The mental game is something that many disc golfers struggle with when it comes to competitive tournament play. You may be great every time you play a casual round with friends. However, something goes haywire in your brain when you step up to the first tee in a big PDGA event. Then, there are some players who are able to “turn it on” and seem to play better when there’s added tournament pressure.
Physical Skills vs. Mental Toughness
Many disc golfers have the physical skills to become a touring pro. They can throw far and are good on the putting green. However their disc golf game doesn’t always translate in tournament play. When it comes to elite disc golf, the mental game takes on a major role and is what sets apart the professional disc golfer from the casual player. Top professionals like Calvin Heimburg know how to stay focused and motivated, no matter what challenges they face on the disc golf course. They know when to turn their minds on and off. They know how to move on from a poor performance.
Developing a Routine
It’s good to have a consistent disc golf practice and pre-tournament routine. It helps you get your mind and body warmed up and ready for the disc golf round. The more consistent your routine is and the more dialed in your form, the less you have to think about it. Overthinking is often what gets many amateur and lower-level pro players in trouble. You have to be able to switch your mind to the “off” position sometimes. A short memory also helps on the course. Learn to put a bad throw behind you and focus on the shots ahead.
A good practice routine will help you develop your muscle memory. Your body should know what to do when a certain shot is required. If you are thinking about mechanics and worrying about what can go wrong, you will probably get in your own head and psyche yourself out before the throw. Try to shut off your mind, focus on what you need to do and let your body do what you’ve trained it to do.
This approach works for many disc golfers. The less they are thinking, the better they are playing. It helps them stay loose and play well.
Develop a ritual or routine that sets your mind at ease before every shot. This routine could be anything. For example, before every tee shot you decide to grab your disc of choice, step up to the tee, then imagine your line, followed by creating the release point with the disc in your hand. The goal would be to do this before each tee shot or drive so that this routine helps calm whatever nerves bubble up before a throw.
Don't Forget to Breathe!
Make sure you incorporate breathing into your pre-shot routine. Deep breaths before each shot, especially putts, can calm you down and put you in a better state of mind before throwing.
Practice the Pressure
You practice putting, drives, and approach shots, but usually in a very casual fieldwork setting. Why not practice handling the pressure of a tournament setting? You can do this in a number of ways, but the easiest is during putting practice sessions. The key here is to make real consequences for missing putts. One way is to set up putting stations around the basket. Start with shorter distances like a 12-foot putt. Try to make putts from all of the stations, but if you miss a putt go back to the first station. With something on the line (having to start over), you'll feel the pressure more and learn to get through it. Repeat this until you can make all of the putting station putts. After starting over several times, believe us, you'll feel accomplished when you finally make them all.
Replicating pressure for drives is a bit different, but you can still employ it in practice sessions. Try playing a few difficult holes in the format of worst-shot doubles, except for this exercise you're playing by yourself. Here's how it works. First, you throw two tee shots. Then, find the least favorable drive and throw two approach shots from that spot. Locate the least favorable approach shot and take your putt from there and record your score. Do this with one or two more holes and add up your score. Try to beat it the next go around. Throwing two good shots in a row is not easy and can mimic the pressure of driving in an actual event and can also help with consistent shot placement. Plus, throwing from unfavorable lies will help your improve your scramble game as well.
Harnessing Negative Energy
There are other players who may approach things differently. Some successful disc golfers can harness the negative energy and turn it into positive momentum. They can follow up a bad shot with a great one because of confidence (and maybe even a little anger). They may think a lot before each single shot and grind over their form, and that works for them.
The point is there is no one solution that works for everyone when it comes to the mental side of disc golf. Finding what works best for you takes time and practice. Try different approaches when playing in tournaments and see what produces the best scores. If you continue to struggle in tournament play, then you know something is wrong. Keep working on your mental game and trying new things until something clicks.
Don't be afraid to ask local professional disc golfers how they keep their disc golf mentality strong. Their answers may surprise you. Also look into various books involving the mental aspects in sports. "Zen and the Art of Disc Golf" and "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect" are a few good examples and may have you looking at your disc golf game in a new, more balanced way.
Eventually, it will happen and you can become a better competitive disc golfer. Almost every player struggles with mental challenges at some point. Even the best players in the world feel nerves on the first tee of a big event. They just know how to control their mental game as the tournament progresses.
Letting Your Competitors Get to You
Speaking of competition, that is another factor that can get on your mind and cause poor play. Too many players worry about what their competition is doing and that detracts from their own game. Your opponents may be getting birdies or lucky breaks while you seem to hit every tree and kick out of bounds. For some players, it is best to ignore the competition and focus on your own game. You can’t control what anyone else is doing, but you can control what happens to you. Don’t worry about sandbaggers in your division and if you are not good enough to compete. Just handle your own business and stay in your lane. Eventually, you will get where you need to go!
Again, there are other players who may feed off the competition. They may get fired up by a better player or someone who seems to keep catching good breaks. They harness the competitive energy and channel it into their own success.
Becoming a better disc golfer is all about practice, preparation and figuring out which mental approaches will benefit you on the course. Everyone is different and that’s okay. Just don’t let your mental game get in your way.