Mind control in disc golf- first step: thinking about what you’re thinking about

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.

Results from the Enduro Ice Bowl at DeLaveaga

According to TD Mark ‘DeLaDiscman’ Karleskind’s Facebook wall, 95 people played the 56-hole marathon at DeLa last weekend, with more than $1,000 and mucho canned food donated to local charities. Steve Lonhart (winner of the Open Masters division) was nice enough to take the stats from Mark and dump them into a spreadsheet (table inserted below).

I didn’t play, but here are a few things that jump out at me just looking at the scores:

  • The competition gets tougher every year. This year’s ranks included multiple World Champions, two fists full of 1000-rated and sponsored players, and a tour bag full of players that are close to that 1000 rating and/or have won on tour before.
  • Scheduled to play were also Nikko Locastro and Gregg Barsby, but they didn’t make it after raving at the Harding place the night before.
  • With DeLa in the traditional ‘super short’ Ice Bowl setup, the amoun of bogey strokes players tool was again as telling as their birdie total. Nate Doss won Open with a bogey-free -29. Chris Edwards ended up in fourth place, even though he had 26 birdies to 3rd place finisher Shasta Criss’s 24 (due to his seven bogey strokes compared to Shasta’s two). In the Open Masters division Pat Brown’s 27 birdies equaled winner Lonhart’s total, but he had three bogeys compared to two for Steve, and ended up tied with Jon Baldwin for 2nd.
  • The advanced division is even more telling. The winner, Sean Jack, shot a -9 with 13 birdies and only four bogey strokes. By comparison, TJ Goodwin had 17 birdies but only managed 6th place because of 14 bogey strokes.
  • 65 of the 95 players signed up in Amateur divisions, with AM2 once again the most populous at 31 players. In this type of event, where all divisions earn cash (not just the Open divisions), a guy shooting -6 (the AM2 winner) wins way more money than the guy that shoots -29 (Open winner Nate Doss). And we wonder why so many people play AM2!

Congrats to the winners, and everyone who finished the seven-hour marathon. Here are the scores:

MPO                     Score    Place    Birdies
Doss, Nate             -29          1           29
Avery Jenkins       -26           2           28
Criss, Shasta         -22           3           24
Edwards, Chris     -19           4           26
Moravec, Steve     -17          5           21
Visel, Robert         -16          6           18
Breazeale, Greg    -13           7          19
Borjeson, Jammer  -9            8          16
Esper, Jason            -7           9          14
Powell, Mike          -7           9          12
Peremba, Mike       -6          11         15
Smith, Don             -6          11         19
Demers, Anthony   -1          13         11
Utley, Kevin           -1          13         10
Gonzales, Ruben     4          15           8
Sjostrom, Evan       7           16          8
Tegenkamp, Mark   7          16         10
Volhontseff, Marcus 13       18         90

MPM                    Score    Place    Birdies
Lonhart, Steve        -25          1           27
Brown, Patrick       -24          2           27
Baldwin, Jon          -24          2           26
Rob Ryan               -18          4           24
Fiedler, Geoff         -13         5            19
Scott, Matt               -7          6            16
Werner, Doug          -4           7           10
Hapner, Martin        -1           8            9
Hines, Steve            15           9            6

WPO                 Score    Place    Birdies
Jenkins, Valarie     -3         1             12

Weigand, Suzie    35         2               1
Randall, Lorena   34         1               2

MA1                     Score    Place    Birdies
Jack, Sean              -9            1            13
Davis, Kyle            -8            2            13
Gero, Zachary        -7            3            13
Brookman, Sean    -4            4            16
Goodwin, TJ          -3            5            17
Hardcastle, Patrick -2           6            10
Badovick, Scott      -1           7            12
Wirtz, Brad              0           8             7
Nyerges, Jeff           0            8            11
Shustack, Matt        1           10           11
Rios, Miguel           2           11             7
Lewycky, Rocky     6           12            6
Hast, Jesse               6          12           11
Chance, Eli              6          12           10
Butler, Richard        7          15             8
Ramirez, Rey         13         16             6
Wootan, Daniel      13         16             7
Ferdig, Elliot          13         16            6
Jacobs, Matt           18         19            8
Kestler, Joe             25         20           4
Miller, Carl             35         21           1

MA2                         Score    Place    Birdies
Antos, Mike                -6            1           13
Kitrick, Ian                 -6            2           16
Huff, Chris                 -5            3            13
Sadell, Matt                -2            4           12
McNamara, Ryan        6             5           11
Blevins, Tad                6             5             6
Chambers, Colin         6             5            9
Pinheiro, Turner          6             5           10
Mabbatt, Richard        6             5            9
Zavi, Nick                   7           10           11
Vokos, Drew               8           11             5
Hamm, Jason              9           12             9
Holbrook, Jim           10           13             5
Walsh, A. Crosbie     10           13            3
Barkley, Matt            12           15            8
Smith, Timothy         12           15          12
Hussey, Caleb           13           17            2
Shepardson, Noah     14          18            9
Seagrave, Travis        15          19            8
Brady, Mikey             18          20            8
Seven, Evren             19          21            1
Hernlund, John          19          21            5
Eslit, Jared                 19          21            6
de Gier, Peter             20         24             5
Weigand, Philip         22         25             3
Nelson, Koleman       22         25            3
Hamm, Curtis            23         27             2
Crocker, Adam          28         28             3
Mine, Dan                 29         29             4
Hagner, Nate             35         30             1
Hamed, Jason            35         31             1

MM1                      Score    Place    Birdies
Hastings, Derek        -4            1          14
Russo, Jacob             -2            2          15
Sahlit, Tom               -2            2           11
Carroll, Flynn            1            4           11
Joplin, Mike              3             5          14
Hevia, David             5             6           7
Brallier, Dave            5            6            6
Wind, Jef                   6            8            8
Leebrich, Scott         25           9            3
Utley, Jason              40          10           0

Felton Freeze Results

We all know that the most important results of all the Ice Bowl charity events held worldwide this time of year are the cash raised and food collected to help feed the hungry, but for those that care to see the results of the Felton Freeze posted (not me, certainly!), here they are. Another big thanks to TJ Goodwin for making it happen!

Jon Baldwin         -12
Chris Edwards       -8
Shasta Criss           -8
Sam Aldrich          -7
Levi                       -6
Matt Scott              -5
Elliot Ferdig           -4
Merle Witvoet        -3
Eric Nelson            -1
Don Smith              -1
Jason Esper              E
Patrick Hardcastle    2
Daviar                      3
Stan Pratt III            4
Jack Trageser         6
Brian Turner            6
Kevin Kelley          12
Angel Acebal          12
Ruben Gonzales      13

TJ Goodwin        -8
Miguel Rios        -5
Tim Smith           -5
Chris Groh          -3
Kyle Davis          -3
Sean Jack            -3
Jack Pfefferle      -2
Mike Antos         -1
Heath Konkel       E
Kyle Milburn        1
Kyle Schloss         2
Alex Beete            4
John Kostoff         4
Rory Hodgson       5
Matt Sadell            6
Nic Kons                7
Robbie Visel           7
Brendan Sage         8
Cody Marchessault 9
Aaron Kvek           11
Rich Puente           11
Gabe Ketterman    11
Daniel Crim          12
Daniel Wootan      12
Rob Brox              12
Peter DeGier         14
Jason Hamed        14
Peter McBride      15
Joseph Kestler      16
Nick Zavitsanos   16

AM 2
Jim Holbrook                        E
Rick Mabbatt                        1
Steven Wood                         2
Thomas Wheeler                   3
Mikey Crane                         5
Iam Kitrick                            6
Derek Kotval                         8
Colin Chambers                    8
Tom Guzzetta                        9
Solomon (SOLI) Newtree    10
Frank (SKIP) Cayle IV        11
Philip Weigand                    11
Evan Borthwick                   12
Ryan Santiago                      12
Brandon Irwin                      12
John Hernlund                      14
Erik Altman                         14
Nate Hagner                         16
Kimo Elliott                         16
Shayne Erickson                  16
Scott Leerzick                      17
Alex Loveless                      17
Paul Redwood                     17
Billiam Posey                      20
Chris Illes                            22
Del Pikles                            24
Gary Jaccod                         28
Travis Schot                      DNF
Matt Moorhead                 DNF

Women’s Open
Kristine King            E
Jenna Johnson          10
Johanna Atkinson    13
Jenny Umstead         20

Women’s AM
Tami Tracey              18
Suzie Weigand           22
Terri Duncan              25
Christine Hernlund    26
Elena Novik               27

DeLa with Nikko

Nikko Locastro is in town to defend his title at the Otter Open in Monterey, and decided to get here a week early to practice the courses that’ll be played at the 2011 Pro Worlds. I played some holes at DeLaveaga with him on Friday to get some action footage while interviewing him for the upcoming TV show Discmasters.

I’ve heard that Nikko is a workhorse before, and Friday I got to see it for myself. On each hole he threw as many drives as the flow of play would allow, along with multiple putts. That pattern culminated with at the Top of the World, where he emptied his bag trying to ace the basket in its mega-short position. Ironically, his very last shot is the one that hit the cage- and I think we did catch it on film.

He seems to me to be a decent enough guy, and more mature and focused than I was at his age. We’re supposed to play a full round at Black Mouse and talk some more next week, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a funky tight little wooded course with all kinds of blind shots that you gotta play to learn the lines. Maybe, just maybe . . .  either way, I look forward to learning more about what makes this rising star in the disc golf world tick.

The Vibram Disc Golf Review ‘Preview’

When I began playing disc golf more than 20 years ago, all discs were basically the same in terms of material. They were all plastic, and they were pretty much all the type of plastic we now refer to as DX (Innova’s term) or Pro-D (Discraft’s). Yet despite the fact that the market for golf discs is now inundated with a continual flood of new models – most available in at least three grades of plastic – one thing has remained constant: They’ve always been made from plastic. Until now.

A couple years ago, yet another company decided to vie for a share of the steadily-growing golf disc market, and it’s decision is significant for two reasons. First, the company is Vibram, whose founder is credited with inventing the first rubber soles for shoes. Their numerous products are manufactured in Brazil, China, Italy and here in the U.S. More than 1,000 footwear makers use Vibram’s rubber soles in their products. You’ve most likely seen their ubiquitous little octagonal yellow logo on the bottom of hiking and work boots.

To paraphrase the character Ron Burgundy from the movie ‘Anchorman,’ they’re kind of a big deal. In fact, in the comparatively tiny cottage industry that is the disc golf world, they’re a very big deal. This is the first time a large multinational corporate name has entered the disc golf marketplace in a significant way. The implications of that may prove to be far-reaching, but for now it’s enough to understand that disc golf has reached a point that it has attracted the attention of a corporation the size of Vibram. And so far, Vibram seems to have a strategy of growing the market for its disc golf products by growing the popularity of the sport in general. In a short period of time, it has become a major sponsor of two annual events, and a documentary film that will debut at the Pro Disc Golf World Championships in Santa Cruz, CA this Summer. Check out details of each if you’re interested:

The fact that Vibram is all about rubber is the second part of the significance of their entry into the disc golf market, and the reason I wanted to write this review (yeah, I’m getting to the actual disc review). Although there are more golf disc brands out there than ever, Discraft and Innova still have an iron-fisted grip on the market. Ironically, if Vibram is successful it will be largely because of grip. You see, their discs are made of rubber (or as they put it, a rubber compound) and they claim that rubber makes for a better grip, and a more durable disc with flight characteristics that change much less than all plastic discs over the life of the disc. If they are right, and if those two factors end up affecting the purchase decisions of the average disc golfer, we may see a future where the answer to the question ‘What kind of plastic are you throwing” is “none- I’m throwing rubber.” But the proof is in the putting (and the drive, and the upshot), so let’s get to the review.

Vibram sent me one sample each of the four models they currently market: The VP, the Ridge, the Summit, (all putters) and the Ascent, a fairway driver. Before I get into specifics on each disc, a few general notes:

  • All their putters are available in three ‘firmnesses’ of their X-Link rubber compound– soft, regular, and firm. I appreciate the straightforwardness of these labels, as opposed to a certain coffee franchise that insists on calling a large a ‘Venti’. But I digress. The soft is extremely soft. Other adjectives come to mind, like floppy, bendy, and even sticky. But curiously this pliability doesn’t affect the stability. The regular firmness is much more like a regular plastic disc to the touch, but still noticeably grippier, and their Firm blend is still as grippy as, or more so than, an old-school, low grade plastic golf disc.
  • I didn’t get to test the same disc model in different grades of rubber, so I can’t comment on how the flight characteristics vary in the same model when the firmness is different. But as you’ll read in my review of the VP, I doubt it varies much.
  • After a month of play on several Santa Cruz, CA area courses (plenty of rough terrain, including rocks, trees, roots and dirt), all four discs have held up very well. None of my sample putters suffered any nicks or cuts to the rim, and the sharper-edged Ascent driver only has a minor nick on the inside rim. To me that’s especially notable since with plastic, the softer or grippier the disc the more likely it’ll show wear and tear.
  • According to Steve Dodge of Vibram Disc Golf, they plan to release a couple mid-range discs in 2011, which I am particularly eager to test. To me superior grip is especially important when the shot requires pinpoint accuracy.
  • Rather than embrace the existing flight ratings charts shared by other disc manufacturers and retailers, Vibram has created its own system. Give them credit for conceiving an entirely new method for measuring disc flight characteristics, one that is arguably more scientific and logical. But their method for measuring Fade and Turn in a disc is based on a listed optimal speed, defined by how fast the disc must be traveling to fly flat in terms of MPH (miles-per hour). Since most of us don’t have radar guns handy this isn’t very practical, but we can do the next best thing which is to figure out the relative speed of a disc, that is, how discs compare to other discs we’re more familiar with. All in all, I found their discs to be consistent in practice with the ratings they give them, which is the important thing. And as Dodge explained to me,“the system is forward looking because once we have a complete line-up of discs, a player will be able to say, ‘this driver works for me, so this mid should work for me’. I think this is better than the current systems which don’t help a player find a suitable next disc.”

 Coming soon, (after I’ve had a chance to play with the Vibram discs for awhile and test Vibram’s claim of superior durability) the individual disc reviews of the Vibram VP, Ridge, Summit, and Ascent!