This is the first legitimate blog post I’ve decided to write under my own name. I've felt really inspired after a week of numerous failures and successes at the 2018 Memorial Championships and I’m starting to realize that the internal chatter and ideas that run through my mind all day could potentially bring value to other people looking for inspiration or new ideas like I do on a daily basis. The idea of that makes me happy. Enjoy.
I want to talk about something that just happened to me last week that kind of fascinated me - the concept of first tee jitters. It’s astounding to think about how many times I’ve thrown a disc in my life. Thousands and thousands of times I’ve let a disc go and I've marveled at how I was able to control the flight of something so perfectly, how my brain sent such a clear vision to my body and how my body can execute that beautiful flight with no issues due to how much I’ve studied and practiced throwing. Yet why, when I’m waiting for my name to be called at a bigger competition, do my hands go numb on the tee pad? Why do I begin to doubt my equipment and shot selection? Last week I had a couple rough starts to my last two rounds due to first tee jitters, which is something I genuinely haven’t felt in a couple of years (a very odd feeling to randomly resurface). For your entertainment I’ll tell you my “Tale of Two Sixes”.
Round 3 - Hole 1, Fountain Hills Disc Golf Course
Fountain Hills, AZ is home to the most daunting opening teeshot I’ve ever played, a 390 foot water carry to a basket that’s just on the edge of the land (land that slants pretty steeply towards the water). You don’t get to half commit to this hole or fall back on your most comfortable shot shape. You need to read the wind, make a clear visualization of what you want, and commit 100% to that mental decision. One bit of doubt and you’re in double bogey land. Not necessarily the easiest hole to start a Disc Golf Pro Tour event on. I step up to the tee after shooting two solid rounds on Wednesday and Thursday, feeling very good about my game and ready to make a big move. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, I get noodle arms and zero feeling in my hands when they’re calling out my name to throw. I start to question everything at that moment. I completely lost myself. Where did this come from? Why NOW am I feeling this? Will this affect my throwing motion? I instantly begin doubting my shot decision and feel the wind pick up in a direction that was different and stronger than previous days. Rather than reacting to the situation, fighting the hard right to left cross with a flex shot with something more stable and playing for a safe 3, I gave into my doubts and distractions and tried throwing the same hyzer flip I threw successfully in round 1. Upon release the crosswind instantly slammed the face of my disc down and into the water OB. Crap. My mandatory re-tee flew much better but to my surprise it actually went OB long and left which I didn’t know even existed to be honest. Lay up, drop in, double circle six. That one left a rough taste in my mouth going into the 2nd hole. Silly mistake.
Final Round - Hole 1, Vista Del Camino DGC.
“Hey Brian, can you throw a midrange 230 feet straight?”
"Of course I can you fool! That’s one of the shots I practice the most.”
“Oh, but I saw you missed the triple mando twice on hole 1 at Vista and took a six to start your round. Very cool.”
That hole and the score I took on it during the final round is what caused me to start reflecting so much on first tee jitters as I sat on my plane ride home. There is no excuse to not birdie a 250 foot straight shot with no wind at the top level of this game, even if there is a triple mando arch to throw through 100 feet in front of the tee pad. I step up to tee off and attack the hole with a standard backhand buzz shot, but when they call my name I get the same numbing feeling in my hands and the same mental distractions begin to take over yet again. Instead of coping with the nerves I stick to my game plan, which almost felt like I wanted to subconsciously prove to myself that I wasn’t a coward and my nerves didn’t exist (big mistake). I open my hips early on the backhand and miss the mando right with my first shot (I got chills as I typed that). My 2nd re-tee isn’t much different, kicking the mando pole right and giving me no look at the basket. Pitch to the opening, lay up, drop in, circle 6 AGAIN... Despite playing very patient the rest of the round and coming back to get back under par, beginning that poorly on such an easy hole is a huge mental hurdle to jump over if you want to shoot well and make a move at the top level. ARGHHHH!!!!
A wonderful lesson I have taken away from this brief period of reflection is this - there is no perfect, single strategy to combat first tee jitters. In certain situations and at certain events I don’t think those feelings will ever completely go away. The closest thing I can offer as a universal piece of advice is to identify your jitters, acknowledge them and use rational thought to visualize your best possible outcome and execute it.
Some reactive rational thought I could’ve used for both opening holes is listed below. All it takes is 15 seconds of stepping back, identifying your irrational thoughts, and visualizing a solution to take action on.
Hole 1 Vista Del Camino:
“Okay, my body is telling me that I'm nervous. Clearly I’m nervous about missing the mando and taking another big number to start the final round. My backhand touch shots have a tendency to spray early if I don’t commit fully due to nerves, so I should probably just throw my most mindless and comfortable shot to give myself a stress free chance at birdie, a standstill buzz sidearm.”
This simple choice to play a more stress free shot to avoid missing the mando and still give yourself a shot at bird is an EASY way to combat negative distractions and put yourself in a better position to score, especially on easier opening holes. Obviously you need to practice enough to have a "bread and butter" shot to be able to fall back on, but that's something to address on a different day.
Hole 1 Fountain Hills however, doesn’t allow for that strategy and required a different bit of rational thought:
“Wow my hands are numb, this doesn’t help at all for a 390 foot water carry to a sloped green. The wind has changed to a hard right to left cross and I need to call an audible to just get this thing in bounds and take a clean par to start. The hyzer flip I was throwing in practice won’t work since the crosswind will slam the face of the disc straight into the water, so I can throw my trusty, stable Z Force a bit flatter and let the wind carry my disc left before safely landing back in bounds where I can then lay up.”
All of that visualization and positive internal chatter is enough to keep the first tee jitters at bay just long enough for you to throw a better, more stress free shot so you can start your round off on the right foot, which is always a wonderful feeling. When we begin to doubt ourselves or get nervous, the path between our brains and our bodies gets clouded with distractions and makes it so much harder to send a clear visualization to the body to execute. When you see some of the best throwers in the world putt or throw a beautiful shot exactly where they’d like it, you can tell they’re clearly dictating the entire flight of the disc, which can be attributed to the player being able to keep the path between the brain and the body as clear as possible so they can effectively tap into their muscle memory they’ve gained from all the hours they’ve practiced.
Step back, slow down, and come up with a solution. Negative thoughts won’t ever go away, so acknowledge them and train your brain to begin visualizing a better outcome right off the bat. You'll be proud of yourself for making a smart decision to combat the first tee jitters, and your scorecard will likely thank you when the round is over.
I love talking about frisbee, disc golf especially. If you have questions for me, if this post made an impact on you, or even if you'd like to challenge me on something I've written about please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s be friends.
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