Golf (disc and otherwise) is a game where those who can excel in focusing on the shot at hand and consistently execute the same good mechanics get the best results. Coordination, skill, and strength are important as well, but without focus and consistency all they produce are great shots- not great rounds.
After playing disc golf for more than 15 years, in 2005 I finally learned that an even temperament is one of the keys to achieving both. In fact, when I made controlling my emotions while playing disc golf a priority, my game hit an important turning point. I had won numerous tournaments in the Advanced division, but after moving up to Open I hit a drought of several years when I hardly ever even finished in the cash in sanctioned events. The players in the Open division – at least the good ones – just didn’t make many mistakes. I realized that taking the next step in my evolution as a player wasn’t so much about throwing farther or getting more birdies. It was about making good decisions (called ‘game management’), and not letting one mistake turn into a snowball of superfluous strokes. That in turn led me to the realization that I needed to get better at maintaining my focus for an entire round. After all, being 8 under par after 15 holes isn’t worth much if you give back four of those hard-earned strokes in the last three holes. (And no one cares to hear about how you were tearing it up until . . . ) Here’s where controlling emotions comes in.
Proper execution requires focusing on one thing, and one thing only- planning and executing the shot at hand. You can’t do that if your mind is filled with other things, and one sure-fire way to fill your mind with other things is to get all worked up. If you yell at yourself and go through all kinds of wild gesticulations when you screw up, the thoughts associated with that outburst stick in the front of your brain like glue. It’s hard to instantly dial back into your game focus, which is required if you just hit the tree three feet in front of you and it’s your turn again. Or if you sail a putt way past the basket and ‘it’s still you.’ But golf doesn’t have a reputation as a frustrating game for no reason, and that’s often what’s required.
The other side of the coin is over exuberance. Getting super pumped up can (and more often than not does) have the same effect on one’s game. Just because the wild emotions are of the positive variety rather than negative, they still need to be controlled and kept in check. Anything that prevents you from focusing on the immediate task at hand is detrimental.
So how does a person given to strong emotions control them on the disc golf course? It’s not easy, and certainly not something that you can change right away just because you want to. Like everything else in the game, it takes practice. But if you make it a priority you will get better at it. Here are a few of the keys that helped me:
- Every shot your throw should be a learning experience. When things don’t go your way, take a philosophical approach to it and ask yourself why. This is not to be confused with looking up at the heavens and screaming “Why?! Why?! Why?!”
- Remind yourself that the last shot – horrible or amazing – is over. All that matters is the next shot.
- Make self control a sort of competition within yourself. Even if you’re feeling like you want to explode, or do a Tiger Woods-ian fist-pump, don’t let it show on the outside. Pretty soon you’ll be able to restrain those emotions on the inside as well.
If you need more incentive to make better emotional control on the course the next part of your game you work on, I’ve got a couple additional benefits. First, no one likes to play with someone who throws tantrums (if you think people don’t care that you’re yelling as long as you’re yelling at yourself, think again) OR someone who loudly celebrates each of his own shots. Second, from a competitive point of view, if you play like Dr. Spock and react with the same nonchalance when you get a bad kick and roll out-of-bounds as when you can a 60-foot birdie putt, it can be unnerving to your competitors. And enjoying the sight of your adversaries getting unnerved isn’t a crime. Just don’t let it show.