Saturday, February 14, 2015

Making a Swing Change: Part 1

Hello, folks! I'm Chris, and after having some great chats with Jason, I asked if I could contribute to HeavyDisc, and he graciously accepted. Jason does an AWESOME job breaking down swing mechanics, and he and some other guys over at dgcoursereview can tell you exactly what changes you need to make! Their form critique has been immensely helpful to myself and others. When they critiqued my form they found about a dozen glaring flaws for me to work on.

Weeks go by, and I do field work day after day, but I don't always make the progress I would like to. Why? Practice and field work are only beneficial if you do them in a structured, focused manner. I can recall so many times when I was throwing discs in the field and on one throw I'd think "make sure to really get that elbow forward" and on the very next throw "make sure to brace properly", etc. I wasn't focusing at all. That is not effective field work.

Once I realized how flawed my field work was I decided to really explore how to make and cement form changes. After plenty of reading, chats with Jason and other disc golf friends, and more field work than I care to talk about, I've nailed down some things that have helped me. I hope they help you too!

Objective Assessment

Jason has talked about objective assessment before in this great article so I'm not going too deep in this first part, but stick with me. This is the foundation. Read the first part of that article up to "Drill 2 - Putting." These are the points that I want to emphasize: use a video camera to record yourself, you don't know what you look like during your throw, throw putters, seek coaching where you can (the dgcoursereview technique forums are a great place to start).

One Thing at a Time

So you've taken the first big steps by recording your fieldwork, analyzing it compulsively, and getting feedback from knowledgeable sources. If you are like me then you've found many areas for improvement. For a long time I would go do fieldwork and think about a different thing on every throw; or I would try to focus on multiple things during a single practice throw. This does NOT work. The fastest, best, most efficient way to fix problems is to tackle them one at a time.

In my analysis I found that I don't brace effectively or turn my hips back enough, and during my x step I get into a powerless horse stance as well as dropping on to my back heel. I'm a mess. When I tried to tackle all of these in one field session it was completely hopeless. You have to get one swing change ingrained to the point that it is your automatic way of throwing before moving on to another. How do you know when to move on to another form issue? Let's talk about that!

Stages of Physical Competence

The four stages of competence is a learning model that is perfect for understanding the process of making form changes. It's a cycle!

1. Unconscious Incompetence - Before I knew that I dropped my back heel to the ground instead of pushing off my foot I was in stage one. I wasn't even conscious of the fact I was doing anything wrong. Luckily with the help of objective assessment I found out that I had a problem. You can't fix something if you don't know it's broken.

2. Conscious Incompetence -  Now I know what my problem is, but I haven't fixed it yet. This is where the real work starts. It's time to hit the field, and try as hard as I can to keep my heel off of the ground and stay up on my toes. This step is a soul crusher. There was a week near the beginning of January when all I did was try to brace more closed. I probably did 80 throws a day, every day, and watched the video after every 5th throw. I would say it was about 300 throws before I saw even the tiniest bit of change. And I'd like to add that failing is no fun, but failing in 20 degree, snowy weather is worse. Much worse.

3. Conscious Competence - All the practice paid off, and I finally managed to keep my heel up for a few throws in a row. That's not enough, though. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Depending on your level of body awareness, athleticism, and the difficulty of the change you are trying to make, you will be in this stage for a minimum of a few days, but it's more likely it will be weeks.

This can be a very challenging time both physically and psychologically. I know that I have days where I go out and am able to repeat the change I'm trying to make 90% of the time, and then there are days where I feel like I've never thrown a disc before. When I'm struggling something that I have a hard time convincing myself of is that trying and failing IS progress. When you try, regardless of the outcome, your brain is reaching out, trying to find the right pathways to make your body do what you want.

The bracing change was so difficult for me because I had never thought about what my feet were doing during a throw. I had spent time thinking about my elbow, my hand, my shoulders, and everything else but not my feet. Never forget that failure is progress as long as you are making conscious effort. Making a change will WRECK your consistency and scoring for a little while. Embrace it. Enjoy making a positive change. Don't give up.

4. Unconscious Competence - This is the goal. You know that you've successfully made a change when you walk up, throw a disc, and you can't help but incorporate the form change you made. You do it right, and you don't even have to think about it anymore.

Going from conscious competence to unconscious competence is where I tend to get lost in the woods. Making a change permanent takes time and patience. I spent the majority of last year not getting to this point. I'd figure out some little thing to add more distance (stiff wrist, off arm bracing like McBeth, engaging the hips), but then I would move on to something else without making the change permanent. All of those changes were wasted, and I ended up losing distance because I confused myself so much. So, please take my advice: don't rush it, and don't get distracted. Once you have reached unconscious competence then you are ready to tackle your next form issue.

I hope this was a helpful explanation of a process that I've had success with. In the next week I plan to follow this up with part 2 where I'll cover some psychological and practical advice on getting the most out of your field work. Let me know if you found this article helpful, or if you have something to add. Thanks for reading!


  1. One thing I've noticed since taking my drive technique back to the beginning is how much of even the basics I'm working on is no where near the realm of onconscious competence. I'll throw a disc during fieldwork and then realize that some component of the throw was lacking. I was focused on one part of the throw and something else went wrong because I wasn't paying conscious attention and that aspect is not yet habit to where I don't need to pay attention. It's like a game of whack-a-mole with my attention, still!

    1. I feel your pain! Thinking about your form during a throw and throwing consistently well on the course are mutually exclusive. I did field work for so long where I would try to tackle about ten issues in a 30 minute session. The basics have to be solid before you can move on, and it takes longer than any of us would like to get them there BUT the payoff is permanent progress. One step at a time.

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