they come out!’

When the Ibex, Trak and Ascent were released, I liked them all, and asked Vibram Disc Golf head honcho Steve Dodge when they would have a long range driver. He explained that Vibram was methodically releasing discs on a regular basis, focusing on having a disc model for each category and sub-category within a couple years. I found the Ascent to be very useful as a stable fairway driver and the Trak as a versatile midrange/fairway driver finesse disc and roller. But I dreamed of throwing a long-range, fast, strongly overstable driver with the grip and ‘grab’ of the current models.

The updated Vibram flight chart

The updated Vibram flight chart

A few months later the Obex arrived in the mailboxes of us testers, and I loved it (and still do). It had all the stubborn stability I hoped for, with unusual forward glide for a disc that stable. That satisfied me for a little while, but we always want more, don’t we? I again inquired about a long range driver with the same qualities, and was patiently and politely reminded that it was coming, in due time.

Fast-forward to the release of the Lace, Vibram’s first long range, high speed driver. It quickly earned a permanent spot in my bag with its ability to go very, very far on just about any line I gave it, but I still yearned for a version that could handle ridiculous combinations of power and anhyzer angle. I said as much in my feedback to Vibram after testing it, and based on the next prototype I received, six months later, their response seemed to have been ‘be careful what you wish for!’

After the release of the Lace, Vibram sent us two models, one which resulted in the UnLace, and the other a disc easily more overstable than any I had ever thrown before. That thing had practically no glide whatsoever and seemed to almost fight the anhyzer angle I tried to give it before it even left my hand, like two strong magnets of opposing polarity. Ok, that last part was probably my imagination, but you get the picture.

I must not have been the only tester who felt that way because when the production model of the O-Lace came out -much like Baby Bear’s porridge, chair and bed – it was just right.

The Vibram O-Lace is a fast, very overstable driver. And while it doesn’t break through any barriers in terms of its speed or stability it is nonetheless a breakthrough disc.

Side view of the Vibram O=Lace

Side view of the Vibram O=Lace

There are a couple characteristics all Vibram discs have in common; first, the rubber compound provides a grip that is superior to any plastic blend, and it also tends to skip less or at least not as far. Second, the the stability-to-fade/glide ratio tends to be better as well. By that I mean that compared to other discs there isn’t as much of a tradeoff between stability and glide. The overstable discs in the Vibram lineup don’t fade as quickly as you’d expect for discs that can handle power the way they can.

All of these factors are present in the O-Lace, and that is why I consider this disc so special.

Think about it: the fastest drivers are normally the hardest to throw and typically involve the most extreme effort on the part of the thrower. What better time to have a sure, reliable grip? And which discs tend to get away at the end of the flight due to a sharp fade? Just check the flight charts. The answer is fast, overstable drivers, of course. But the O-Lace is notably different.

When I took mine out to Pinto Lake, where the holes in the upper meadow all have fast fairways and OB lines left and right on every hole, that difference was remarkable. Thanks to that grip I felt I had full control as I put it through its paces. It handled both low flat screamers and big power anhyzers, always ending with reliable fade at the end. It netted just as much distance as any other similar disc in my bag. And probably the most useful feature on that course where discs so easily skip-and-slide out of bounds was the way it bit and stopped quickly even when landing fast on a sharp edge. I was able to throw much more aggressive drives on those open but dangerous holes, knowing that my disc would not skip fast and far on the hard terrain- unless the shot was designed to do so.

There is only one thing I don’t like about the O-Lace, and this goes for pretty much all Vibram discs: The variegated (definition: exhibiting different colors, especially as irregular patches or streaks) coloring of Vibram discs create two annoying problems. First, any disc that is not one solid, bright color is harder to find on the course. If you play in an area with lots of rough this is an issue. Second (and this is more of an annoyance than anything else), when you go to pull one of these discs out of your bag you naturally look for a disc of the predominant color on the disc. But if it has a different color on part of its edge, you may forget to look for that color as well and wonder why you can’t find the disc you’re looking for. I assume Vibram does the multi-color thing as a distinguishing design factor, but I’m hoping they someday soon give players a choice of solid or variegated coloring.

My suggestion is to try a Vibram disc if you haven’t already. And if you have room in your bag, consider an O-Lace for the unique qualities I’ve described. Sometimes you want that long skip, but just as often you don’t.

Posted in disc golf, disc reviews, frisbee golf, product review, product reviews, Vibram | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lost discs: practical preventative steps to avoid that void in your bag

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Discs ain’t cheap- especially if everything you throw is premium plastic or rubber that runs $15 or more a pop. And we all own some that would fall into the category of ‘it’s not the money’; discs that are worked in just the way we want, discs that are out of production, in high demand, hard to replace, or have sentimental value. Equipment is part (albeit, in my opinion, a minor part) of what enables us to perform our best, and if our most important tool is suddenly gone, our game is likely to suffer.

For all these reasons, it makes sense to have a strategy to reduce the lost disc factor. Below is a collection of observations I’ve made over time and some changes I’ve made based on those observations.

Brand your discs like cattle

There is an unwritten rule in disc golf that a person is less obligated to try to find the owner of a found disc when it is completely devoid of a name, number, or identifying mark. So it naturally follows that unmarked discs get reunited with their owners far less often than those that are marked. But lets dig a little deeper. Everyone approaches labeling their discs a little differently, so what type of markings produce the best results in terms of getting back the lost little lambs?

This collection of discs from the author's bag show the consistency and readability of his 'personal branding'. Look closely, and you notice that some need a fresh coat, and the rare gummy Beast on top has the brand written backwards on the bottom so it shows correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.

This collection of discs from the author’s bag show the consistency and readability of his ‘personal branding’. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some need a fresh coat, which they received right after the photo was taken. Photo by Jack Trageser.

  • Name and Contact Info- People who find your disc that are inclined to try to contact you personally can’t do that if you don’t put down some contact info. I used to list my email address in addition to my phone number but no one ever used it, so I just stick with the phone number. That way they can call or text, hopefully right when they find it. Both name and number should be large and clear on the top or bottom of the disc (not the inside rim). Make it big enough so it won’t get erased or obscured through wear-and-tear, it’s easy to read, and also discourages finders from becoming keepers (those who may be temped to erase it or write over it). In this photo of multiple discs, the lighter orange disc was lost, and a friend noticed my faded JACKT on a photo on eBay. The perpetrator had attempted to erase it but wasn’t quite successful (I re-did it, in a more creative manner for fun). Good thing, as I got that disc from Steady Ed himself and it still serves active duty as a finesse roller.
  • Personal Branding- This one has gotten me back numerous discs I would not otherwise have seen again. The key is to make sure the way you brand your discs is very consistent, and fairly large. People I play with even occasionally remember the way I write JACKT on the underside of all my discs, and get them back to me. I’ve had them spot my discs on the course, in Lost-and-Found, and even in the hands of other players! My favorite story along these lines was when someone I don’t know approached a friend of mine (RIP, Slingshot Steve) and asked “What do you think of this disc?” Steve, quickly spotting the JACKT, replied “I THINK it belongs to a friend of mine,” and snatched it out of the guy’s hand. The key is to come up with a way of writing your name that is readable, unique, and simple enough to replicate on each disc.
Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Even pretty see-through discs must be branded. The author writes backwards on the bottom so it reads correctly on top. Photo by Jack Trageser.

  • Practical over Aesthetics- Golf discs in your bag are there to do a job, not look pretty. I know it mars the beauty of a translucent disc to write your name on it in large, bold letters, but you gotta ask yourself what’s more important- Keeping the disc pristine, or keeping the disc . . . period? It’s like not wearing a helmet riding a motorcycle because you don’t want to mess up your hair. And no, I don’t think I’m over dramatizing (much) with that analogy- we’re talking about our discs here!

Natural (Disc) Selection

Whereas the first point dealt with retrieving discs from others who find them, this one concerns being able to find them after an errant throw. The color of a disc significantly impacts the chance of spotting it on the course. You players who frequent wide open courses, or courses where the terrain is all manicured, regularly mowed grass might feel they can ignore this section- but read on. Disc golfers love to travel to new courses, and chances are you’ll at some point play courses like the ones I frequent in Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. Thick bushes and ground cover, tall grass and dense, gnarly trees abound, and that’s just on the fairways!

Seriously, though, playing here has forced me to take ‘spot-ibility’ into consideration when selecting discs. Whenever possible, I choose discs in solid, bright, unnatural colors. That way I can search for the color more than the shape of the disc. Kind of like those old natural selection experiments we read about in textbooks using white and dark moths and white and dark trees- except in reverse. The discs that stand out most are the ones that will survive.

Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Quick- how many discs do you see? Which one caught your eye first? Enlarge the picture if necessary. Especially when only the edge is showing, bright colors really make a difference. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Black, dark green, and any discs in earth tones that blend in with the terrain are obvious loss-risks (although manufacturers still make them and people still buy ‘em). Another kind of easy-to-lose color is more surprising; even if the colors are bright and unnatural, tie-dye and really any multi-colored discs are hard to spot as well. The variegated patterns help them blend into nearly any background. Tie-dye shirts jump out at you, but not tie-dye discs. Go figure.

Bad Habits

We’ve covered a couple things you can do in preparation of playing to reduce lost discs. Now let’s examine a few habits and activities that tend increase the separation of player and disc.

Sometimes when we throw a really bad shot and know it immediately, it’s hard to watch. I really do think we sometimes turn away or cover out eyes not to be dramatic, but because it’s painful to see a well-planned shot gone bad. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, and it’s a situation that sometimes leads to a lost disc. If I don’t see exactly where it lands I have less of an idea specifically where to start searching for it.

Where I play, hiding places are numerous and discs can get lost on even the most innocuous of throws. So I try hard to watch my disc closely, no matter how ugly the result. I try to remember to commit where it lands to memory, and if it disappears from sight before it comes to rest, I try to note the trajectory and some type of nearby landmark as a reference point to begin the search. The word ‘try’ was in italics because occasionally I note those things but forget them immediately, making the whole exercise pointless. The trick is to pay attention to where your disc goes and retain that information until it’s time to look for it.

Here’s another one. Ever thrown a drive – maybe just before dark, or warming up for a tournament right before it’s about to start – and get the impulse, because of the unsatisfactory results, to throw one more? A little voice warns ‘Don’t do it!’ but you ignore the warning, launch the disc, and almost immediately regret it. A disc golf version of ‘one too many’, it seems the odds of losing the disc in situations like this for some reason dramatically increase. The only advice here is to listen to that little voice, and remember that as Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, ‘discretion is the better part of valor’. Let that disc live to fly another day.

A variation of this affliction is known as ‘throwing the bag’, in which one is impelled to throw every disc in one’s quiver- usually on a particularly awe-inspiring hole. Two things can go wrong here: Either you throw so many discs that you forget one in the search-and-rescue effort, or you throw so many that the odds that at least one gets lost increases. If you can’t resist throwing multiple discs on an irresistible hole, try to note and remember the location of each disc you throw. The odds that one of your babies gets lost on its own won’t go down, but at least you won’t arrive at the landing zone with that ‘uh-oh’ feeling.

The subject of playing new courses while traveling was mentioned above, but is worth revisiting. If you’re playing a course you’ve never played before – especially if you’re just passing through and likely not to return any time soon, and especially especially if you’re playing solo – consider leaving your most precious discs out of the bag. When you don’t know the course it’s much easier to lose a disc, and when you’re solo the odds of finding it go down. Having a local as a guide helps quite a bit, but if you do lose a disc on that faraway course, odds of having it returned are not great. Instead, bring some ‘stunt doubles’ that won’t hurt as much to lose. Your score may suffer a little, but that sting is temporary compared to the loss of a key disc.

As a side note, it should also go without saying that being in an altered state of mind is often a contributing factor to lost – or forgotten – discs. To each his or her own, but play straight-edge and you’ll be amazed at how many fewer discs you ‘lose’. Disc golf should be enough in and of itself, anyway.

Golfers can easily get attached ( and that’s an understatement) to their equipment. The difference is, ball golfers bond with clubs but it’s the balls that go flying away into the horizon. In disc golf, there is only the disc- and us disc golfers can bond with one mighty quick. If I can prevent just one separation of player and disc, then this post was worth the effort.

Posted in DaLearning Curve, DeLaBlahg, disc golf, disc golf instruction, frisbee golf, instruction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vibram’s casual Birdie Bash events catching on quickly

Last year, Vibram Disc Golf decided to take a concept that has worked well for Discraft and more recently Legacy Discs (the ‘Ace Race’) and find ways to improve upon it. By all measurement, they succeeded, and this year it promises to be bigger and better. School of Disc Golf likes the idea so much it is hosting the first Birdie Bash to be held in Santa Cruz County. More on that below.

Birdie Bashes are designed to emphasize fun and casual over serious and competitive. Each player receives two Vibram discs of his or her choosing, and uses those discs exclusively to compete for points that are awarded for aces (3 points), birdies (2) and hitting metal on the first or second shot (1). The basic model is superior to the ace race model, in this writer’s opinion, for a number of reasons but two in particular: players get to choose their discs (rather than all getting two of the same disc); and they can score points in a number of different ways rather than just nailing an unlikely ace.

According to Vibram’s head honcho Steve Dodge, last years inaugural series included 90 events and 3,400 competitors worldwide. The expectation this year is 150-200 events and 6,000 players. The company also sent out a comprehensive questionnaire to last years’ participants, and 95 percent said they had ‘fun’ or ‘lots of fun’. And Vibram listened to and acted upon feedback on how they would be able to make it even better.

“One other huge statistic is that these events are a great way to get casual discers into the ‘organized’ disc golf scene,” said Dodge. “Over 50 percent of the players said that the VBB was their first tournament. That was a great thing to hear.”

And what specific changes were made for this years’ events based on feedback from last years participants and tournament directors?

  • The addition of a women’s division
  • All players packs will be pre-assembled by Vibram to ensure everyone receives the correct discs and shirt size (also making things much easier on TD’s)
  • A smaller grand prize in order to provide more/better ctp’s and card prizes
  • A Spirit Award

Players will appreciate all of those changes, but the Spirit Award in particular is special to Dodge. “Disc golf embodies the culture of the disc – where people compete WITH each other instead of AGAINST each other. Positive attitude, respect, acceptance and honor . . . none of these rules out some amazing competition,” said Dodge. Players will each be able to vote for a fellow player for the Spirit Award, with suggested criteria including the following:

  •     Is fair-minded and respectful
  •     Has a positive attitude
  •     Is happy when someone else makes a great shot
  •     Listens and considers
  •     Is respected by their competitors
  •     Treats others as they would want to be treated
  •     Believes there is someone else more deserving
  •     Instantly helps to find a lost disc
  •     Is happy to be surrounded by so many friends while playing disc
  •     Has fun

The Birdie Bash in Santa Cruz will be held at the Aptos High School course on March 29, 2014. Click here to sign up online for the Aptos event, and click here for additional details, on playing in and even hosting a Birdie Bash in your area. And stay tuned for a follow-up post in April with a summary of how it went.

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Subtraction by subtraction: Eliminating these mental errors will lead to lower scores

The term ‘addition by subtraction’ refers to the potential for improving something by removing one or more variable from the equation. In a sports context it’s normally applied to a scenario where the elimination of a negative factor (an under-performing player or negative influence on a team, for instance) results in some type of improvement. But in golf, less is more, right? We want those scores to go down, not up. Therefore, the title of this post is Subtraction by Subtraction. Same concept, but embracing the points below will result in strokes being subtracted from your average score. Got it? Okay, here we go!

Those angry, bitter second-attempt putts

When a missed putt is followed in rapid succession with another, almost always harder putt out of anger or disgust, nothing good can come of it. The thought right before that action is taken is usually something along the lines of “I can’t believe I just missed that #*$^@* putt!” The specific reason that anger translates to firing another disc at the basket has never been scientifically proven, but I suspect it has to do with the general desire to throw something at something when frustrated.

The problem is that this rash act is detrimental to one’s game in a couple different ways. First of all there is the issue of emotional control. Getting overly excited (due to negative events or positive events) is likely to take a player’s focus off of where it needs to be. Decisions then get made based on emotions rather than logic, which is not a good thing. That tendency is always lurking in the shadows if not already romping around freely, and an emotional outburst is like a size 14 wide foot-in-the-door.

It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai'i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.

It may be easier to stay calm in Hawai’i, but angry second putts are never a good thing. Photo by Al Schwartz.

The other issue at play here is the fact that players who make this mistake are in essence reinforcing bad technique- unless firing the putter with extreme malice is how he always putts. Regardless of whether the rash second putt goes in the basket or not, it serves no constructive purpose since it isn’t representative of the players ideal form and tempo. If you’re playing a casual round or a match play event where practice putts are not prohibited, and you take an extra putt or two not as an angry reflex but because you immediately recognized a flaw in your putt and want to iron it out, that’s completely different. In that case the behavior is constructive and completely fine.

Second guessing vs. analytical reflection

As a general rule, the proper thing to be thinking about during a round of disc golf is the next shot. Any other thoughts are unproductive at best, and capable of downright sabotage at worst. But we are not machines, and our minds will go where they will go. The trick is to recognize when it has wandered into the wrong zone and guide it back to the right one: the next shot.

And briefly reflecting on the shot just thrown is a good practice, as long as that reflection is brief and of an analytical nature rather than simple second guessing. Personally, I like to capture the details of the shot and the results like a snapshot in my mind, move on to the next shot, then analyze the notable ones (good and bad) later after the round. Whether you do it briefly during the round, afterward, or both, the key is to approach your review and appraisal in a constructive frame of mind. Collect information rather than passing judgement.

Why did the disc fly that way? What should I do differently next time? Second guessing is just dwelling on the past. If your reflections on an errant throw stop there they serve no constructive purpose, and worse, erode confidence in both your skills and your decision-making. Instead, use every throw as an opportunity to add to an ever-growing database that helps you benefit from each disc golf experience.

Selecting shots based on wishful thinking

A major element of playing smart golf is to know your own game. Don’t confuse confidence with wishful thinking. You may really, really want to clear that lake with your drive, but if your longest throw ever was 350 feet in perfect conditions and a 345-foot drive is required to reach the opposite shore it probably isn’t the wisest choice. Smart golf is about, to loosely paraphrase Clint Eastwood, knowing your limitations.

A big part of game management in golf is being able to quickly assess the percentages for any given shot. What is your chance of successful execution? What is the reward if you do- and the repercussions if you don’t? If you’re not able to make a realistic and sober assessment of your own capabilities, assessing accurate odds on a shot is nearly impossible.

Selecting shots based on another player’s throw

A similar and fairly common error that is even more insidious in the way it can creep into one’s thoughts is letting the shot of another player influence decision-making. This can happen on drives, putts and anything in between. Sometimes it’s seeing someone else get big distance then overthrowing to equal it. Other times it’s seeing a different approach or route and reconsidering what you had planned. And yet others it’s pure, uncomplicated ego. You were planning to lay up a tricky 35-foot putt, but the other guy goes for his that happens to be five feet longer and just as risky- and nails it.

Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.

Make a decision and stick with it- despite what the other guy does. Photo by Jack Trageser.

In some of these situations the alternative actually makes sense, but all too often last minute changes-of-mind based on another player’s shot result in disaster- regardless of whether they make sense or not. Trust your own instincts and play your own game. It’s you against the course (and the occasional unruliness of your own mind). Sometimes actually sticking to this advice may require drastic measures. There have been times where I’ve been grouped with players that all had more power off the tee than me, and I purposefully didn’t watch their drives so as not to be influenced!

The ‘ol Over-Correct and the ol’ Double-Adjust

Everyone is guilty of this one at one time or another, and correcting it is not so much a matter of eliminating a bad habit as increasing awareness of when it’s most likely to happen.

Some ‘mis-throws’ stick with me longer than others, and I’m guessing I’m not alone. And when I am faced with a similar circumstance with that mistake fresh in my mind, the overriding thought in my mind is ‘don’t make the same mistake this time’. For example, I might have tried to throw a neutral-stable disc with an intended flight path of flying straight for the first half of the flight and then turning over the rest of the way without coming out and hyzering back at the end. Instead, the disc turns over too soon and flies right into the trees I intended to get past then curve around.

The next time I’m faced with that same shot or a similar one, I remember the earlier mistake and am focused almost exclusively on not repeating it. There are two different reactionary flaws that can result from this: the ‘ol over correct and the ol’ double correct. The over correct is a scenario that is usually immediately apparent to the player when it happens- like chucking the disc 50 feet past the basket on a short hole because it came up 25 feet short the last time.

The ‘ol double correct, on the other hand, is a little more complex. Consider the example above- the one where the disc turned over too soon. With this shot, there are a number of different ways I might try to affect a different outcome. I could start the disc on a more conservative line, or give it more elevation, or less spin . . . or even throw a different disc. Any one of these might work, with the key word being ‘one’. Sometimes rather than thinking sharply and clearly about the problem and arriving at a specific solution, I let all of those possibilities float around in my head and end up employing two or more of them. For instance, I might throw the disc a little higher and take a little off of it, resulting in a shot that never turns over at all.

The central theme in this type of mental error, and the habit to avoid, is focusing on the mistake rather than the necessary elements of the same shot executed correctly. Turn ‘don’t do this’ brain commands into ‘do this’ commands. And that brings us to one final point, the broader problem of negative brain commands.

Negative brain commands

These come in many different flavors (including the ones just mentioned), but my favorite example is thinking to yourself ‘don’t hit that tree’. The better objective, of course, is ‘throw the disc right in the middle of that space between that tree and the bushes to the left of it.

If your thought is ‘don’t hit that tree,’ the brain, for some reason can’t process it successfully. Either it just hears the last three words (‘hit that tree’), or it can’t discern the logic of not doing something. It knows that the only way to be certain to not hit the tree is to not throw the disc. Yet the disc must be thrown, so it turns more into a hope than a confident plan. Out of all the mental errors listed here, this one might be the simplest to catch and correct. Whenever you notice yourself speaking or thinking about shot selections and objectives phrased in the negative (hint: the word ‘don’t’ is almost always involved), take the time to replace it with the positive alternative.

All of the things listed here are logical and difficult to argue with, I think, but agreeing with the logic doesn’t make it easy to eliminate the mistakes. The best advice is to learn to be more conscious of all the thoughts floating through your head and find ways to replace them, or better yet prevent them from showing up in the first place. The example I gave of not watching my competitors’ drives so I wouldn’t automatically overthrow trying to match them is only one of the little devices I’ve created. For me, overcoming these mental flaws is half the fun of the game.

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All things disc golf. Dot com.

This website serves as the home of School of Disc Golf, a disc golf instruction and event organization based in Santa Cruz, CA. To the broader disc golfer community we’d like to think that we’re also a good source of instructional and opinion posts. As stated in our mission statement, School of Disc Golf “strives to provide the  information and resources necessary for organizations and individuals to embrace the sport of disc golf in healthy and meaningful ways. Our ultimate goal is to inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf.”

We seek to reach the largest audience possible, and to that end have in the past also published posts at RattlingChains.com. The partnership has worked well for both sites, but in keeping with our mission statement (‘inform as many people as possible about the numerous benefits of disc golf’), we’ve decided that change is in order. We thank RattlingChains for a great run together and wish them nothing but the best in the future.

Moving forward, School of Disc Golf posts will appear at the rapidly expanding All Things Disc Golf. This site is the undisputed leading disc golf blog in terms of page views and unique visitors, and until now its content has consisted mainly of product reviews and Q&A interviews. The new affiliation of School of Disc Golf is only one facet of All Things Disc Golf’s expansion that will add instructional content, feature stories, increased tournament coverage, and contributions from several talented graphic artists. You can read the detailed announcement here.

We’re excited to be part of a larger effort to reach the masses with the great story that is disc golf, and as always School of Disc Golf will continue to also focus on helping those who already love the sport improve their skills, scores and enjoyment.

Posted in All Things Disc Golf, DeLaBlahg, disc golf, disc golf instruction, Disc Golf Technique, frisbee golf, instruction, Jack Tupp, product review, santa cruz | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5.5 different reasons to practice putting in disc golf

Conventional wisdom says putting is a crucial facet of any successful  golfer’s game- and conventional wisdom is correct. No one who has ever spent a round crushing long, accurate drives only to score poorly because he couldn’t hit a putt would argue. Yet few players practice putting with a purposeful, regular routine.

If you’re reading this you are likely someone that has at least a moderate desire to shoot lower scores on the disc golf course. Therefore, if you’re not systematically working to improve your putting skills and consistency, the question is why?

One logical answer is that you’ve never heard a specific reason or reasons that resonated strongly enough with you personally. It’s one thing to agree with the logic in a general, vague sort of way and quite another to be able to connect the dots with a straight line that leads directly to a result you value highly. Therefore, the below 5.5 reasons to practice putting in disc golf are presented as a means of motivating more players to create and stick to a putting practice routine.

1. Getting better & scoring better

This is the main reason to practice anything in sports. The bottom line. The ultimate quantification to judge whether practice is translating into desired results. It’s also where most players’ understanding of why they should practice begins and ends. In this case, we practice putting because the better the putting success rate in a given round, the lower the score. This is observable, cause-and-effect, incontrovertible truth. Hit the putt and you’ve successfully completed that hole and can move on to the next one. Miss it, and (at least) one more stroke is added to your score.

Which brings us to the relationship between practicing putting and improving one’s putting success rate in actual rounds of disc golf. Have you ever thought beyond the fact that practicing something makes you better at it, and asked yourself why? In golf, due to its unique psychological components, the explanation goes much deeper than simple cause-and-effect. Consider the next 4.5 points, which are really sub-points to this first no-brainer. Also, take note of how they either build on or connect to the other sub-points as well as this first basic fact.

2. Confidence

Naturally the more you practice something, the better you should get at it- with ‘better’ in this context being defined as being successful more often (making more putts). Nothing gives a person confidence they can accomplish something like knowing they’ve accomplished it many times before. Therefore, practice should result in improvement, improvement is defined by more made putts, and more made putts will naturally increase confidence in future putts.

The second part of the maxim ‘Practice like you play, and play like you practice’ alludes to this. If you’ve put in the practice hours and repeatedly experienced what it feels like to hit that 20-footer, when it comes time to do it in a round you’ll be armed with greater confidence. ‘Play like you practice’ is meant to be a reminder during a round that you’ve made this putt many times in practice, so just do now what you do in practice.

This point probably isn’t a big revelation to you either. Naturally experiencing more and more success will give a person increased confidence. But what, specifically, does that mean? Are there additional, ‘collateral’ benefits as well? Turns out there are!

Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in more made putts. Photo by Rebecca Stark.

Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in more made putts. Photo by Rebecca Stark.

2.5 Stress reduction/emotional energy conservation

The mental game is key to success in any sport, and in golf it’s nothing short of crucial. Confidence is one component of a good mental approach to golf, for reasons stated above. It gives a player the belief she can make the putt she’s about to attempt, enabling her to credibly visualize the successful attempt. But it also benefits the player through something that it eliminates or greatly reduces- namely stress.

Players who get emotionally invested in a competitive event (tournament, tag round, whatever) have a palpable yearning for success on each throw. With that comes an equally strong negative reaction when things don’t go well. Without confidence, this translates in putting (especially on putts we think we should make) to a dread of missing. Being able to conjure up the memory of thousands of made putts of the same distance during practice time and previous rounds acts like Valium or Xanax on this kind of stress.

This is very important over the course of an entire round, much less a tournament spanning three or four rounds! Playing focused golf for hours at a time requires an enormous amount of mental focus and emotional energy, and stressing out over every throw quickly takes a toll. Practice results in confidence, and confidence results in less stress (and less misses, which also means less stress).

3. The inverted pyramid effect on shot selection

Smart disc golfers always consider the ramifications of the next shot before they decide on a disc, route, or approach. A basic example would be a right-handed player throwing backhand not choosing a super overstable disc on a left-to-right dogleg with a lake all along the left side of the fairway. That’s using logic to determine that a disc which will hook left into the lake is not a smart play. This logic extends to other variables as well, and the player’s capabilities should always be among them.

This inverted pyramid illustrates how all other types of disc golf shots are dependent upon and affected by one's putting game.

This inverted pyramid illustrates how all other types of disc golf shots are dependent upon and affected by one’s putting game.

In this sense shot selection is like an inverted pyramid with putting at the tip of the pyramid and driving at the base (which in this case is on top, since it’s inverted or upside-down- see illustration). With each shot selection determined at least in part by what the player is realistically able to execute on the following throw, the options on an upshot and sometimes on a drive are based on the player’s putting ability. Consider the following example:

You shanked your drive on a par 3 hole into the rough, and are looking at numerous trees and bushes between you and the basket, which is only 80 feet away. There are several routes to consider, with none of them being routine. You’re obviously hoping to get up and down for a par. If you have confidence in your ability to hit putts from 25 feet and in, you can imagine a 50-foot diameter circle with the basket in the center, then look for the highest percentage route that gets you anywhere within that circle (route B in the diagram).

In this diagram, route A can get you right to the basket, but it'll be tough for even a very skilled player to pull off and odds of execution are small; Option B is a more realistic option in terms of executing the shot, but will only get you within 25 feet of the basket.

In this diagram, route A can get you right to the basket, but it’ll be tough for even a very skilled player to pull off and odds of execution are small; Option B is a more realistic option in terms of executing the shot, but will only get you within 25 feet of the basket.

If you don’t have any confidence in your ability to make putts (but still hoping to save par), you’ll instinctively limit your consideration of routes to one that will let you get right to the basket (route A)- even if the odds of executing that upshot are small.

So in this case, practice results in confidence, which in turn results in more options on the preceding upshot, which results in choosing a higher-percentage shot, which results in a putt you can make due in part to confidence, due in large part to practice. And to take it a step further, the stress reduction mentioned in 2.5 also applies to your reaction to shanking your drive, because you had the confidence that you’d at least save par due to the fact that your upshot only had to get within 25 feet of the basket (hey, you hit those putts all the time in practice!). That’s the inverted pyramid on shot selection.

4. Psychological warfare (but the pacifist kind)

Disc golf is a played largely within your own mind (see famous Bobby Jones quote), as it’s just you against the course and the elements. It never pays to get wrapped up in what competitors are doing or saying, or how they are playing. Competitively, when it comes to other players the best thing you can do find is a way to enclose yourself in a bubble and allow only neutral interactions with others inside (like reporting scores on a hole, or responding politely but succinctly to casual chit-chat). If others can’t help getting wrapped up in you and your game, though, it’s no fault of yours. And the truth is, some players (to their detriment) allow their game to be affected by the play of others.

When such players see a competitor who not only hits most of his putts but seems to know he’s going to hit the putt as soon as he places his mini on the ground, it can get to them.

In this case practice leads to confidence, confidence leads to less stress, less stress leads to a calm, controlled demeanor, and that ‘never let ‘em see you sweat’ demeanor leads to added stress for the other guy. Don’t feel bad! It’s not like you were trying to psyche the guy out. You’re just playing your game. What he perceives and how he reacts is his deal.

5. Muscle memory

This one has much more science to back it up. The Wikipedia entry for muscle memory has a great, succinct definition of the term which says in part “When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.” Go to the wiki page if you want to understand exactly how it works, or just accept it as fact. The more you practice something (assuming you get to the point where you’re doing it correctly and getting the results you want), the easier and more automatic it will become. In a sense, muscle memory is part of the confidence that grows from practice, or at least it is the fertile soil that gives it the best chance to grow.

I guess there is one more reason to practice putting. Fun! Have you ever seen the bumper sticker that says ‘The worst day fishing is better than the best day working’? If you love to play disc golf, committing 15 minutes a day to practice putting in a purposeful way can’t be too much of a sacrifice. This post isn’t about what kind of routine yields the best results, or which routine makes it the most fun or interesting. This is all about helping you to understand the many reasons it’s worth the while.

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