How many times has any of the following happened to you?
- You miss badly on a tricky and/or risky putt, and almost immediately after it leaves your hand you realize that although you thought you had decided to go for it, the disc comes out weak and unsure- maybe wobbling more than usual and way too low.
- You hit a tree right after you made not hitting the tree your primary focus
- You catch yourself thinking about your overall score, and the impact your last throw had or your next throw will have on your score, even as it’s your turn and you’re seconds away from executing that next throw
I’ve been guilty of all three. Many, many times.
And there are plenty other similar scenarios that play out over the course of any given round of disc golf, but they all have as their root cause one of two basic deficiencies – and usually a combination of both.
- An inability to step outside ourselves and think about what we’re thinking about. Huh?! Consider the first bullet point above. Often when that happens to me I’ll say something like this to no one in particular: “I tried to go for that, but my body didn’t agree,” or “my body didn’t let me”. And that’s really what it feels like; like my body – knowing better than my brain – refused to obey the command. In reality though, I was doubting the decision to go for it the entire time, but didn’t consciously recognize those thoughts because I wanted to go for it, ‘cuz I wanted to make it.
- Lack of a full appreciation of how much of an impact #1 has on a competitive round of disc golf, or lack of a plan to develop that type of mental focus.
Here’s the deal: We constantly have thoughts floating through our brains, and unless we train ourselves to monitor those thoughts most of them sneak under the radar of our self awareness. It’s like when one of your shoes comes untied as you step onto the teepad. If you don’t notice it, you’ll go right on with the scissor-step run-up to your drive and possibly trip over the errant shoelace, providing comic relief for your group and likely a disastrous result for you. Errant thoughts are just like errant shoelaces, and the trick is to learn how to be aware of them. Because once you’re aware of them, you can deal with them. Being aware of one’s shoelaces is easy- just look down at your feet before stepping on the pad (or wear Velcro shoes). Being aware of errant thoughts, though, requires a little (lot!) more effort and practice.
Just like the rest of your game, developing this awareness requires consistent practice. You will see results over time, but you must keep up the practice to keep seeing the results. So how do you practice something so vague and difficult to define? The good news (especially for those of you who hate being told the most useful practice always takes place off the course) is this is something you can practice on the course during rounds. In fact, this type of mental focus is hard to practice effectively any other way. The best way to develop this particular type of mental focus is to develop a pre-shot routine and then practice replicating it without fail whenever you play holes on the course.
Everyone that has one uses a slightly different pre-shot routine, and covering all the different types would make for another lengthy blog entry altogether. I’ll try to ask some top players about theirs in the near future and post ’em here. For now, it’s enough to know that most include a couple main components: the clear separation and repeated order of the different steps of the routine; and visualization. Both of these elements are important, because they make it easier to identify a rogue thought (see the bullets at the beginning of this entry) and replace it with the one that will give you the best chance at success.First, the steps and the order, then a few words on visualization:
- Assessing the situation- This step can (and should) begin as soon as the disc stops moving after your last shot. Begin considering all the factors that will help you decide what to do on your next shot (obstacles, slope, wind, odds of execution and risk/reward for your various options, etc.) and think of nothing else. A big mistake many players make is not making a conscious and focused effort to begin this step as soon as possible, then having to rush through it when it’s their turn to throw.
- Making a decision- Most of the heavy lifting has been done in step 1; the most important aspect of this step is to recognize the point at which you’ve made up your mind and not allow any second-guessing after that point. If you wait until it’s your turn to throw to consider all this, you’ll combine steps 1 and 2, and probably 3 as well. as you don’t want thoughts from any of these steps crossing over into the other steps. That’s when good thoughts go rogue!
- Execution- It’s this final part of the process where most personal idiosyncrasies can be found. It might be exactly three deep breaths before stepping up to the mini, it might be one practice stroke without the disc in hand. These are known as mechanisms that help a player tune into herself/himself and tune out distractions. But at some point in this step, visualizing the exact shot you want to throw (with a successful result) is mysteriously but amazingly effective.
Much has been written and said about visualization, but for the purpose of this blog entry I’ll just say one thing: It helps to block out the rogue thoughts that you don’t want in your head right before you throw. It’s pretty simple, actually. If you’re thinking about something constructive, you can’t be thinking about something destructive at the same time.
If you develop a routine along these guidelines, and stay faithful to it, it’ll make it easier to identify these harmful or at best distracting thoughts so you can step back from your shot and replace them with the proper thoughts according to where you’re at in your routine. After working on it for a little while, you’ll be surprised how much better you’ll be at thinking about what your thinking about. You’ll become much more aware, more often, when your thoughts are straying away from where you want them to be. And that sense of self-awareness will help you get to the next level, no matter where your game is at now.