Monday, February 16, 2015

Making a Swing Change: Part 2

Chris here. I'm back with part 2 of making a swing change (part 1, if you missed it). Today I'd like to talk about some practical and psychological things that help me get the most out of my time in the field and make permanent swing changes quickly.


Last week I went out to the field to get some practice, and I expected, as usual, to have some good throws and some bad throws. That didn't happen. 9/10 throws were bad and the other 1/10 made me question whether or not I had ever thrown a disc before. Two of my discs are about 100' out into the middle of a frozen creek because I missed my line by 30+ degrees. I stopped throwing and tried to figure out what was different today, but I couldn't even think straight because I was so tired... That's it! I was exhausted. The night before I had slept for about 2 hours.

In my experience sleeping well, eating well, and hydration are the most accurate predictors of whether or not I will make progress during field work or play to my skill level during a round. Set yourself up for success by taking care of the basic needs of your body. And stretch. Don't forget to stretch!


Sometimes, I'm that guy. The guy that stamps his feet after a bad throw and lets a few bad shots ruin the whole round. Being him doesn't just ruin your score, he's also not a guy anyone wants to be around. When I started doing more field work, I found out that I can be that guy even when no one else is there. And you know what? I like that guy least when that guy is me.

Dwelling on bad shots, getting frustrated, beating yourself up, and generally having a bad attitude is the best way to slow improvement, get bogeys, and not have any fun at all. Steady Ed said it best, "The most fun wins!"

So what is the alternative? Ignore your bad shots, and celebrate your good ones. There's no magic here. When you throw a bad shot on the course or in the field just let it go. Don't waste a second of time or an ounce of energy thinking about it. When you throw a good shot enjoy it! Pat yourself on the back. Smile. Think "Good job. Keep doing that. I'm improving!" This doesn't have to be an external display of any kind, but it's really important to feel good about good shots.

Reinforcement and Behavior Modification

I'm going to delve a little too deep into the subject of rewarding yourself for good shots and forgetting the bad ones because it's difficult, and I see the majority of people (myself included) do this wrong. Another of my other hobbies is dog training. I love my dogs.

Dexter (top) and Toby

One of my favorite modern books on dog training is Don't Shoot the Dog. This book isn't just about training dogs; it's about how to effectively modify the behavior of any living thing using appropriate reinforcement (Applied Behavior Analysis/Behavior Modification). Using these methods zoo keepers can do crazy things like train crocodiles to go in and out of their cages on command. The example from the book that I'll retell briefly illustrates some of the core concepts, and it's something many people can relate to.

Everyone has experienced or witnessed a scene like this play out: The mother of adult children answers a phone call from her adult son (or daughter). The first words out of her mouth are "Why don't you ever call me? Do you even care about me?" If those were the first words you heard every time you called someone would you keep calling them? Nope! Although mom doesn't realize it, she is punishing her son for calling her by berating him when he does. What she should say is "I always love hearing your voice! Thanks so much for calling to check in on me." I bet he'd be much more likely to call mom if that's how she answered the phone. This is deep, primal, behavioral psychology.
*I just want to mention here that I love my mom, and have a great deal of respect and appreciation for all mothers.

What on earth does this have to do with practicing disc golf? In the example above, the behavior taking place is "calling mom" and the response to that behavior will either increase or decrease the likelihood of that behavior being repeated. In the context of this article "throwing a disc as intended" and "not throwing a disc as intended" are the behaviors and you get to choose the response you have to those behaviors.

The way this played out during my field work for the longest time was something like this:
  • throw a good shot -> ignore it or take it for granted
  • throw a bad shot -> tell myself "You suck at disc golf. You'll never make progress." etc.
I bet you can guess that this is not a fun or productive way to practice. It's painfully obvious how backwards that kind of attitude is when you break it down. When my fieldwork is most successful and enjoyable it goes more like this:
  • throw a good shot -> smile (I actually smile), think about how great making progress is
  • throw a bad shot -> ignore it, think about the good throws I have made and will make again
When I talk myself in to approaching practice and play this way I enjoy it more and perform better. Making positive reinforcement and a good attitude a habit will lower your scores and make your practice both fun and productive. You might be tempted to think this is too simple, or that something trivial like being pleased with yourself (smile!) won't make a difference. Try it.


Seriously. For a whole week respond to every single throw like I outline above. Embrace the good; ignore the bad. I guarantee that you will see a difference. I'd love to hear back from anyone who tries this (and I hope that you do). It's more difficult than it sounds, and takes practice.

For a much better written and comprehensive look at golf psychology I would highly recommend Dr. Bob Rotella's Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. Most (all?) of the ideas I've mentioned here are what I have pulled from other sources and attempted to apply to disc golf.

Later this week I'll post part 3 of this series where I'm going to focus on effectively taking form changes and improvements to your competitive rounds. Let me know if you found any of this helpful. Thanks for reading!


  1. Exactly! These days I just don't get near as worked up over the bad shots and it's quite rare to get rattled by one. I do get worked up over the good shots and celebrate them...which grew alongside celebrating the good shots of the newbies I throw with. Learned that in management training--catch people doing good things and reinforce it.

    1. Reinforcement is so important to lots of parts of our lives. I never thought of it from a management aspect (I'm not management), but that makes perfect sense. I like how you said that: "catch people doing good things and reinforce it." That word catch implies immediate timing, and timing is key to reinforcement. That's why I like to smile when I throw well, because it is easy and IMMEDIATE reinforcement that tells my brain that I like what just happened.

  2. Man, having a good attitude takes practice. I only got about a dozen throws in while walking my dogs yesterday (it was 10 degrees and breezy...), and not a single one replicated the feeling of a strong hit that I caught on to this past week. I have a really hard time not letting those bad throws get to me. The crazy part is that I should have NO expectations when I'm getting in a dozen random throws, without warming up, on one of the coldest days of the year. It's completely unreasonable to think I'll be able to find and replicate a new swing feeling! I gotta get my head screwed on straight.