Friday, January 30, 2015

Putting: Begin at the End....

Hallo. I'm TAFL, one of the guests invited to contribute here on Heavydisc. My primary qualification? I'm old...and I've been playing this silly game for a long time. I've done lots of things wrong and lots of things right and have seen every manner of weirdness happen in play. The hope is that I can offer up discussion on the game that somebody finds useful.

One of the things that I've done well over the years involves the short game, approaches and putts. I figure I'll start by discussing putting. Much of what I'll talk about can be applied to any style of putting you wish--push putting, spin putting, chicken wing, turbo, whatever. I'll also cover what I do, of course, which may be useful for players who have a similar approach.

And, so...we'll begin at the end.

I think that with any approach to putting, what should drive decisions on what technique to use should come down to choices made about what we want from our putts. A look at the end of the disc's flight, then, and what objectives we have for that, drive decisions we make about the beginning of the flight.

When we throw a putt, at the end of it's flight, we want it to finish in the basket (assuming for this discussion that we're shooting at chained baskets). That's the obvious objective. There's more to consider, however, as we may actually miss the target and we may have preferences about how we hit the target, when we do hit it.

I know there are folks who never bother thinking about misses. Those people are extreme optimists and live in a world completely unrecognizable by the rest of us. The rest of us live in a world where things can go wrong and we make allowances for them. We have to consider what we want the disc to do when me miss.

The obvious response, I reckon, is that we want the disc to end up as close to the basket as possible--I know that's what I want, that's my objective. The important question is how to achieve that? In ball golf, one can lob a ball onto the green at the hole and put a lot of backspin on it to stop it quickly after landing, so it stays around the hole if it doesn't go in. We can't do that. I've also considered tiny parachutes that deploy just past the chains and bring the disc to a quick halt, then ruled those out as impractical and illegal.

So, the way I want to achieve my objective of a lie as near the basket as possible after a miss is by having the disc descending to the basket on the putt. I want the flight to have peaked and the disc coming down. If it's at the apex of its flight when it sails by the chains, there's no minimizing the distance of the come back. I want that sucker headed for dirt by the time it gets near the target.

And when it hits dirt, I want to make it unlikely that the disc skips long distances or pops up and rolls off into the underbrush. I want that sucker to flop on the ground like a dead fish.

That's something to consider when developing an approach to putting.

Now, what if it hits the target? (Yay!) Is there anything I need to consider then?

Certainly. The disc can blow through the chains if it comes in too fast, or if it flips vertical and squeezes on through. It can get the leading edge turned up and hang up long enough for a wind gust to blow it out. There are bad things that can happen and I want to minimize those. So how do I do it?

Well, first, I want the disc to be nose down when it hits chains. Why? I want that leading edge to hit and begin sliding down into the basket immediately.

Next, I want the disc to be fairly level when hitting those chains. I want to minimize the chance that it will flip up and slide through the vertical space between chains.

I also want the disc to grip the metal and slow down as it enters. So, I want a really grippy composition.

And I want it to absorb the blow of the chains and without returning all of that energy in springing back, so I want it floppy, in large degree.

I also want it to enter the chains low, in the bottom half. I want that sucker down in the basket as quickly as possible, where it's less likely to blow out or get thrown out by chain action. And I want it to flop there to decrease the chances of it sliding around and out the back.

Can you see now how the expectations of what happens at the end of the flight influences what happens at the beginning of it? I have to figure out ways to achieve the objectives I have for the disc when it hits something--the ground or the target.

The Importance of Feeling (the Brace)

By Brian Castello

Along the way from playing for many years, learning from all the great feedback I've received, and basically living in the form/technique section on DGCR, I've developed at least a general understanding of the major hallmarks of good throwing form. A mental understanding is great and will help spot issues for yourself in your videos of your throwing sessions, but that's only half the battle. Your mind and body have to sync up in order for you to execute your throw properly.

One of the most important things I've learned so far in my disc journey is the importance of feeling. One issue that quickly was pointed out to me in my form feedback was that I was bracing incorrectly. My upper body was coming over my plant foot. I also needed to be throwing from instep of my foot. Being over your brace point is a nasty habit to break. I knew I was over my brace point. I saw the issue on video. However, I would compare myself to the pros then go out and do field work and I wasn't able to replicate what they were doing. I knew what the end result looked like, but I just couldn't feel what it was like to get/be in the proper position. Fortunately, from the feedback I got came this awesome video to help out with my issue.

Link for mobile users: YouTube

If you're having trouble being over your brace point, trust me when you do this drill you're upper body is going to be flying over the tire block. (The tennis ball drill in the video is also good to do especially when it comes to feeling weight shift on the instep of your feet.)  It will quickly become apparent how much energy you are wasting keeping yourself upright so you won't face plant into the ground. Once you feel that you're bracing incorrectly you can begin down the road to discover what proper bracing feels like. 

Feeling what it's like to get/be in the proper positions of the throw is a crucial part of the learning process. You have to replicate the proper feeling over and over again slowly working toward incorporating that into your form until you it's second nature. You don't want to be thinking about bracing, weight shift, etc. during your throw.

I'm not all the way there yet, but I feel have made some good progress. 

We sure do love talking about bracing here at Heavy Disc. It makes sense though; its the foundation of your disc golf form.  Brace poorly and everything else is compromised. Here is some other awesome resources for learning proper bracing.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Swing it Backwards

I get asked quite often, some variation of the following: I'm stuck at X distance and I just can't work out this bracing thing. What can I do to learn the brace?

No matter how I explain it, nothing beats the following: Grab a baseball bat or a ball-golf club and swing it just regular handed. Now if you're a terrible baseball player or golfer, maybe you can shoot a hockey shot or swing a tennis racket or even a traditional bowling shot?  We want some motion that you're used to doing with your regular hand, specifically that involves bracing your weight against your instep of your plant foot.

We want a reference to feel so that we can then replicate that feeling using your non-dominant hand. When I was trying to work this out, swinging a club opposite handed hadn't dawned on me, and I regularly had the thought, "If there was just some kind of machine that I could get inside of that would put me in the right positions!"

We don't have one of those just yet.

But, the beauty of having a reference for your regular hand swing, is that you can flip it over and practice it opposite handed - which is what the bracing motion is for a backhand.  You want to develop your opposite handed swing until you're nearly as proficient with taking those swings.

What it teaches you is how to keep your center of balance inside the brace of your plant foot and hopefully the instep of your plant foot as well.

Link for mobile users: Youtube

So enjoy learning to hit opposite handed... just remember that if you're working this out in the house because it's cold outside to move your wife's favorite lamp before you start!

Lesson learned the hard way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Journey to Controlled Distance

By Brian Castello

First off I would like to say thanks to Heavy Disc for allowing me to come on board and share my disc golf journey and other disc golf topics with you from time to time.

I am just a fellow amateur player who has been bitten by the disc golf bug and is on a mission to improve my game. I thought it would be interesting to chronicle my journey from what I think is basically the start of my adventure to better form and hopefully becoming a better disc golfer.

If you're a natural talent to disc golf; if you pick up the game and start throwing 350-400ft within few months of playing I applaud you. You're the envy of many players including myself.

My experience has definitely been different. If I could summarize my journey into a few different points/phases it would be this:

  1. Hard work
  2. Persevere through frustration (bad habits are hard to break)
  3. Small victories

The title picture is a perfect example. That is a picture someone over at DGCR ( made for me when giving me feedback for my form. I had been doing fieldwork almost daily but for the most part I hadn't been filming my throwing sessions. It can be a hard pill to swallow knowing you worked your tail off to get better, and then you look at the film/pictures and realize you got a long way to go. It really shows the importance of filming yourself during at least a few of your field work sessions each week.

I've learned there is no silver bullet. There is no magic thing that will make you instantly go throwing from 300ft to 400ft. Its a cycle of putting hard work into your field work sessions. (Be intentional with your field work. Don't just go out there and throw plastic in a field. It's most likely not going to get you the results you want.)  Film yourself throw; then get feedback from people more knowledgeable than you. Take the advice and incorporate when necessary into your form. Persevere through the bad days and enjoy the small victories. Repeat as needed.

Great minds think alike. This sums up everything quite nicely.
And I can't stress this enough: you will eat, drink, sleep, think, poop, video review, work, write, take notes, ponder upon, mull over, and of course field work these issues... until you simply want to give up and just throw the disc however feels comfortable. Some days, you'll probably want to leave your discs sitting near a disc golf course with a note reading, "FREE TO A GOOD HOME, ENJOY!"

And then the next day, you'll pick up your bag of discs and head out to the field to get back to work.     - Heavy Disc
Before I started working on form I could throw around 325-350ft depending on how good of throw it was. However, I couldn't tell you where in the world it would be going. I would play in tournaments and most of the time finish last in my division. Players that wouldn't out drive me threw with better accuracy and played smarter than me. I knew I had hit a ceiling when it came to my disc golf game.

Sometimes you have to take a step backwards to move forwards. If we are honest with ourselves we never want to hear that statement. Losing distance when trying to gain distance will hurt your pride especially when you see other players out driving you. Today, I can throw around 270-310ft from a one step/standstill shot. Most of those shots are on the 270ft side as well. However, I'm starting to throw my shots with better accuracy and hit my intended lines with a greater percentage. I will take that every time over uncontrolled distance on my shots.

I am definitely excited about my disc golf future and my journey to more controlled distance. I look forward to sharing my struggles, frustrations, small victories and (hopefully) breakthroughs. I know I have a long way to go, but it should be a fun ride nonetheless.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How does this work?

I received an interesting message from a young player who asked point blank, "How did you learn so much?" That's a pretty flattering question, and one that I think I need to address.

First off, I feel like I don't know that much. I may have found some better ways to do things, but I'm far from a form master. I lose rounds all the time, because I am still a fledgling disc golfer. I do feel though, that with lots of work - I was able to improve my skill set. I also feel like I throw in a way that will allow me to throw for another 10-20 years without injuring myself.

So how did I learn so much? Let's first change that question to "how did I learn what I learned?"

The easy answer, is that I spent time nearly every day throwing shots. Short shots, mid range, drives. Hyzers, flat, anhyzers, stand-stills, from a knee, various x-steps. I took lots of notes about what worked and what didn't work in a notebook. I'd shoot video of every round of field work and then look at the differences between my form and McBeth's form.  If I could see something different, then I would stand in that exact position and try to mimic his form without moving.

Just trying to mimic the Champ. I was rounding.
Total disaster. TOTAL disaster.
Once I could get into what I thought was the correct position, I'd add just a little bit of the shot back in. I was going about 5-10% of full speed. My wife would laugh at me all the time as she walked into the living room to find me standing there with a disc trying to move my hand back and forth.

Then I would also ask specific questions with screen caps like below at DiscGolfCourseReview's Form/Analysis and get feedback from guys who could spot my issues.

Back in the early days, with so many issues.
So much of my time was spent just trying to feel what those key positions felt like while standing in my living room. Then in the field, it was trying to reproduce those positions. As I started adding in more momentum into the form, I'd get some really amazing results.

Trying to fix over opening my shoulders. (Thanks to Sidewinder22!)

The magic of getting it correct, to my best way to describe it, was shared in this post:

I found a big help in developing form was realizing that the feeling I wanted was like hammering the disc forward, and pulling back on the rim as it ejects from your hand. It's a strange sensation, but very much like trying to hammer a nail into a board that's way out in front of you.

I also think that as much as distance is chased after (we all like to throw far) - accuracy and putting will win more rounds than anything. When I practice now, I look for small areas to throw through from 100-150' away. For example, if you had a tree that had big branches hanging down - try to get it under the tree consistently. Those are the shots that save par and really improve your score.

This went on for ages.
And I can't stress this enough: you will eat, drink, sleep, think, poop, video review, work, write, take notes, ponder upon, mull over, and of course field work these issues... until you simply want to give up and just throw the disc however feels comfortable. Some days, you'll probably want to leave your discs sitting near a disc golf course with a note reading, "FREE TO A GOOD HOME, ENJOY!"

And then the next day, you'll pick up your bag of discs and head out to the field to get back to work.

I also wanted to take a quick moment to welcome a couple new authors who are working on some articles sharing their own path along the road. I look forward to reading about their learning curves, struggles and success.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pulling out of the death spiral

There's something I see happen during rounds (in my game and others) that I call "playing for bogey"... and the most common ways that this happens is that the player ends up throwing shots that aren't fully committed.

It can be that they're not aiming for a landing zone. It can be that they are not comfortable or grounded physically in the motion that needs to happen. It can be that they are forcing a risky shot for some stubborn reason.

I struggle MIGHTILY with this on shots where the basket is on a hill that I don't want to throw over or if there is any big elevation change (up or down). Suddenly my default shot is NOT what I think I need to throw. I start considering forehands, overhands, discing up in stability or down in stability... when the reality is that if somebody walked out into the field in front of me and pointed at the ground 15' from the basket and said, grab a mid-range and hit this spot - I'd probably just do it.

I like to (ideally) come up with the highest percentage shot available to me, which is almost always going to be a hyzer. I try to take the disc that skips the least, putter, mid, fairway, drivers and then I spot the exact spot on the ground that I want to hit.

Hyzers are predictable. Stable discs are predictable. Throwing a stable mid on a hyzer - all you have to do is account for the fade and how far you want to throw it. If you've got the skill to lay an anhyzer gently over that will break like a surgeons knife, then awesome. I don't have that ready to tap into in pressure situations - so I go with my best option.

Let me just own up to this: I've had the jitters in a tournament and played way below what I thought was my level. Sometimes I shake it off and stay in the hunt. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I play well, then my luck goes sideways and stays bad.

There are physical reactions to stress and worry that are completely counter to fluid physical movement. Stress tightens your muscles, makes your hands numb, and that's a bad feeling.

I've stepped up to shots where it felt like I couldn't FEEL the disc. The disc felt like it weighed 5g instead of 175g. That's horrible and doesn't end well.

This is not unique to disc golf. Rory 4 putted the same hole, two days in a row. Watch that video if you want to see some torture.

So what we can do, is to counter-act the physical reactions that come with stress, with mental and physical tools. What calms you down? What can you imagine that is just completely calming? Physically, we know that breathing slowly and fully will relax muscles and deep breaths will change your stress levels.

For me, it's the idea of my kids sleeping like a sack of potatoes in their beds. They are just hilarious sleepers. That idea takes me out of the situation and lets me put my thoughts else where.

While I'm waiting for my turn to throw, that's what I'm doing. I've assessed the shot, then I go into another place mentally. I am trying to be as liquid as possible even as I approach the teebox. I want to force my mind to see the line of the disc, like a light arcing through the fairway to the landing zone of the disc. I imagine that I'm as loose as a tiger moseying down the avenue, nothing tense at all.

If I do those things, then my shot was a success. If it went OB, it was a success. If it went where I wanted it to go, it was a success. My measure for success, is not where the disc eventually lands, but how I prepare for the shot.

If I miss a putt off the rim, then that is what it is. Did I line up, see the path, aim and slowly exhale? Yes? Then it was a successful putt.

Seems like some hippy dippy bull-pucky, but it works.

Finally, to address the frustration that comes with seeing other's playing at a high level without putting nearly the effort in that we have:

My skill comes from work. I want it to be smart work, but it's still work. Personally, I take great pride in the work I put into the field. The pride is not from necessarily playing the highest level of tournament golf or tags rounds,  but of looking at my entire history of learning this sport and what has happened to my game. My own labor of field work has done amazing things for my ability to make the disc fly.

There's casual rounds that I play sometimes that I feel like I can do anything. I feel like an ace is coming,  and wham! I smash metal!! It's not natural talent, but the hours upon hours of work that make that happen.

Climo said it: patience. We have to have patience with the game. With our skill. With our knowledge.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Instep and hips

(Link for mobile users)

This is an explanation for a fella that has been trying to master the bracing motion (this is for 1 step shots). The pillow idea came from this video: - you can use car blocks, towels, even a slanted curb to get the feel for pushing on the instep.

Trying to explain the actual motion is really hard. 

The best explanation for what I think you are asking is that the back foot pushes the ball into the ground, driving the opposite hip up and forward. My plant leg stays bent and shifts into the plant toe, then instep,  then heel.

As the heel strikes the ground,  my hips are done shifting forward. They might shift 1/2" or something, but the plant leg is stopping the forward momentum. 

There's now the timing that the elbow extention should be maxed out at the point of the heel striking the ground.

During the movement of the hips moving forward, I tend to look for the torsion of the back swing to be unloading as well,  timed to hit the elbow extention and heel strike.

Probably more complicated in text than in the video.

McBeth corking the shoulders
Will with the lean back hip shift.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Gateway Element and Karma disc review

182g Gateway Karma (-1 Turn, 3 Fade). Let's start with what I like about the Karma: it's everything I loved about the Roc, with one exception: it actually fits my hand. Some people's hand struggle with deep rims. I am one of those folks. The Roc, as much as I like the versatility of it, it actually hurts my hand to throw it.

The Karma is arguably Gateway's best shallow rimmed midrange option out there for a stable (not overstable) disc that can stand some power or wind without turning too much. 

As much as I preach the Truth for a great mid-range option - it's glide can burn you by coasting 50' long. The Karma is more blunt and thus flies slower and is easier to range into distance when thrown flat.

It's stability in Evolution plastic will decrease gently over time - but faster than Star or Champion plastic.

Now the bad news: if you don't like Gateway's rounded inside rim - these 2 discs (as well as the Warrior and Mystic) are not for you. It's a personal thing - I absolutely love the way the rim feels and releases. My buddy on the other hand has large hands and he feels like it's slipping out on him.

My Karma was very domey - to the extent that you can pop it and hear the audible "ga-glunk". That dome adds a nice level of glide that I came to really enjoy.

182g Element in Evolution plastic

In a more neutral stability (-2 Turn, 1 Fade) the Element is a fantastic straight flyer with less fade at the end of the flight than the Karma and a little more turn. Right out of the box, I felt like the Element would fit into the Buzzz spot. Dead straight shots when thrown flat with 250' of power, and anything beyond that you start adding in some hyzer.

The Element would make a fantastic choice for somebody playing courses with tight tunnels or windows to hit.

Ultimately these two discs were the stand outs for me in Gateway's mid-range line up. Evolution plastic would be my first choice, hands down. I like the way it feels and it can certainly take a beating.

The Karma (on the right) in Evolution Plastic 182g and Truth (left)

Element (right) Truth (left)

Slightly flatter Element

Domey Karma