I talk about it obsessively. The pros insist on it. Everywhere you look, anyone that gives advice about getting better at anything, disc golf included, extols the virtues of diligent practice. That’s great advice. But to be honest, it’s also severely lacking. Those of us advising consistent practice often leave important details out. In many cases our advice to go practice can even do more harm than good.
That’s because very few people talk about what good practice actually entails. The best you will usually get for disc golf is “go do field work” or “practice your putting”. That’s about it. What you are supposed to do out in that field is left up to you. That’s why I love seeing videos like this one from Paul McBeth pop up. Disc golf needs a whole lot more of this type of help from our top pros.
If you were to watch that video, grab your discs, and head out to the local football or soccer field, you would have a plan. If you did that a bunch of days in a row, you’d get better. Your scores would go down and your confidence would go up. All because you were spending your practice time effectively.
There is an old adage that says “practice makes perfect”. But notice that I said you’d get “better”, not “perfect”, if you followed McBeth’s lead. That’s because no one will ever get to perfect no matter how much they practice (sorry Mr. McBeth, I know you’re trying, but it ain’t gonna happen!). Not to mention you’d eventually get sick of practicing if you were out there chasing “perfect”. How long can you pursue an impossible goal and still stay motivated?
That’s why I like to use a much more useful version of that saying…
“Practice makes permanent”…
You aren’t out there throwing shot after shot trying for perfection. You are trying for consistency. You are trying to do it so many times that when it comes time to do it in competition, you are on auto pilot. You want to have done something so many times that you literally don’t know how to do it any other way.
The good thing about consistent practice is that permanence is an automatic side effect. It just kind of happens on its own. If you put enough time in doing anything, you’ll eventually make it your default action. But that can be a double edged sword.
This is why I started this post talking about practicing with a specific plan and direction. When people don’t have a clear idea of what they are supposed to be practicing, their practice sessions end up looking nothing like McBeth’s in the above video. They look more like some guy/gal standing on a football field winging discs back and forth for no apparent reason. They aren’t out there focusing on form. They aren’t out there with a goal. They aren’t out there trying to eliminate a bad habit or ingrain a new one. They are just out there doing “field work”.
So here we have a very well meaning disc golfer who has made the time to practice but is actually hurting their game. How? Because without a clear goal or direction all they are doing is repeating their bad habits over and over and over again. With each repetition of incorrect form, they are making it that much harder to do things the right way in the future. They are literally taking the flaws in their game and making them permanent.
So what’s a well intentioned disc golfer to do?
The First Step to Great Practice…
Your first priority is to always have a plan. Never hit a practice session without a specific goal or goals that you are working on. In fact, I’ll take that one step further. You don’t just need goals, you need the right kind of goals.
Many of us are tempted to hit the practice field with goals like “throw 100 drives”, “try to throw farther”, “increase my accuracy”, “improve my putting”, or the old stand by “get better”. The problem with those is that they are results, not controllable behaviors. How exactly to you “get better”? How will you “improve my putting”? You have to have specific goals that relate directly to specific things that you do have control over. Let me give you some examples…
Replace “Try to throw farther” with…
“Throw 100 drives focusing only on a full reach back followed by pulling the disc through as close to my body as possible.”
Replace “Increase my accuracy” with…
“Throw 100 shots with my mids at a specific target concentrating on a full follow through that results in a consistent release point.”
Replace “Get better at putting” with…
“Throw 500 putts where I focus on follow through and extension of my hand towards the basket on every putt.”
Replace “Work on my upshots” with…
“Throw 100 throws with each of my mids at targets that are 225, 250, and 275 feet away.”
Are you starting to see the difference? You can’t “try to throw further”, “increase your accuracy”, or “get better at putting”. What you can do is work on the behaviors that result in those things. It’s those behaviors that are what you are out in the field practicing. Those actions are what will create the results you are looking for. Those are the things you want to practice until they are permanent.
The Missing Ingredient…
Once you understand this concept and hit the field or practice basket with some very controllable and specific behaviors to work on, there is one more invaluable piece to the practice puzzle.
One thing we are all terrible at is seeing what we are actually doing. It’s kind of scary how different what we think we are doing is from what we are really doing. Unless you’ve figured out a way to pull your eyeballs out of your head to watch yourself from a distance, you need a partner. You need someone who can watch what you are doing and let you know if you are getting closer to what you set out to practice.
You see, it might feel like you are following through, but really you aren’t. It might feel like you are shifting your weight, but you aren’t. It might feel like you are extending through your putts, but, you guessed it, you aren’t. It’s not until you ask someone to watch you and give you feedback that you realize just how far you might be from your desired behavior. A good, observant practice partner is invaluable.
“But I don’t have a practice partner!” I can hear many of you saying that right now. I have good news. You do have one. All of you do. It’s probably within arms reach of you right now.
You should be recording every single one of your practice sessions on video.
That’s right, stop surfing Facebook for a little bit and put that smart phone to much better use (after you’ve read our daily post of course!). Set it on a table or bag. Lean it against a rock. Get one of these! Do whatever you need to do. But don’t spend one more minute practicing without recording it.
It will be the single best thing you’ve ever done for your game.
You will be amazed at how much you are not doing that you thought you were actually doing. The video is a sometimes cruel reality check, but it doesn’t lie.
More Than One Way to Skin a Cat…
OK, first of all, what kind of sick, morbid individual came up with that saying? Was there a time in our history when cat skinning was a thing? Let’s assume that for some bizarre reason, it was. Let’s assume there were some professional cat skinners out there at some point. And if there were, I bet they would have agreed, there are probably a lot of ways to skin a cat. But I’d also bet that for the pros, there was a best way. They weren’t sitting around the office wasting time skinning in a less than optimal manner. They had a job to do. There was a full day’s worth of skinnin’ to be done! And for that reason, they would have chosen to do it one way only… The most effective.
And that’s what we have here. Of course there are a lot of ways to get better at disc golf. I would never argue that there aren’t. But what I would argue is that there is also a best way. Especially when it comes to practice. I firmly believe that what I’ve described above is that best way.
Make the commitment this year to pick specific behaviors you want to work on. Is it your reach back? Your follow through? How close to your chest you pull? Your weight shift? Your putting? Your upshots? Distance? If you’re not sure, I’d suggest spending some time over on the Heavy Disc blog to figure that out. There is no better source for information on how to work on your form.
Once you have your opportunities identified, commit to regular dedicated practice time. Head out to practice them. A lot. Bring your camera or phone and record every single session. Use that video to know what progress you are making. Use it to identify what still needs work.
Rinse and repeat until, you guessed it, your desired disc golf behaviors are permanent.
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