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Don’t Let The Bad Breaks Break You

3 (and a half) tips to keep your mental game strong

Photo: PDGA –Alyssa Van Lanen

Disc golf is a game of skill. Players with superior skills generally end up with superior scores. But no one is immune to the occasional twist of fate. Stuff happens- even to the best and most cautious players. At least once in every round you play, after the disc leaves your hand, it takes an expected and unplanned skip, roll, or bounce that gives you a different result than what you think you “deserved.”

These are The Breaks, and if you play competitively you know they’re a (sometimes big) part of the game. While you have no control over The Breaks, how you react to them is completely up to you. What’s more, your mindset and resulting play after a bad break often impact your final score more than the break itself. Read on for three and a half insights that will hopefully keep the bad breaks from breaking you.

#1. Don’t infuse them with mystical power

Some use the term “luck” when referring to this aspect of the game, as in “bad luck” or “lucky break.” I’m not superstitious, but even if I was I think I’d still prefer the word arbitrary. It’s tough enough to overcome unexpected and undeserved difficulties; if I embrace the belief that some cosmic force is working against me I’ve just given myself an excuse to stop trying. Who am I to overcome a Cosmic Force?

The only rational, constructive reaction to a bad break is to instantly move past it. The next time disaster strikes, you may feel like expressing your anger, frustration, and disappointment, but you’ll know that putting it behind you and focusing on your next shot is the more sensible reaction.

I choose to believe that all breaks are arbitrary and that they even out over time. I also see disc golf in many ways as emblematic of life. And sometimes life, as we all know, isn’t fair.

#2. Acknowledge good breaks, too

It’s human nature to acknowledge bad breaks more than good breaks. We get both, but we might look past the good ones for egotistical reasons. Taking credit comes much more naturally for most of us than taking blame.

Try to fight this tendency. If you recognize the breaks that benefit your score as readily as the breaks that hurt, it’ll benefit your game in a couple ways. First of all, it’ll help you accept that both good and bad breaks happen, that they’re just a part of the game. You’ll be less likely to think the forces of the universe are aligned against you.

An awareness of good breaks can also help keep you grounded. I played the 23-hole winter layout of my home course, DeLaveaga DGC, a couple days ago and shot an 11-under par with 14 birdies. The praise from others at the course had me feeling pretty darn good, but on reflection, it could have easily been 5- or 6-under. I pulled my drive on hole 8 toward OB, and would have gone in the road if the throw sailed six inches higher. Instead, the barrier of logs funneled a bad drive toward the green, and I barely eked a 40-foot downhill putt into the cage for a chain-less birdie. Several other putts that could have gone either way went in, and a couple other less-than-stellar drives resulted not in the potential bogey trouble or routine upshots they warranted but birdie looks. On top of all that, I missed four putts inside the circle! I don’t want to let a good final result — which I believe to have been positively affected by breaks in my favor — let me overlook the many mistakes I made.

#2.5. Accept good breaks without apology

This extension of point number two is a reminder not to go overboard with humility and self-flagellation. It is healthy to acknowledge good breaks because doing so will help you accept that, just like in life, you get things both good and bad that you don’t deserve. That in turn will help you take things in stride when the bad breaks inevitably come. But don’t take it too far. Golf is a game of imperfection, and we need to hold onto all the genuine confidence we can muster.

When you get an incredibly good kick that results in a birdie, own it. You shouldn’t feel you didn’t “deserve” it, nor should you express embarrassment to others in the group. Recognize it as just one more part of the arbitrary flow of breaks, good and bad, that helps make our game the emotional roller coaster that it is.

#3. Let it go

When bad breaks happen at particularly bad times, it just might help to hear that hit song from the original Frozen movie in your head.

Let’s say you throw a perfect drive on a technical par 3 with the basket perched precariously atop a steep wooded slope. Maybe you even hear some distant cheering from players on another hole. Then, upon reaching the green, you find that you ended up OB, 90 feet from the basket. You’re on your third shot with 20 trees to negotiate.

It doesn’t matter how you got here. This is your current reality.

Whether you hit the pole with an epic drive and tragically rolled to where you are now, or shanked your drive mightily, it just doesn’t matter. Either way, the best way to proceed is to let it go. All that matters is what you do next.

This one is really the key to dealing with bad breaks, and it’s part of Sports Psychology 101. Ignore the past, and for the moment ignore the future as well. Focusing only on the shot at hand gives you the best chance to execute.

This is something that is hard to do in the moment, so plan ahead. Before your next round, when emotions are not ruling the mental roost, take the time to fully accept and internalize the fact that the only rational, constructive reaction to a bad break is to instantly move past it. The next time disaster strikes, you may feel like expressing your anger, frustration, and disappointment, but you’ll know that putting it behind you and focusing on your next shot is the more sensible reaction.

A big part of the mental side of disc golf is developing an ability to override feelings and emotions with knowledge and planning. The observations above will hopefully help in this particular scenario. When bad breaks come your way — and they will — treat them more like a slight detour on your road to a successful round, rather than a land mine.

  1. Jack Trageser
    Jack Trageser

    Jack Tupp (Trageser) runs School of Disc Golf in Santa Cruz, CA and has published two books on disc golf: Three Paths to Better Disc Golf and The Disc Golf Revolution. After a long hiatus from tournament play he’s competing again and loving the grind. His goal of regaining his career-best 999 player rating may or may not be realistic.

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