Many players fail to recognize that disc golf is, in the final analysis, essentially a game played between him/herself and the course. If more people would grasp this, they would avoid a lot of mental pitfalls. However, although this is a basic truth, on a more obvious level the disc golfer is also competing directly against other people and thus is naturally interested in their games to some degree. The risk here is of emotional involvement in, rather that detached awareness of, the opponents’ game. Many players, even at the pro level, have discovered that their own games can be adversely affected by emotional reactions to their opponents’ play.
This happens because in disc golf a participant is not only a performer, but by necessity a spectator as well. And the way the player handles this second role can affect the efficiency of their own game as much as the way a disc golfer releases the disc.
When the first player to tee off rips a 450 foot drive down the middle, the golfers who follow react in various ways. Many are threatened by such demonstrations of skill. They respond to the challenge by wanting to out-drive the person who has just thrown. Thus they immediately regress to the caveman situation of one man proving his superiority to another be some demonstration of brute strength. Their reaction is to throw with as much finesse as a Stone Age man smashing a club at a dinosaur. The result is almost always disastrous.
Other players allow themselves to be overawed by their opponents’ demonstrations of strength. Their minds flood with negative thoughts, their muscles turn to jelly, their knees become weak, and their nerves begin to unravel. As a result, when they step to center stage, they are so filled with doubts that their efforts become ineffective as those of the player who turns into a gorilla any time they are threatened by superior strength.
Although these two reactions are diametrically opposite, the results are essentially the same: both players are victims of internal reactions to something that they have seen. Their emotional reaction to another’s performance has devastating effects on their own game.
Objectivity is spectatorship and is therefore another unique difficulty in disc golf. It is not easy to achieve, but is must be striven for. The successful player must not allow him/herself to identify emotionally with actions of other’s performances, and the easiest ways to avoid doing so is to recognize that these actions cannot in any way directly influence your game. Emotional involvement with performance in any sport should be reserved for the stadium or the television. It’s fine with Brett Farve to be emotional as you watch him complete a fifty-yard pass, because you’re not expected to get up from the bleachers, or your couch, and do the same thing. However, when you see a person crush a long drive, and you’re up next on the tee, you have to walk up the same stage and try and emulate their drive. Anytime you let your emotions rule how you do so, you’re in trouble.
The better touring pro players solve this problem by watching their rivals with a detachment that allows them to derive, from what they see, certain specific physical information that can be helpful to their own games. For example, they watch to see the effect of the wind on the disc, the way and distance the disc skips upon landing, the conditions of the ground if the opponent uses a roller; and so on.
The trick is never to get into the habit of making judgments about your own game by comparing it to an opponent’s game. That kind of emotional approach courts disaster by opening the mind to all kinds of negative feedback.
**Adapted from D. Morley