How to break bad habits picked up during the offseason
March 9, 2021 by James Bress in Instruction with comments
Hello again, or, if you’re one of the Covid-come-lately players stealing my spot on all the tournament registration lists,1 welcome aboard and congratulations on almost making it through your first disc golf winter!
I know it’s been tough, but the run from February into April is an exciting time for us, as I’m sure you are discovering. The steady rise in temperature feels like a bonus; what we really crave is more daylight to squeeze in those 9…12… eventually 18 holes after work! Soon enough we’ll be shedding layers, playing tournaments, and hollering the same old taunts at Always Late Guy as he tears into the parking lot for league at 5:01.
The other thing is, you’re also likely to discover a whole bunch of brand new bad habits that have crept into your game since you were last throwing without a jacket on. Allow me to make some predictions, and let’s see if we can’t circumvent some of the most common regressions.
Kick the addiction to winter lines
No, that is not a weirdly esoteric euphemism for cocaine.
I’m referring to the way that woods holes will recede in winter, the barren branches lifting up and out of the fairway free of the weight of their leaves. Are you in the “I had my best drive on a lucky shank” club yet? New “local lines” seem to reveal themselves twice a round when a griplock off the tee screams through impossible gap after impossible gap all the way down the right side, only to pop out in Circle 1. And because there are no leaves you can see the bugger the entire way, and it almost feels repeatable.
Now, you’re smart enough not to intentionally go for that line again, but that sense of forgiveness will seep into your subconscious even so. It’ll make you relaxed when you’ll need to be sharp come spring, and it leaves the door open to all sorts of bad habits.
Push your form back down
You’ve been stuck inside for months, same as I have, so I bet you’ve been diligent about your homework. You watched all the form videos, right? If you did, you’re familiar with the truth: the one thing that disc golf has in common with every other sport is that power comes from the legs. Whether you’re bracing into a bomb backhand, swiveling the hips just a bit on a forehand up-shot, or rocking forward to give your C2 putt the extra oomph it needs, the legs are integral to good form.
In winters past I’ve noticed that my power tends to migrate up above the transverse plane and away from the big muscles in my legs, and I ain’t Popeye. There are a number of reasons why this happens. For one, even when there isn’t much snow on the ground, the ice, jaggedly frozen mud, and wet rocks provide all sorts of challenging footing that makes me reluctant to really commit to my disc golf pirouette. Boots and gaiters make my feet feel clumsy and heavy, and pants grab at the knees and thigh to further reduce fluidity. Lastly, the desire to put a little extra mustard on a slower, straighter disc that won’t cut under the snow usually results in that “trying harder” upper-body heave that always feels like it will work, but in fact just trades a lot of control for a little bit of power.
…but I keep making that trade anyway, because half the time those wayward shots just wandered down a winter line anyway, no harm no foul.
All this to say: get yourself ready for spring golf by making a conscious effort now to start pushing your form back down into your legs. Throw some standstill backhands and really focus on getting that back leg to swing through after the release. I’m not saying you have to go full Cooper Legee, but bend those knees a few times in your putting routine to remind yourself to keep the legs involved. As the terrain starts getting more reliable, make a conscious effort to move your attention from the footing to what you do with your feet.
Your discs are still your discs
If you’re a committed winter player, of course your discs are going to get a season’s worth of, well, seasoning, but unless you’re leaning on base plastic, three months of winter isn’t going to change them too much. And yet, year after year, I come into spring convinced that everything from my throwing putters to my distance drivers are now “flippy.” I’d ask myself, did I really beat up my discs that much? Then I’d get excited. Did I actually improve and add power!? … In the same short span of time that I was actually playing less and practicing not at all?
No, fool. Somehow Occam was able to shout his razor loudly enough to be heard over my own ego. It took me a couple winters to realize what was actually happening: because my form was all up above the waist, I was throwing with less power. Combine that with the generally accepted wisdom that cold discs are more stable, and it should be no surprise that I was unconsciously trying to replace that lost distance by turning my wrist just a smidge to force that delicious little touch of anhyzer that you’ll see new players relying on.
The best thing about disc golf is that the discs won’t lie to you and, if you listen to them, the mechanical fixes are usually pretty easy. So now when I remind myself to bend my knees a little on the box to keep the legs engaged, I also press my thumb down hard into the edge of the flight plate as I hold a backhand grip. I push it so that my wrist flexes straight, so if you were to remove the disc it’d look like I was pointing with my thumb. I don’t think it actually stays like that when I throw, but the mind-body connection still benefits from the reminder not to do the opposite. Throw your discs on a true, flat plane; they’re just as stable as you remember. I’m sorry you didn’t turn into Garrett Gurthie when no one was looking.
It’s time to get your mind right
Most people put on a little winter weight every year, not for hibernation, but because we can get away with it. Chances are, you’ve let a little winter weight settle onto your game, too, because you could get away with it. If you have, you probably already know what I’m going to say: you need to start practicing again.
And there’s not much more to that. There are good articles on this site about practice. Read those, identify a weakness in your game, set some goals, and put in some purposeful practice time. But you’ve got to stop only playing casual rounds if you want to get better.
The second thing about the mental game is that you’ve probably let a few toxic excuses into your head and they’ve got to come out. You missed cash at league that time but only because your back foot slipped on that easy putt. You’ve been bogeying standard par 3s, but only because of the way the discs keep skipping off the fairway. You really want to wait and see if they’ll magically start to behave once the snow melts?
No more allowing the season to make excuses for you. It’s true, bad luck exists in our game, but keep loading honest mistakes onto that tab and you’re not going to like the way it looks when it comes due. Use your practice to practice your positive, productive thinking as well as your form.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sharpie my name and number onto about 30 new discs that were mysteriously delivered to my house over the last few months while I wasn’t throwing the ones I already had.
See you out there.