My private lesson clients range from seasoned tournament players to complete beginners. Both are rewarding experiences for me, for different reasons. As a very driven competitor myself, I love helping others achieve new objectives like a first win or targeted player rating.
That being said, working with people who have only recently learned about the sport might be even better. I get the opportunity to ensure that someone’s earliest disc golf experience is a thoroughly positive one.
While I teach the basics of the game to new players I always also manage to ‘sell’ its many benefits, as well. It’s the reason I wrote The Disc Golf Revolution, and, really, the reason I launched School of Disc Golf a decade ago.
I had one such experience several days ago with a great guy in his 50’s and his girlfriend’s 17-year old son. Both were very new to disc golf, showed up ready to learn, and left excited to play all summer. They sent me this wonderful bit of feedback, which means more to me than they’ll ever know:
“Jack is a fantastic disc golf teacher. We were both beginners and found jack’s coaching and advice hugely helpful. And best of all, we had a terrific time in the process.I was specifically interested in consistency and accuracy. Jack gave me a few key tips which were perfect. I found my confidence has increased substantially after only a few hours of instruction.Jack is great with all age groups!! Great job, Jack!!”
When we watch a full-power drive performed by someone who can really huck it, the ‘run-up’ is a big part of the show. Whether it’s a literal running start or a couple smooth strides, and whether the technique used is an X-step/scissors step or crow-hop, that bodily forward motion appears to contribute greatly to distance the disc travels. But does it, really?
The short answer is no. The large majority of the power that translates to long disc golf drives comes from arm speed, maximized by hip/torso/shoulder rotation. The ‘run-up’ adds only marginally to that equation, resulting in between 5-15 percent more distance. And that’s only IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) everything is coordinated and timed perfectly.
Yet the run-up seems so necessary to power generation that nearly all developing players incorporate it into their drives from the very beginning. And that is usually a big mistake. It takes a high level of athletic coordination, plus LOTS and lots of practice, to use a run-up and still maintain control and consistency like these top pros. (Note that while their form may vary from player to player, they all have the main ingredients in common- especially the perfectly timed and balanced weight transfer. Even though the body is moving forward, the weight stays back until precisely right millisecond.)
The physical side of disc golf is as much about control as it is power. More, actually, because the harder you throw in the wrong direction, the farther the disc can go in the wrong direction. And if you play on tight, wooded courses it doesn’t matter how hard you throw; Miss that gap and your disc ain’t goin’ nowhere! Well, nowhere good, at least. Golf in all its forms is first and foremost a game of accuracy, precision, and consistency.
When I’m giving private lessons (with the exception of pros and top amateurs who already demonstrate a solid grasp of proper driving technique) I insist on starting with a stand-still throw. No run-up. No steps at all except for a back foot toe-drag on the follow-through. For details check out this post I wrote several years ago titled “Building Blocks of Basic Backhand Technique.” It is still one of the most viewed pages on our website.
I decided to write this particular post after reading a testimonial from a recent client. You can read his full comments here if you like, but the most relevant snippet is shown below.
“I’ve been playing for about 2.5 years and understood I had built some bad habits but did not have any clue as to how to go about identifying and fixing them. Jack broke proper form down to very simple and understandable mechanics, and over the course of 3 hours, I found myself throwing from a standstill almost as far – and much more accurately – than I had before.” –John J., Berkeley, CA
Here’s the bottom line: To maximize your power potential with a backhand drive in disc golf you need to focus on the following, in order of importance:
Engage your major muscles (as opposed to throwing with your arm only) through rotation of your hips and shoulders
Perfect your timing and weight transfer. Keep your weight back until a fraction of a second BEFORE you launch the disc. NOTE: This is the part that most often goes awry when a player tries to incorporate a run-up too soon.
Speaking of launching the disc . . . at just the right time, with all that coiled energy held back, unleash it with an explosive burst. Going from zero to 60 as quickly as possible is what creates the armspeed that is essential to power and distance
Finally, when you’ve mastered the first three, slowly integrate a run-up by starting slowly. The important thing is to keep your timing and release point intact.
(Once again, to learn more about making sure the disc goes where you want it to go, read this post for more details on backhand form). The above list addresses power generation only)
I recommend throwing backhand drives exclusively with the standstill technique for at least a month so that once you add a run-up you’ll know instantly when the timing is right and when it isn’t. You’ll likely suffer a loss of accuracy and control at first, so it’s best to experiment during fieldwork and rounds that don’t matter.
Remember that a run-up itself only increases your driving distance marginally. It’s the other three elements listed above that really help players make big strides in not only distance but accuracy and consistency as well. Good luck, and happy chuckin’!