Be A Sponge, Part 2: Pay Attention to Detail

DaLearning Curve, the School of Disc Golf’s instructional blog, has coined and often comes back to several themes. ‘Disc Golf in a Vaccuum’, for instance. ‘Be a sponge’ is another. This is a return to the ‘sponge’ theme.

The previous post under this heading (‘Want to Play Better: Be a Sponge‘) didn’t focus on the absorbent characteristics of a sponge, but rather the practice of ‘wringing out’ every bit of talent and knowledge one already possesses to maximize performance. In a nutshell, everyone will make errors in execution at one time or another, and that is unavoidable. It happens less to better, more consistent players, but it happens. However, mental errors are much more systemic and easier to avoid or even practically eliminate with the proper mindset. It’s worth the read if you haven’t seen it yet.

This post, however, goes back to the absorbent nature of the sponge, with three specific suggestions on how to soak up new information that can help you improve.

  1. Observe and learn from players that are much better than you
  2. Observe your own game from a detached, analytical viewpoint
  3. Listen to your body

Observe and learn from players that are much better than you

The key to this bit of advice is the fact that ‘players’ is plural. Don’t just pick one player whose game you admire and try to emulate him. He may have an unconventional style that doesn’t work for most other people (like Nate Doss’ putting technique), or maybe his physical capabilities exceed yours. Instead, observe all players whose games you admire, and try to identify traits and habits that they have in common. For instance, nearly all top players do several things exactly the same when it comes to putting, like following through in an exaggerated way. If you pay attention, you’ll also notice something about players who do well because they are consistent as well as talented: they keep their emotions in check. Players who show great abilities in stretches but rarely win in the end, on the other hand, tend to get really excited when good things happen and throw tantrums or berate themselves when bad things occur. See if you can observe these trends and others when you’re on the course, and absorb the meaning of the correlations.

Observe your own game from a detached, analytical viewpoint

There are more formal and less formal ways to do this. On the formal side, consider keeping score during all your rounds for a few months as you would in a tournament, hole by hole. Compile the scores on basic spreadsheets- one for each course you regularly play. After you’ve got 20 or so rounds compiled for a given course, do some basic math to see what your average score looks like on each hole. Examine the trends you see in the numbers, then compare the proven reality of those results with the preconceived notions with which you approach each hole. For instance, you may see that after playing a given par 3 hole 20 times, you recorded three birdies, 9 pars, 6 bogies, and two double bogies. That means that your scoring average for that hole was 3.35, well over par. If your strategy on that particular hole is to play for a birdie off the tee, you’re likely hurting your scoring chances just by making an unwise decision. You only had three birdies in the past 20 tries, after all, while during the same span collecting six bogies and two doubles! Armed with information like this, you can improve your scoring simply by remembering that that hole is a deceptive trap, changing your strategy on the tee to one that aims for a routine par rather than a not-so-realistic birdie attempt.

The best way to explain the less formal way of observing and analyzing your own game is to provide a recent personal example. On hole 23 at DeLa a couple days ago, I decided to swing my lefty drive out wide to the right side pin placement, around the large oak in the middle. As I watched the result, my initial reaction was that it went too straight and long, and would likely hit trees before being able to finish it’s hyzer skip to the right. I was happily surprised to see that the disc had indeed gotten close to the basket, ending up 20 feet below the cage. Rather than just appreciating my good fortune, hitting the putt for birdie and moving on, I asked myself why. In asking that question, I realized that recent clearing work done the hole had removed the trees and brush I would have hit in the past, and I further concluded that this change makes the outside route the clear choice for me in the future. If you’re constantly asking yourself questions on the course and trying to learn things, you’re bound to improve merely by expanding your knowledge base. Plus, it’s a good way to make even bad-scoring rounds productive.

Listen to your body

You’ve heard that phrase before, but what does it really mean? Obviously it is not to be taken literally. The creaking sound in my back doesn’t tell me much besides the fact that I am indeed getting older. Listening to your body simply means paying close attention to how it feels. No, this isn’t a ‘get in touch with your feelings’ kind of thing either. Just be really aware of what it feels like to, for instance, stretch your hand out toward the basket while following through on a putt. Think about how you can feel that stretch all the way from your shoulder through your fingertips.

Muscle memory results from repeating a motion again and again. Do something enough times and your body eventually is able to replicate the motion in a a more automatic, natural way. By active awareness of how your body feels when you putt or throw the right way, you’ll speed up the process of muscle memory.

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