Teaching Disc Golf Basics
(This article appeared in the Summer 2014 issue #22 of the DiscGolfer Magazine)
With our sport growing at such a rapid rate, more than ever people are wanting to learn about this great sport. With that, avid Disc Golfers also want to teach others and continue to grow this sport’s popularity in their area. While there is plenty of information on the internet teaching players how to play Disc Golf, there is little providing information on how to teach the basics of the game to others. Let’s change that!
Many believe that they aren’t experienced enough to teach others Disc Golf, but with the true basic knowledge of throwing technique and some good practice routines we can all give new players the tools they need to start playing.
I’ve asked some fellow disc golfers and teachers to help me with this article; World and National Champion, Sarah Hokom, Masters World and National Champion, Carrie Berlogar, and Acclaimed Advanced Player and Rookie Pro, Debbie Scott. These ladies aren’t only good at this sport but they have been sharing their knowledge by teaching clinics to women, children, and beginners alike. In this article, we’ve brought our heads together to compile the pure basics of backhand, sidearm, putting, upshots/accuracy throws broken down into 4 categories each; Grip, Stance, Power, and Armswing. Listed below each Disc Golf throw are different games and drills that can be used to help implement these newly learned techniques.
- Grip: The pads of your 4 fingers underneath the underside rim and the pad of your thumb counteracting that pressure from the top. Try using a clear disc when demonstrating grip and maybe explain that the grip should be as solid as a firm handshake.
- Stance: For a right handed player, their right leg should be in front with the back leg staggered behind them at hips distance apart. By staggering they can shift their body to use their hips to generate more power (see “power” below).
- Power: Teach the weigh shift from back leg to front leg to show how you can generate power and momentum as your twist from the rest of your body, not just using your arm.
- Arm Swing: Teaching a flat pull through, release, and follow-through all on same line. It may help to describe the arm like a whip, by leading with the shoulder, elbow, and then the wrist and hand.
Field Throws: Have the group line up and spaced at least an arm length away from each other at one end of a field or an area up to 300’ long. Have the group all throw at the count of three, and have them continue to throw (shortest throws going first each time) until the reach the end of the field. Notice their throws and imply another teaching tip for them to work on for their way throwing back (building more power with their legs/body, keeping their arm flat, working on throwing angles). This works best if there is a demonstrator for every 4-6 people so you can give them one on one help as they go.
Catch: It is great to play catch for several reasons; it is a chance to work on eye hand coordination, you can get in more repetitions with limited discs, they can learn from each other by watching their throws, they can develop the feel of the throw and test out flight angles. Can work for all group sizes.
Standstill Side-arm or Forehand Throw:
- Grip: Place your palm up and make a “gun” with your middle finger, pointer finger and thumb. Tuck the disc into the space between the pointer and thumb (pointer/middle on bottom, thumb on top). Feel the inner rim on the underside of the disc with the side of your middle finger.
- Stance: For a right handed player, line up the left side of your body with your intended trajectory. Space out your feet a little more than hips width apart, and staggered with your back foot behind.
- Power: Focus on exploding forward off the right foot onto the left foot, rotating your hips forward to face your target as you throw the shot. Finish the shot by releasing your right foot during your follow through. If possible, get low during the release point to maximize the use of your lower muscle groups and create added power.
- Arm Swing: Reach your arm back with the disc slightly wing-down and your forearm as flat as possible. Bring your arm through in a straight line with the disc flat in a whip-like fashion slightly leading with your elbow. It is very important that your elbow be tucked close to your body in the middle of your stroke to avoid injury, but as you release the elbow should extend and arm should follow through toward your target. Finish the shot by pointing your throwing hand at your target.
Sidearm Skills Stations: A sidearm allows a player to see and aim at their target through their whole throw. So, work on their aim and release by setting up multiple flags at different distances with obstacles in the way. This will truly force the player to extend their arm toward their aiming point and see the different flight angels they can create.
Field Work Activity Cards: Fieldwork is the number one way to improve your game, but can be monotonous. Make a set of cards that have different distances and different kinds of shots. When you need some inspiration on what to practice in the field, just draw from your cards. Eventually, you’ll get through all your shots at different distances.
Now this part gets a little more personal with each teacher’s style but here are the basics to focus on.
- Grip: Spreading out the fingers underneath the plate of the disc evenly to support the weight and your thumb holding the disc flat in your hand.
- Stance: Right-handed, have your right foot behind your lie with feet staggered with hips square to the basket. Allow your feet to be spaced atleast hips distance apart to allow for the shift from back foot to front foot.
- Power: Using your leg power, see if you can generate more power from back to front while maintaining balance on that front foot without falling over. This will work with balance and focus more on leg power rather than solely arm power; this will be essential the farther the putt gets and keep them from throwing the disc and going too far past the basket.
- Arm Swing: This should not be a throw, but more of a tossing motion. Start with the disc pointing at the basket, and bring the disc back into your body at hips, stomach, chest to begin to generate power. Then extend your arm and disc back toward the basket, opening the hand, and reaching toward your point of focus on the basket (the middle of the pole or a chain link).
HORSE: Play with one putter and 2+ players. Randomly pick an order. First person up picks a spot. If a putt is made from the spot, the next player must also make the putt. If the putt is missed, the player is given a letter of H-O-R-S-E. The next player picks a new spot and play continues until a putt is made. The player following the made putt must make the same putt or be given a letter, etc. A player is “out” after they receive the final letter, “E”.
Double Putt Challenge: Play this game by yourself with two putters. Start 4 steps from the basket and try to make both putters. If you miss both, step up. If you make both, step back. If you make one and miss one, stay where you are. Continue to putt until you reach a predetermined number of steps or time elapsed.
Relay Race Putting: This works best for groups of 10 or more, and especially for kids. Have the group split into two groups and line up in single file facing one basket. The first person in each line will have a putter, on the count of three they putt for the starting point, if they miss they putt from where their disc lands, and continue until they make it. They grab the disc out of the basket and hand it to the next person in line and continue until everyone in their line. First team to finish wins!
- Technique: Implementing the same techniques from your other skills like backhand and sidearm.
- Power vs Accuracy: With less power you can be more accurate, so with a shorter reach back you can keep your head forward looking at your target more.
- Focusing on your goal: Tips like ‘picturing your flight’, or ‘committing to the disc angle’ can help the player focus in and become more accurate in their throws.
Approach Bullseye: Set up a bullseye around a basket with different rings at 3m, 7m, 10m, 15m with paint. Set up 8-10 throwing stations of different distances and shot types. Keep score based on which ring you land in: 3m=4pts, 7m=3pts, 10=2pts, 15m=1pt. After all stations have been thrown from, the winner will have the most points.
‘Easy Circle’: Steve Lambert came up with this at the E.D.G.E. Program at the USDGC to implement upshots and where you want to aim. Start off by everyone gathering around the basket about 3 giant steps away and have everyone putt. Most people make it from this distance, and have them notice that. After gathering the discs step out 6 giant steps and putt again. This time fewer people make it in, and have them notice that. Gather the discs once again and go back to the original circle (3 steps out) and putt again, where most made it. Before the gather their discs again explain to them that it was this circle, the ‘Easy Circle’, that they were to aim for in their approach, not the basket itself. If they can make it in this general area, they are likely to make the putt. Armed with our discs and knowledge of the ‘Easy Circle’ back up 100 ft and one by one they work on approaching within this easy circle toward the basket.
Other Teaching Tips:
Sarah Hokom “The throwing motion can be difficult to break down into words but sometimes visualizing a similar motion that is familiar can connect you and your audience. Try to tap into memories of hitting a forehand shot in tennis, fielding a ground ball and throwing a sidearm to first base in baseball, or even skipping a rock on a lake.”
Burl “The most important thing is getting the right disc in the child’s hands; not too heavy or too light. That is another reason I watch them play catch so I can a feel for how they throw, to give them the right weight of disc to play with.”
Val “Learning anything new maybe intimidating to some, so you’ve got to be patient. And because we all learn differently try explaining these techniques in several different ways to impact your whole audience.”
Debbie “ When teaching the basics of disc golf, start at the end first! I teach putting first, then move on to approach and shorter shots toward the basket. Most of the time in my basics clinics I never get to the drive, because I want to focus on the goal of approaching close to the basket and making the putt.”
Now just take a second to think about all the groups within your community; Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, schools and their after school programs, special education classes, and church groups. With these basic skills I challenge you to be the lead in teaching the next group of new players in your area and Let’s Grow the Sport!
A special thanks to Sarah Hokom, Carrie “Burl” Berlogar, and Debbie Scott (www.scottfamilydiscgolf.com) for their knowledge and help with this article!