Video analysis is a great tool, but use it carefully.
August 17, 2021 by Steve Andrews in Opinion with comments
I was playing well and decided to really focus on getting better. I had just shot my first 1000-rated tournament round, and I was feeling like everything was – finally – coming together. I figured that, to take this success to the next level, I needed to get a look at myself on video. I had used it before, years earlier, and I expected to see a shiny, new swing that matched my high opinion of my game.
It was awful. Not only was it not better than it was years earlier; it seemed worse. My pull was too high, my feet were too open, my shoulder was flying, and my head was doing crazy things. I knew what I needed to do: I needed to fix this and make it look the way it should. iPhone and tripod in hand, I headed to the field. A week later, I had managed to barely change my high pull. But I had been totally successful in destroying my confidence and my good play. It took months to get back to where I was when I decided that video review was the key to getting to the next level.
This is not to argue that using video is bad for your swing. Lots of players use it to great effect and it has become a key part of disc golf instruction and the content of a hundred YouTube channels. It can help you get better – but you need to use it carefully and understand how to get the most out of it.
The Tyranny of Proper Mechanics
We are seeing in disc golf the same kind of revolution in technique and instruction that swept through traditional golf in the late 1980s. By the ’90s, the PGA Tour’s collection of unique and unusual homemade swings – like those of Ray Floyd, Lee Trevino, Fred Couples, and others – were being replaced by a new generation of players who had been taught more efficient, athletic, and powerful mechanics. And an even younger generation of players was watching Tiger Woods swing in super slo-mo every week and using video to compare their own swings to his. Golf academies installed video bays and TrackMan launch monitors to be able to show players of every level exactly how their swings matched those of the best tour players.
While disc golf is not there yet, the expansion of the game, the ubiquity of video, and growth of social media channels has produced a surge of teaching content. Many of us went to YouTube when we discovered the game and found classic Discraft videos and others from Will Schusterick or Paul McBeth and Nate Sexton. Now, a growing number of top pros like Paul Ulibarri and Simon Lizotte offer technique drills and tips on their channels, and people like Dan Beto, Bradley Walker, and Danny Lindahl offer drills, analysis, or complete disc golf systems. On many Facebook pages and YouTube channels, people are invited to submit videos of their swings to be praised, evaluated, and torn apart by both disc golf professionals and the community at large. We are not yet at the level of superstar golf teachers – there are no disc golf instruction media empires to rival those of traditional golf coaches like Harvey Penick, Hank Haney, Butch Harmon, or David Leadbetter – but it may not be far off.
All of this is to say that there is a lot of media telling you that there is a right way to throw and suggesting that video might be the way to get there. Is it? Maybe. But if you are going to start using video, you should understand that the ride may be bumpy and it is sometimes hard to go in halfway. You need to decide what you want out of video review, how much time you have to devote to making a swing change, and how invested you are in playing well in the short term.
One of the key factors is how long have you been playing and how well are you throwing the disc right now. If you are new and just learning to throw, then video may be extremely helpful to get your game started right. Using video can often make you worse before it makes you better, but most new players don’t have much of a game to lose. This is the best way to use video – make it part of your basic skills development and build from the ground up.
Using video requires more careful thought if you have been playing a long time, though. Ingrained habits will be harder to break, and there may be a very rocky transition period from where you are to where you hope to be. If your game is making you miserable and you hate how you throw the disc, then a video may be helpful. But if you are happy with your game and just want to tweak it a little or tighten things up, be careful. It may be that when you look at your swing, you will see what needs changing, change it, and then get better. If so, that’s great. But, quite often, one change will require another change and then another and soon you will find yourself in a full swing rebuild. Are you ready for that? For example, would you be okay to drop from a 920 rating to an 890 for few months for a chance of getting to 960? You may have more in your game you want to hold onto than you think. There are lots of videos about how to gain distance, but that may require changing your throw – would you be willing to lose 25% of your accuracy to gain 30% more distance?
It is crucial to remember that everyone’s body will move differently. Flexibility, age, strength, injury, height, and a hundred other factors could make getting into the “right” mechanics impossible. Beyond that, even the best players in the world throw differently. They all share the characteristics of a good athletic motion, but Nate Sexton and Anthony Barela don’t throw the same. If you aren’t built like Simon Lizotte, then expecting your throw to look like his is futile.
Some Flaws are Features
You need to be careful when you evaluate your flaws. If you posted a video of your throw in a Facebook group, you might receive a hundred different criticisms of what needs fixing and what you are doing wrong. Beyond being demoralizing, it is important to realize that sometimes apparent flaws are crucial to how you throw. Sometimes, two (or five) flaws cancel each other out to create a swing that works. “Fixing” one or two small things could result in worse results or even injury.
Think of Fred Couples, one of the best golfers of the last few decades. He was widely praised for his power and incredibly smooth swing. But, according to what was taught by most golf teachers, nearly all of his positions were wrong. His grip was massively strong, which should make him hook the ball off the planet; he stood too straight and too wide open and took the club far outside; he cupped his wrist at the top, which could make him hit a wicked slice; he “crossed the line” at the top; his swing was too long; and he was not on the same plane back and through the ball. Any of these positions could have been flagged as things that needed to be fixed, but they all worked together (with his legendary timing and tempo) to hit a powerful, booming fade. All his “mistakes” cancelled each other out. Fixing one of these details may have thrown the whole system off.
In disc golf, imagine suggesting that Sarah Hokom’s forehand is “wrong” and needs to be changed to look more like Eagle McMahon’s. Hokom hits positions that may look unorthodox, but her forehand is a dominant weapon and a key to her success. You probably don’t have the timing of Fred Couples or the forehand of Sarah Hokom, but you still need to be very careful about changing things that seem like flaws without a careful understanding of how everything fits together.
If you are a new player or one who is willing to commit to remaking your swing, then this may not be a big deal. But if you like your overall swing you should be careful when you make changes; it can be hard to get back. The history of traditional golf is full of players who tried to change their swing, regretted it, and never found their way back. Perhaps most famously, Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 British Open working his way around the course with a soft fade. He then decided he needed to learn to hit a draw to get more distance. He never found a draw, never recovered his old swing, and played terrifyingly bad golf until an early retirement. Friends and coaches tried everything to help him, but he had analyzed his way out of the game. He told Sports Illustrated, “My muscles have no memory of that old swing. It’s gone forever.”
This is probably a bit over dramatic for what we are facing with our disc golf games. You are probably not going to fall off the peak of our sport’s Mount Olympus and publicly hit every rock on the way down like Baker-Finch. But it is possible to get worse in trying to get better.
Improving Your Game Through Video
It is certainly possible to analyze your swing and work on mechanical improvements to better your game. Here’s how to get the most out of it.
Know Your Game and Your Goals
The better you can understand you game and your goals, the easier it is to know what help you need. Is your form really hurting your scores, or is it your upshots or your putting? This where your self-scouting will really pay dividends. Using video to change your swing is just one way to get better, but it is not always the quickest or easiest. It can be a lot of fun to see how good your swing can get; but if your main goal is lower scores, it might be easier to get there with short game work, equipment changes, and course management.
If you decide to use video, start watching yourself without judgment and try to see how your swing works. Don’t immediately look for flaws or mistakes — just try to understand how what you are doing is producing the flights you are seeing. Then look for big issues like rounding, spinning out, or not shifting your weight to your front foot. These are big, basic problems that would hurt any athletic move and may be easier to address. Some of them may not be problems of positions but ones of tempo and timing – rushing, starting your shoulders before your hips, or other basic issues that may not require fundamental changes.
But, if your swing seems basically sound and you feel that you still want to change your form, then maybe it is worthwhile to get some advice.
Pick Your Teachers (And Your Critics) Carefully
If you go to the internet to get help on your disc golf throw, there are literally hundreds of places to choose from, with new YouTube channels appearing every week. Do you want to watch a top pro, or try one of the swing methods that you found discussed in a Reddit thread? A lot of this content is great, and almost all of it is useful and can make you better, but you still need to be a careful consumer.
Again, the question is where you are and where you want to go. There are lots of channels that will help beginners (or rebuilders) get the basics of grip and swing mechanics. But there are also sites that challenge “orthodox” instruction. Some schools of thought reject common ideas like a reachback, a power pocket, or a pull – which are standard in much disc golf instruction – and have their own specialized language to describe parts of the swing.
It is important to understand that not all of the tips, drills, and lessons you will find online play well together. Picking and choosing at random can have you working on very different things in ways that may conflict. Take your time to watch several videos from a particular site or professional and decide whether you like their approach and they are addressing the problem you have in your swing. If so, then stick with that method for a while to see if it works for you. If you decide to go in another direction, don’t simply pile new tips, drills, and swing philosophy on top of what you have already added unless you are sure that they are coming from a similar understanding of the throw.
Also, many Facebook pages offer “swing analysis,” but these posts often result in lots of criticisms and conflicting observations. No doubt some of the 120 suggestions you may receive would be helpful, but it is hard to know which of them need to be ignored. If you have found a teacher, pro, or instruction page that you think would work for you, it may be better to offer your video there rather than in a more open forum. Or contact the pro or teacher directly and see if they would be willing to work with you or offer thoughts about your swing.
Trust the Feel
If you use video to analyze your swing, you may be shocked that what you think you are doing is not what you are doing. What feels like “reaching straight back” is not. The question is whether this is a problem. If your “straight” extension is actually curled behind you so you are rounding and can’t throw well, then video can help you fix it. But if your “straight” extension is actually out wide (like Barry Schultz, Paul McBeth, or Philo Brathwaite) and you throw well, who cares what it actually looks like? Feel and reality don’t have to agree if it works. If you have to choose, choose feel – because it is what you can take with you on the course.
The truth of your throw is in the flight of the disc, not how you look on video. Use video if it helps you get the flights you want, but be led by what you see in the air rather than what you see on the screen.