Sunday, February 22, 2015

Making a Swing Change: Part 3

Chris here. I'm back with the 3rd and final part in my series on making swing changes. In part 1 I outlined a process that works for me, and in part 2 I went over some of the mental game involved with practice. In part 3 let's talk about taking these changes from the field to the course.

Playing Rounds Slows Progress

In my experience, it's very difficult to make steady form progress while regularly playing rounds. A big part of this is that when you get on the course and want to make a shot your body is going to default back to the way you normally throw. So, if you go out and throw a round or two of golf when you just spent hours in the field the past couple of days then you may well be undoing (or at least lessening the effectiveness) all of that hard work.

This is no fun. I want to play rounds of disc golf in my local leagues, AND I want to make form changes simultaneously. There are a few different ways of handling this:

  1. Don't play rounds until your change is solid. This is probably the fastest way to improve, but it's not a lot of fun.
  2. Practice during your rounds. While not the ideal place to practice, I've found that I can take my field work on to the course with some mental discipline. The issue with this is that people generally want to score well, and if you treat your tee shots like field work you won't score well. I've had success with this by going into the round completely understanding that this round isn't about scoring. It's about enjoying the game I love and the company of my friends. This is my favorite option, and the one I think is best if you are a social golfer. If you go this route I would highly encourage you to get 20-30 minutes of field work in before the round starts so that you can get a feel for whatever the thing is that you are working on, and hang on to that feeling through the round.
  3. Practice during the off season. If you're the kind of person who plays lots of tournaments, and performing well in the is really important to you then only make form changes during the off season. Obviously this seriously limits the time you have available to improve, but it's better than nothing.
  4. Improve very slowly or, possibly, not at all. This was the option that I stuck with all of last year, and I have to say that I don't like it. I played too many rounds where my focus was entirely on scoring well, and the productive field work that I had was hamstrung by reverting back to my old form the second I played a league round. If you are reading this blog then this isn't for you. Avoid this painful cycle.
Practice to Perform

The first year I played in any tournaments was 2013. That year I did lots of field work and played lots of rounds, but I was NOT trying to change my form. Most of my field work involved taking a bag of discs to the field and trying to hit lines. All that year I consistently finished in the top few in Men's Advanced. In 2014 I decided to move up to MPO, and also start refining my form. I knew I had issues, but I hadn't really bothered to change make any big changes up to that point. In 2014 my rating dropped, and I was not performing nearly as well in tournaments as I had in 2013. My form was better than before. My putting was better than before. It took me a long time, and some reading to figure out what the main difference was: all of my practice in 2014 was focused on changing my form rather than working with the form I had.

Chances are that you are reading this because you want to change your form, and NOT just stick with the form you have. If you are like me then you spend a lot of your time in the field working on consciously changing some facet of your form. Just this morning I got in a couple dozen throws, and the whole time I was focusing on bracing and staying closed into the hit. This is perfectly fine, but if you spend all of your practice time thinking about your form then when you get on the course you are going to be thinking about your form. Playing to score well and thinking about your form don't work well together. To score well you have to trust your throw to do what you want.

Dr. Bob Rotella explains this perfectly in Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. Dr. Rotella calls these two different ways of practicing "training" and "trusting." Training is practice in which you consciously and deliberately work on changing the way you do something. This is form work. Trusting is practice where your only focus is executing the shot required, and you trust your body to execute that shot. You can TRUST your body to produce the shot because you know that you TRAINED it to produce that shot when needed.

Paul is the picture of trusting

The other important thing to understand about training and trusting is that one of them is going to become your dominant habit, and it will be the one you default to when the pressure is on. Luckily you get to decide which one is your dominant habit by making that habit the one you spend the majority of your time doing. This means that in order to make trusting your default behavior you have to spend, for example, 60% of your practice trusting and 40% of it training.

If you don't mind the fact that your scoring ability will be temporarily impaired and making changes as fast as possible is the most important thing to you then you can spend the majority of your time training. Just understand that to score well you have to work yourself back in to a trusting mentality.  If you can manage your expectations and understand the relationship between your practice and your performance on the course then it doesn't matter how much you trust or train.

These concepts help me play and practice more effectively, and I hope they will help you too. I always enjoy feedback so if any of this helped you or you have any additional insights I'd love to hear them. Thanks for reading!


  1. I play rounds regularly- especially right after fieldwork. I do the "this is for fun" approach, because that's how I approach almost every round I throw. I step up on the tee pad, then throw exactly as I did during the fieldwork, knowing the result isn't going to be impressive to anybody except perhaps me. Felt a bit awkward the first time I was playing with folks I just met on the course, though became just a thing after that.

    1. That's exactly how I go about it, TAFL. As long as you can get your ego out of it then it tends to work just fine.

  2. Thank you for this article. I have been changing my putt and my drive. I putt everyday in my yard. I use the 10,20,30 approach. I have noticed that when I go out to play a round my putts have been more consistent. My drives are going longer but I haven't figured out how to hit the lines consistently so I am going to do to the field and throw, Where can I find the other 2 articles I would be interested in learning more of what you are talking about.

    1. Parts 1 and 2 are now linked in the second sentence of the article where it says "part 1" and "part 2", and you can always find all the articles on the site in the "Article Archive" browser on the right hand side of the page under "Heavy Highlight Reel."

      Hitting lines is about confidence and consistency. Get your form consistent, and then do field work where your only thought is hitting a certain line. It just takes time. Thanks for reading!