One of the most common questions we get is “How do I get better at disc golf?”. The answer to this question is very simple, just throw; we must do in order to improve. But the person asking this question is usually looking for a deeper answer. The simple answer is correct but let’s dig into why.
Changing your form is difficult. Your body and brain have learned a specific way to perform an action at high speed. When you are looking to improve, you’ll be navigating a difficult terrain full of old habits. Changing old ways and learning new techniques will take a lot of effort, whether you’re lucky enough to have a disc golf coach or if you have to work on it alone. Here are a few tips to help you ingrain the change and improve your game.
“Strive for progress not perfection.” – Unknown
This probably isn’t a surprise, but getting better at disc golf won’t happen overnight. You may encounter a tip that makes your technique so much better that you get a big jump in ability very quickly, but that’s rare and you’ll usually have to put in significant work. Repetition is how we form movement patterns for our brain to remember. Building a consistent and repeatable motion is a great way to improve.
Self-improvement writer James Clear discusses this topic very well in his article about repetition. When you commit to repetition and building good habits, you’ll learn from your mistakes and get better faster. As James says: “It’s not the quest to achieve one perfect goal that makes you better, it’s the skills you develop from doing a volume of work.”
Here’s a disc golf example in the theme of the article:
If you want to get better at putting in disc golf, you could read every technique article, watch every putting clinic available on YouTube, and achieve a doctorate in kinesiology. Or, you could attempt 100 putts a day, learn from your mistakes, and experiment with new techniques to get better.
Takeaway: The more putts or throws you attempt, the more you’ll learn from your mistakes and the faster you’ll improve
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi
Ask the Experts
Interested in getting better at golf or tennis? Mature sports like these have many years of research, analysis, and technique improvements as well as people devoted to documenting the efforts. You’ll also find plenty of local coaches and trainers waiting to exchange their knowledge and analysis for your money, and hopefully you’ll improve.
Disc golf is a relatively young sport. You’ll be hard pressed to find a coach nearby, or even a book detailing the best technique for throwing or putting. You might attend a clinic here and there or watch some videos on YouTube. These can all be very beneficial, but a you’ll notice that a lot of pros do things differently or can’t describe the form they use. In fact, you’d notice that if you took golf or tennis lessons too. Our bodies are all different and our athletic motions need to be personalized. There are some great coaches who understand your physical characteristics and can help you to build better form.
Self analysis, in my opinion, is a better option. We recently discussed the 5 most important components for putting in disc golf, which gives you a great syllabus of sort to judge your own technique. You should devote some time and energy to analyzing your own putting form to see if it meets these criteria. I also recommend that you take some slow motion video of your form, which will allow you to look at specific technique changes and compare your progress.
The Coach’s Eye app for your phone is a great tool to analyze your form in slow motion.
Takeaway: Form analysis provides the necessary steps for improvement
“The shorter way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.” – Mozart
The putting motion takes only a second or two. So how would you expect to concentrate on more than one technique modification at a time? If you try to change too many things at once you’ll only confuse your body and mind. Also, I recommend narrowing your focus to very small changes. Once you successfully implement one small change you’ll be ready for another.
Through repetition and analysis you’ve hopefully come up with a few ideas to try to fix in your form. Concentrate on fixing only one of these flaws in your next putting practice. And remember, as the old saying goes, “don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” If your practice session ends and you haven’t accomplished that goal, you know exactly what you should focus on for your next session.
Think for a moment about your standard practice routine. Are you constantly performing the motion at full speed, hoping your brain catches on? The problem is, our brains tend to fall back into old habits at full motion. After all, there isn’t much time during the throw to think about individual nuances. I recommend moving your body through the desired motion at an excruciatingly slow pace. Musicians know this fact because they’ve been taught to start slow with a technique and allow the body to memorize the movement pattern before attempting to gain speed. More good news – this training technique allows for practice away from the course. You can work on your game in front of any mirror, in your office or cubicle, or while watching TV.
Takeaway: Attempt to fix only one flaw per practice session and work slowly to train your brain
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard
The fastest way to improve is to receive immediate physical or auditory feedback. A 1978 study by Thomas Simek of Western Kentucky University and Richard O’Brien of Hofstra University shows that immediate auditory feedback provides statistically significant improvements in golf putting.
Simply making or missing a putt is not enough because bad form can still yield a made putt and good form with bad aim can yield a missed putt. Therefore, you should create a way to receive immediate feedback when you perform the action correctly or incorrectly.
For example, if I’m trying to extend directly toward my target during my putt instead of moving my arm laterally, I would place something like a pool noodle or driveway stakes in front of me and slightly to the right so I would hit the noodle when I putt with bad form. This gives me immediate physical feedback for my technique change. Or maybe I’m working on lowering my launch angle. I would place an object in my path above my intended line, like a board across two ladders. This would give me immediate auditory feedback of my launch angle.
Takeaway: Think of creative ways to give yourself immediate feedback of your technique change
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein
Tracking your improvement progress by recording make percentage can be useful, but we’d be more interested in data trends than spikes. Trending data often reveals patterns that can be used to make decisions. A single day’s data is likely filled with several uncontrollable variables. Analyzing data over time will smooth out some of those inconsistencies in the absence of a controlled experimental environment.
Think about it this way: if your practice session begins with all of your putts floating right of the target, you may subconsciously aim slightly left. Your make percentage will go up, but you won’t know what caused the putts to go to the right and you may now be aiming incorrectly too. If your next five practice sessions also yield a higher make percentage, the trend may prove that we’re on to something good (or that you’re consistently aiming incorrectly).
Here’s a non-disc golf example – weight loss. Your long-term goal is to lose weight, but we know that the number on the scale fluctuates every day. We measure daily, but a single day increase doesn’t concern us whereas increasing in weight several days in a row tells us a story that we need to make some changes.
Takeaway: Track your practice statistics but look for trends rather than peaks and valleys
Repeat, analyze, focus, gather immediate feedback, and track your progress. That sure is a lot of directives!
If you are serious about improving your putting, or any other facet of your game, the most important thing I’d like to tell you today is to get started and repeat. Settle on a putting style, set some goals, and putt until the form is second-nature. After that you can work on analyzing, refining, and fixing.
Let me know in the comments here if you have a different strategy for improvement or if my strategy has helped you get improve at disc golf or putting (or anything else).
Definitely one of the better articles I have read on improving. A couple of additional thoughts:
1) Practice can be boring and tracking practice makes it even more so, but it is solid advice so what do you do about it? Enter, the progressive drill. For example, to improve putting you start with a short put. If you make it you step a pace further back and try again. Any time you make the shot you take a step back. Any time you miss you take a step forward. At the end of this drill (say 5 minutes so you can stay focused) you will be a certain distance from the target. You only need to note this one distance to measure your performance for that entire drill. You will quickly move back to the point where the putt is a challenge based on your skill and you will fluctuate a lot around that point until you improve. The opportunity to set a new personal best adds pressure to a given shot requiring a more focused effort than simply trying 30 times and recording the results. If you are a person who gets mad at yourself and fails to focus after a miss you will miss again and get penalized for that miss by having to step forward so it helps train that negative reaction out of your brain.
2) Set goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable. You should have audicous goals that are a big leap ahead to inspire you to try, and incremental goals so you can see your progress and not get discouraged when it takes more time and effort than you may think to get to the big goal. Also, if you tell someone else your goals and talk about them you will be more likely to stick with it.
3) Positive self talk is helpful. If when you miss you tell yourself how terrible you are that can sink in. Instead of a frustrated “I can’t make a putt past 30 feet” a statement like “I am currently struggling with putts at 30 feet or longer” is much more useful. The second statement allows you at acknowledge the deficiency but also sets an expectation that this is a temporary situation.