Yes, we’re talking about practice!
June 15, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with comments
This is the second part in a series on disc golf field work. Part 1 is here.
Incorporating practice into your disc golf game is a great way to lower your scores and have more fun. The biggest benefit comes from going from no practice to some, so don’t feel that you must dedicate hours and hours to see results. Even a little goes a long way in adding skill and confidence. In fact, just becoming a player who does field work will make you think differently about your game.
Practice is easy. All you need is a disc, time, and a place to throw. There are lots of other things you can add to make practice more effective — like a practice basket, cones, or a range finder. But the most important thing to get the most out of your practice is planning – structuring targeted field work to help your overall game and get the most out of your limited practice time. Going to the field with a sense of purpose and an idea of what you are hoping to get out of your time will give you a sense of ownership over your game.
Before you go to the field, you need to scout yourself – what are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What is holding back your scoring? If you are a newer player, then it may be that you just need to work on learning your bag and building consistency. As we discussed in part one of this series, there are different kinds of field work – some dedicated to addressing weaknesses and others to honing strengths.
I keep a throwing journal, where I note things I am working on and how my game is changing. That may sound too much like homework, but examining your game and tracking your progress makes you better. It also helps to pay attention to where you are losing strokes in your rounds. Do you have discs you don’t trust? Are you not throwing your forehand when it is the smart shot? Are you forcing a forehand where you should throw a turnover backhand? Are your drives wild off the tee? Any of these issues can be addressed in field work, but the key is finding out what is working…and what isn’t.
If you are missing a lot of putts, that could be a putting problem. But if you are missing them because you are always 45 feet from the basket, that is more likely a problem with driving, upshots, or approaches. You can’t fix a problem until you know what it is.
Ask yourself some questions. Answer about your game in isolation, not in comparison to other players. If you are a newer player, it might feel like no parts of your game are good. But there are always parts that are better than others, and you need to identify your strengths as well as your weaknesses. You want to know what you have to build on and what you need to build towards.
- The best parts of my game are…
- My favorite/most dependable shots are…
- My worst shots are…
- The biggest flaws in my game are…
- My greatest strength is…
- I don’t throw X, even when I should…
- If I had X, it would really change my game…
- When I am playing, I really hate…
Again, for many of us, identifying strengths is hard to do because we compare ourselves to pros or to the best players in our club. Since we share a world with Ricky Wysocki, it is hard to say “I am a good putter.” But making short putts is a skill, and if you have it, you should own it. Your best shots might be a 200-foot throw with a Buzzz and a reliable 20-foot putt. That might not feel like much, but it’s actually a strong start to a solid game.
Sometimes your flaws seem clear – you think you need more distance or you get wild when you are under pressure. But sometimes flaws or strengths go beyond throwing shots. Flaws might be things like “I get nervous when I have to hit a gap,” “I hate teeing off with people watching,” or “I lose my temper and throw dumb shots.” Your strengths might be “I welcome challenges,” “my game is solid under pressure,” or “I love throwing my forehand.” This analysis helps you understand your game. You must find things to praise and remember that psychological factors can be just as important as physical ones. Never giving up and staying positive can be as important as a good forehand.
From this analysis, draw up a scouting report on yourself. Be honest, but also allow yourself a little swagger, even if it is only about how you never miss a 10-footer. It is even better to write it from the third person, as if you are observing yourself. A scouting report might be – “good putter in the circle, almost never three putts. Good upshots and approaches, very accurate, though not great distance. Solid forehand out to about 230′, doesn’t have a distance forehand. Doesn’t throw distance rollers or overhands. Doesn’t miss fairways, is comfortable playing under pressure. Doesn’t throw anhyzers or flex shots even when they should. Careful player who has a good floor but caution keeps them from going low.”
A simple analysis like that should give this player a lot to feel good about and, even more importantly, a lot to work on. Looking at your description of your own game, you might see strengths, weaknesses, and obvious places where a little field work might go a long way. Scouting yourself will also help you draw up a game plan to attack a course that gives you more chances to throw the shots you throw best. If you have identified a touch forehand as one of your strengths, for example, then it is smart to throw your drives to a place where you can approach the basket with that shot.
Make Your Programming Match Your Schedule
Once you have scouted your game, you need to know how much time you have to practice.
Will it be an hour once a week, 20 minutes after work three times a week, 40 minutes after work one day and 20 minutes after your league round on Wednesdays? Any set up can work and any time you can spend on your game is valuable, but understanding how much practice time you have can help with programming. Be honest with yourself! Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew: having a routine you can stick to is more valuable than doing a two-hour practice session once.
If you plan numerous short sessions, then dedicate each one to a particular purpose. If you only have twenty-five minutes three days a week, resist the temptation to just throw your whole bag out into a field a couple of times and go home. That would help your game, of course, but it wouldn’t take full advantage of your practice time. I would make these practice sessions more specialized – maybe Monday for upshots and approaches, Wednesday for mids and fairways, and Friday for drivers. Or you could work on forehands one day, backhands the next, and turnovers and flex shots in the third. You could incorporate putting into your short game days, dedicate one full session to putting, or start or end your sessions with a few minutes around the practice basket.
If your self-scouting revealed a huge weakness – such as three-putting costing you a huge number of strokes – then one session a week should be dedicated to working on getting up and down from within 70 feet until that improves. Each field work session should offer variety but also spend enough time on each skill to allow real motor skill acquisition. It is also helpful to space out the time you spend throwing high-speed drivers for maximum distance. Like periodizing muscle groups in weight training, it is helpful to cycle your workload so you aren’t throwing all-out day after day.
If you have longer blocks of time for practice, then you can split each session into sections. A single weekly session might include warming up, starting with short upshots and approaches for fifteen minutes, then ten minutes on mids, twenty minutes on forehands and fairways, and then ten minutes on drivers. If you have two sessions a week, you could break it down to the first day for everything inside 270 feet and the second day everything from 270 to your longest driver distance. You get the idea.
Any split can work. The key is to know what you are working on. If you are already a great driver, then don’t spend most of your practice time every week smashing drivers into the distance. That should be part of your practice – you could, for example, dedicate the last ten throws to power drives – but spend more time on what you need to do better.
Also, be aware of your conditioning. Especially if you are going to have a long block of practice, the best time to throw your longest full-power shots is closer to the middle of your session. You want to make sure you are warmed up before you make your hardest throws, but also don’t want to leave them to the very end of the session when you might be getting tired. Thinking ahead about your overall workload will help you know how to structure everything.
It is even better if you can plan out your practice far enough in advance that you can see the “road map” you will follow to get better. You don’t have to plan the whole season before you start, of course, but it is helpful to be thinking a few sessions ahead. But don’t feel locked in: if you find yourself with more or less time than you expected, or if a playing round revealed something you want to work on, go ahead.
Having a plan will help you get the most out of your practice, even if you change it.
Know How to Start
The great thing about field work is that it allows you get to more repetitions in a given time. This is an advantage when learning a new skill or honing technique, but it also means you will be putting a different strain on your body than if you were just playing a round. Playing a round limits the number of throws you will make and spreads them out over a longer time period, interspersing drives with upshots, putts, and walking. In the field, you can rapid-fire big drives and significantly increase the workload and strain your body must absorb. Throwing is a full body activity and throwing hard requires your body to control both acceleration and deceleration. No matter how relaxed your approach to the game, throwing a disc is an athletic move that deserves your respect. You need to prepare for a practice session as much as you do for playing a round (and maybe more).
Always start with a warmup. For lots of players, including me, this is a challenge. Many players want to get out of the car, grab their bag, and start throwing. Resist this temptation.
You need to prepare your body to be able to throw your best and get the most out of your practice. This is especially true if you work a desk job or have struggled with injuries in the past. Going from sitting all day to throwing drivers without warming up is a recipe for injury. Seth Munsey has a great routine that is designed for disc golf, but any kind of dynamic warmup that gets your body moving and ready to throw can work. After that, consider starting your throws with putters, starting easy with standstills and gradually increasing the force and footwork. A good warmup and a purposeful start are essential and only take a few minutes.
Know When to Stop
Since I love to practice, my biggest danger is staying out there too long because I am enjoying myself. You need to always be aware of a practice session that goes on too long.
Typically, you warm up, start throwing, throw really well, and then as you get tired, start to throw worse, losing distance and accuracy. The temptation is to stay out in the field to try to recapture what you were doing earlier. It can be hard to leave when everything feels great, but it’s sometimes even harder to leave when you are on a low note. But throwing too long will hurt your game and can lead to overuse injuries. The smarter thing to do is to quit before you get to this point – it is better to leave while you are still excited to throw and are still deep in learning mode.
I try to remind myself of what Ernest Hemingway said about writing: “Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop.”
To paraphrase Hemingway, don’t throw yourself out, leave a little for the next day, and stop while you’re still excited for the next throw.
You may not have this problem, but overpracticing can be worse than no field work at all. Part of respecting the work is recognizing that you can’t just stand out there all day throwing without potentially hurting yourself and not being able to throw at all. Throwing while fatigued can also lead to poor habit formation.
This is why planning your practice time is so helpful. You don’t need to throw every disc and every shot every time you practice – when you plan ahead you can better see each field work session as just one step in a path towards making your game better.
So, scout your own game to give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses. Then, think about how much time you will have in the week and plan your practice sessions. Go out to each session with a purpose and leave while you are still learning. Next week we will discuss how to use your practice time to evaluate your discs and tighten your bag.