Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Mental Game

By Brian Castello

I usually talk form technique in my articles but I'm taking a small detour to talk about the most important, yet most often overlooked part of disc golf: the mental game.

Tournament season is now in full swing and after an offseason of taking an extended time off from playing rounds and just doing field work I decided to play in a tournament. I am a very competitive person and love playing in tournaments. However, playing tournaments while your making swing changes can be rough. I found out first hand. Enter the fragile mind of a disc golfer if you dare.

I started the round out great for me I was shooting par through 9 holes and I was on track to shoot within a few strokes of par. I was exactly where I wanted to be, but then I made a dumb decision. My tee shot landed about 15 ft from the basket. Sounds great except I had putt through a gap between two trees for the birdie. My gut instinct was to lay up  around the trees and take my par. I ignored that went for the birdie and it kicked off one of the trees. I then preceded to miss my par putt. Bogey. I was angry at myself and I made the crucial error of taking that anger to the next hole.

The next hole was tricky. Distance wise it was driveable but its way too technical to get there on your drive. The smart play is a placement shot to the landing zone. That's exactly what I did. My tee shot landed a little bit right of where I wanted, but when I got to my lie I realized I was actually in good shape. I had about a 150 ft forehand upshot to the basket. I'm usually very comfortable with this shot. I'm better at forehand upshots than with my backhand. I sawed off my shot way early into the woods.

"Not again! You're just going to keep making those stupid mistakes aren't you." That's what entered my mind and my solid round snowballed out of control. My day was over from that point on. The mental onslaught continued the rest of the day. I ended the round with 4 bogies and 2 double bogies. The second round was worse.

Anger leads to doubt; doubt leads to mistrust. Play disc golf like that and your toast. There is a great book for golf called "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect". We have talked about it here on Heavy Disc before and for good reason. Here is a great excerpt from it that summarizes things nicely.

Getting angry is one of your options. But if you choose to get angry, you are likely to get tighter. That's going to hurt your rhythm and your flow. It will upset you and distract you. It will switch on your analytical mind and your tendency to criticize and analyze everything you do that falls short of perfection. It will start you thinking about the mechanical flaws in your swing. and trying to correct them.
A strong mental game is what separates good players from great players. Let take Paul McBeth for example. Why is he the best player in the world right now? Let me tell you it's not because of any physical skill he has. What?!?! He's one of the best probably in every disc golf category you could think of. That definitely is a part of the reason and helps make him a great player; however, you could find other professional players with similar skill sets. His mental game is top notch and that is what sets him apart. Watch any commentary on him playing and you will hear comments like he's got "ice water in his veins" and the like. In other words, he's got a strong mental game. He keeps himself focused only on the next shot at hand and lets the previous shots go.

The author continues.
Alternatively, you could train yourself to accept the fact that as a human being, you are prone to mistakes. Golf is game played by human beings. Therefore, golf is a game of mistakes.
The best golfers strive to minimize mistakes, but they don't expect to eliminate them. And they understand that it's most important to respond well to the mistakes they inevitably make. 
Did I make mistakes in the 1st round where started off playing well? Absolutely. The difference was my mindset. There is power in positive thinking. Don't think so? Play a round and completely dog yourself whenever you make a mistake. The next round whenever you make a mistake be uplifting and positive. I'm sure you'll find the results more satisfying and the round more fun. A strong mental game helps keep a good round from going bad, and can help turn a good round into a great one. You just have to trust in the preparation and work you have put into your game.

Lesson learned again the hard way. I'll work on not being so stubborn next time.

Here is some great resources to help improve your mental game.
"Golf is Not A Game of Perfect" by Bob Rotella
"Golf is A Game of Confidence" by Bob Rotella
"Zen & The Art Of Disc Golf" by Patrick McCormick


  1. Excellent article. For those serious about the Mental Game, I am not alone in MOST highly recommending 'Zen Golf' by Dr. Joseph Parent. While nominally about Ball Golf, nearly every paragraph translates to what counts in Disc Golf:
    A strong and balanced focus produces your best results when it counts.
    Also, Mark Ellis' putting vid on-line: Practice=MAKING short putts=Confidence.

  2. Excellent - now, to go out and apply it....