Meanwhile in the world of School of Disc Golf, aka, Play DisGolf, Inc., aka, me, I was surprised to learn my book Three Paths to Better Disc Golf is only two ratings shy of 100 on Amazon. (I had no idea! You see, I’m pretty shall we say “hands off” when it comes to my social media marketing — eh-HEM, Slacker! — and not as up-to-date on these things as I should be.) If you’ve read the book, post a review and help it hit triple digits!
I want to share a few snippets from past reviews as feedback like this is extremely gratifying and humbling at the same time.
“I did not expect how many of the suggestions just clicked – reflections of things I know to be true from my work and personal life that I had simply never applied to my recreational passion – disc golf. So far my scores are trending in the right direction, but more than any of that, practicing “disc golf in a vacuum” has allowed me to enjoy my time on the course even more. Highly recommend!”
“This is an awesome read, Being new to the sport I was a little confused about some aspects of the game. The author makes great sense and is simple to understand. If you take your game seriously you owe it to yourself to check it out.”
“I’ve read several of the most popular disc golf books and this is by far my favorite. Excellent treatment of the subject and from someone who can actually write!”
Those were some of my favorites, each for a different reason. I even liked the lowest-rated review, which simply said “Be the Disc, Danny.” An association with one of the best movies ever can’t hurt, right?
I also have deep ties to Michigan Disc Golf (what’s up, WinniCrew?), and this campaign to build an epic course and honor a legend is a perfect example of why and how disc golf has come so far and ain’t slowing down! Help ‘em out if you can, especially if you’re near the Upper Peninsula.
Our private course is showing signs of a mini-super bloom, and the season for teambuilding events and group activities is getting started. Contact me directly if you’re interested in booking a date or learning more.
This week’s flashback post from the blog is a 2-Parter. Big mistakes can obviously cost you big-time, but lots of little things can add up fast. Knowing how to adjust to the vagaries of the terrain, or taking a Ground-Up Approach to Saving Strokes is key.
Part 1 focuses on up/down and left/right slopes, while Part 2 addresses varying tactics based on varying playing surfaces. Just to tie this week into a neat little bow, these are also chapters in that book I mentioned.
May your weekend include time to throw discs and enjoy their flight.
MC Flow was not a hip-hop artist, nor a pioneering disc golfer from the early ’80s. He was a psychologist, and no one has ever referred to him by that name except me, in this post.
While researching my book, Three Paths to Better Disc Golf, I learned that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the person credited with the concept of Flow. In the context of athletic performance and contemporary language, “In the Zone” may be the more familiar term for this state of being.
I read yesterday that Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chik-sent-mee-hai-ee) died on October 20th, a great loss to the academic community. After learning some new things about his teaching and having had a few years to reflect since mentioning him in the book, I decided to once again bring him to the attention of disc golfers who seek the elusive but wholly available nexus of optimized performance and enriched experience on the course.
Csikszentmihalyi was best known to academics who study psychology for his larger body of work exploring happiness and creativity. His codification of the ideal state of productivity, production, and engagement (flow) was his greatest contribution to the larger world’s understanding of the human experience.
Although the concept of flow applies to any long term endeavor that a person wishes to undertake and ultimately master, athletic competition provides the ideal vessel to understand, witness, and hopefully experience this elusive state.
When you think of an athlete being “In the Zone,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me it’s a basketball player who is making the right decision at every juncture, making every shot no matter how difficult. When this is happening, we’ll also hear phrases like “automatic,” “unconscious,” and “out of her mind.”
As I have come to understand it, though, flow isn’t a trance-like state where we’re either in it or we’re not- a plane of existence we may be lucky to stumble into once or twice in our lives. It is a target at which to aim, and much like aiming for one center link of a basket, even coming close usually produces positive results.
Csikszentmihalyi (aka MC Flow) used flow to describe a person being in a state of complete absorption with whatever they are doing, of being so involved in an activity that nothing else exists. In an interview with Wired magazine he explained it as “”being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away,” he said. “Time flies.”
If he had stopped there, this insight would still have been fascinating, but not very useful to those of us obsessed with optimizing performance. But thankfully he didn’t stop there.
The actionable crux of MC Flow’s hypothesis is a roadmap on how to get there. To achieve a flow state, he said, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur as both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results. If the challenge level is high and the skill level is low, the result is anxiety.
This brings me to the main new thing I learned about MC Flow’s hypotheses yesterday, and how it supports my concept of Disc Golf in a Vacuum.
Csikszentmihalyi believed that autotelic personality – in which a person performs acts because they are intrinsically rewarding, rather than to achieve external goals – is a trait possessed by individuals who can learn to enjoy situations that most other people would find miserable. According to the Wikipedia entry on the man and his work, “Research has shown that aspects associated with the autotelic personality include curiosity, persistence, and humility.”
When I had the mountaintop (Top of the World at DeLaveaga DGC, to be specific) epiphany that led to me formulating my own hypothesis on optimizing both enjoyment and performance in disc golf, I was zeroing in on some of the same general ideas as MC Flow. My big personal discovery had three parts:
Immersing myself in the selection, planning, execution, and then evaluation of a shot, solely for the sake of doing so (the intrinsic reward) rather than as a step to achieving a low score on my round that day (an external goal) is the richest, most gratifying way to experience disc golf
Remaining in or close to this state for an entire round almost always results in optimized execution and therefore optimized scoring
Despite being wholly absorbed in each shot as it happens, I’ve found I am much better equipped to go back after the round, often many hours later, and relive the whole round
Csikszentmihalyi listed several conditions for flow, and others have taken it upon themselves to flesh out his hypothesis even further. If you’re interested in the broader topic I encourage you to hop onto Google and dig in. As it pertains to athletic endeavors, and specifically disc golf, I’ll focus on just one: You must be at the balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and your own perceived skills.
The first chart in this post may make it seem like you need to be at the far end of both the challenge and skill side of the equation in order to experience flow, but this is not the case. The two simply need to be in balance. Other charts illustrating flow reference the term flow channel, and indicate that we merely needs to be redirecting ourselves into this ideal mix of challenge and skill. It’s not the only condition needed to achieve flow, but it’s seemingly the most important one.
In disc golf terms, this presents different directives depending on who you are and where you’re at with your game.
Less experienced and less skilled players can usually move toward the flow channel by simply being realistic about their capabilities and acting accordingly. When presented with a hole that “requires” a drive you don’t have – whether in terms of distance or shot shape – don’t take the bait. Figure out an alternative you CAN execute that gets you closer to the hole, even if it is unconventional. Remember, it’s all about finding that equal ratio of skill and challenge so you can stay balanced on the line between boredom and anxiety.
If you’re a skilled player wanting to get into the flow more, ask yourself if you’re at least on some subconscious level experiencing boredom. Maybe you’ve already determined what you can and can’t do on the course and have stuck to your comfort zone for too long. According to Csikszentmihalyi, you can’t remain in both the comfort zone and the flow channel for very long.
For example, even the most backhand-dominant players admit that certain upshots call for a forehand. If you’re in such a situation, consider upping the challenge part of the equation. It’ll probably cause you to veer quickly from boredom to anxiety – as the curvy line on the diagram indicates – but it’ll keep you moving toward your maximum mix of challenge and skill, Stay mindful of this mix and you’ll stay in or near the flow state most of the time. Any hey, that’s what practice is for, right? Working on skills in a less pressurized environment.
I started writing today to pay tribute to the man who explained being “in the zone” in scientific terms. When I returned home after that horrible USDGC performance in 2009 and discovered the transformative experience of truly focusing on abstract execution for its own sake, I knew I couldn’t have been the first to put it into words.
While I still think that in the highly-charged atmosphere of competitive sports the “focus on what you’re trying to do, not what you’re hoping to achieve” maxim is the key, MC Flow gave us much more. He gifted us with an excellent blueprint for using psychological tools to maximize our potential.
The 2021 Masters Cup is over. The stuff I wrote the last three days about spectators and volunteers and the course and the weather… Sunday was more of the same. 72 degrees with puffs of wind bringing faint whiffs of the Pacific ocean. The spectators were, like, totally chill. So chill, in fact, that they were almost rowdy.
Since Sunday was the final round, and final rounds are about results, so that’s what I’m a-gonna write about.I got some good pictures and videos, too, so stick with me. I watched most of the lead card’s final round, and will explain why I think Adam Hammes won the Masters Cup by demonstrating some quick thinking, quicker feet, and a skill necessary for a good score at DeLa.
First up, though, is a look at two good friends of mine who competed in MP50, because this series is all about what I saw!
Flynn Carrol is a regular playing partner at DeLa and much better than his record in past professional Masters Cups (he won the event as an Advanced player) would indicate. I saw a good amount of his Friday and Saturday holes, and he battled! Didn’t let the inevitable bad breaks get him unraveled.1
This year, Flynn had the modest goal of throwing three rounds above his current 939 rating. His rounds went 951, 989, 945. Good job, Flynn! And no more strokes for you! Seriously, no more.
Jon Baldwin is another local friend who did well. Jon is no stranger to winning here and on the Worlds stage,2 but as easy to root for as ever. He ended up tied for first with Robert Bainbridge, and they were told to play holes 1-4 (the hill) in rotation, sudden death format, until someone won a hole. They both had outside circle putts, and Bainbridge insisted Jon was out. I couldn’t tell.
Someone nearby whispered “Gamesmanship,” assuming Bainbridge wanted to see if Baldwin’s attempt might possibly miss and roll back down the hill.
Jon stepped up first, nailed his putt, and the modest crowd whelped with glee. Bainbridge’s putt to match Jon’s birdie came up short, no metal, and it was over except Baldwin thanking Innova.
Hammes Shows How to Win at DeLa; Pierce’s Game Continues to Evolve
I am admittedly something between a die hard and casual pro disc golf consumer. I know most of the names and watch a good deal of coverage. My take on Paige Pierce — aside from the Captain Obvious observation that she is singularly talented in all aspects of disc golf — is that she combines those superior skills with a 100% aggressive, 100%-of-the-time game plan. The result is a mess of runaway victories, and a few that probably got away only due to her pedal-to-the-metal approach. On Sunday with a three-stroke lead to begin the final round, I saw an approach that was more Bobby Fischer than Mike Tyson. She seemed content to play some defense and see what the rest of the field might do. Sure enough, her lead grew simply through the faltering of others, and Paige Pierce cruised to victory.
Adam Hammes went wire to wire, shooting a 14-under par 61 in the first round, then 11-down in the second round, and 8-down Sunday. With the 24-hole Masters Cup layout and three rounds, that is 33-under par for 72 holes. That rate seems right about where the PDGA wants it.
Hammes had his ups and downs over the final round, but successfully avoided the big mistakes that enable one to cough up a lead quickly. As we walked down the short fairway on hole 20 — AKA the Gravity Hole, AKA The Lady — I checked scores on my phone while trying not to trip over a gnarled root and tumble into the ravine that makes this hole so potentially treacherous.
UDisc Live showed James Proctor on the last two holes, trailing Hammes by one stroke. Proctor had saved his best round for last, posting a -13 par 62. He had trailed Hammes by six strokes at the start of the round. I wondered how up-to-date UDisc was at that moment. Maybe Proctor was already in at -33, or even -34.
I looked up to see Adam Hammes gauging an uphill putt, the basket 35 feet in front of and above him and a deep, vegetation-clogged ravine below. His putt was just short of money. It hit the front rim and the hard dirt in front of it in quick succession, then did that thing so many would-be roll-aways do, pausing on its edge as if contemplating whether to flop to the side or go for a ride.
This one opted to roll, and it headed for the ravine, picking up speed as gravity pulled from the depths below. Then Hammes’ disc hit some tree debris and things took another turn, literally and figuratively. The still-rolling disc turned right and began rolling back toward Hammes rather than plunging deeper into the ravine.
Hammes, as he watched all this unfold, might have had about a half-second to appreciate the good break turn at the end of that bad-break roller before realizing the disc was now heading straight toward him (and he’s not standing in the safest place to hit the deck). As you can see in the video I captured, he showed quick thinking and nimble movement to dodge the disc and the one-stroke penalty that would have come with any contact between him and it.
Hammes watched the disc roll another 10 feet or so down the hill before coming to rest in a rare flat spot on that hole. He picked up his bag and walked down to his disc with zero body language. Nothing to indicate that he was inwardly screaming about having just been “DeLa’d.” He set up again, fired with full commitment, and nailed the putt in dead center chains.
DeLaveaga throws adversity at players, and offers them plenty of tempting (jenky!) excuses (jenky!) when things don’t go well. The players who win here all understand three things:
DeLa needs to be played differently, and she can be managed when played correctly
Bad things will happen no matter what
Must remain calm
Hammes ended up winning, four holes later, by one stroke. But if the rolling disc hits him or he misses the comeback putt, he ties or loses. It was all in the balance there on the Gravity Hole, and Adam Hammes made three championship-caliber moves for the win.
He reacted quickly to avoid making contact with his rolling disc (thinking and acting nimbly)
He did not react outwardly at all to display frustration at the bad break
He focused on and made the next shot
I believe all three were needed for Adam Hammes to become the 2021 Masters champion.