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Deliberate Practice

Obviously you want to be practicing the right throwing techniques. You should also learn how to practice the right practice techniques.

Research by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson indicates that anyone can become a master at any task if they devote 10 000 hours of deliberate practice. Um, that’s a lot of hours. What I want to focus on here is not the volume of practice, but the words “deliberate practice.” Even putting in the hours is not enough. It must be “deliberate” practice. If every hour you invest in throwing is deliberate practice, you will improve much more quickly that someone who just dicks around with the disc for twice as long.

Deliberate practice is about maintaining focus on what you are doing. You may have to search around for the right throwing partner to allow for this. Deliberate practice is not a social activity. When I am really practicing with another person, there is very little talking going on. Just a lot of throwing.

To maintain focus I have found that it is best if I have one main throw I’m trying to improve at any given time. And be very specific about this. Not “forehand,” but “inside-out forehand.” Not “backhand” but “low release backhand.” Right now, I am working on my forehand blade (yes, I’m serious!). You want to build your throwing arsenal. Start with the basics and work from there.

So, you’ve decided on “inside-out forehand.” Should you go out and throw two hours of inside-out forehands? Not exactly. What follows is a distillation of the kinesiology course I took about learning fine and gross motor skills: Practice the motion you want no more than three times in a row. After that, for reasons I can’t recall, you’re not really imprinting new things in your muscle memory. This makes sense in another way as well. When you receive or pick up a stopped disc, you will not have just thrown five outside-in forehands. You must be able to do it right the fist time every time.

I will throw three throws of my priority throw followed by a few of something else. The “something else” can be any throw that’s not my priority throw and it will be different all the time. I am still focusing when I throw the something else throws, but my very best mental focus is for the sets of three of the throw that I am really working on. If you’re getting frustrated, it really does help to throw a few of the throw you’re best at in between the throwing the thing you currently stink at.

Most importantly, what to I mean when I say I am focusing on a throw? There are three distinct steps involved. They are all separate and all important.

Step 1: Visualize: Be specific. If you are throwing an outside-in forehand, what kind of trajectory are you trying to achieve? A little bit of inside-out to counter the potential wind direction? Enough to get around a defender? A blade? Know what it is you’re trying to throw before you throw it. Also, where is your receiver supposed to receive it? Are you throwing to the right hand, the chest, or above the head?

Step 2: Stop thinking and throw. Now is the time you let your body do the thinking for you. Do not think about what your muscles are doing while you do the action. Just try to produce the desired result with the desired technique.

Step 3: Evaluate. Engage the brain again. What did your body just do? How closely did the trajectory and target line up with what you visualized? How did the disc feel coming off your fingers? Did you flick your wrist the way you wanted to? Was the angle of the disc at release what you intended?

Last thoughts: Know your limitations and learn to recognize when you are done. When I or my partner start throwing goofy double helix scoobers, I know we are done. Even the most elite athletes and the very best classical musicians are capable of putting in only five hours of deliberate practice a day. It is mentally tiring stuff. But it should also feel a bit like meditation. When your mind is fully engaged, you don’t notice the time passing and you don’t feel emotions about what you’re doing. If you’re feeling frustrated, you’re not being objective in your evaluations of each throw. Maybe that’s when it’s time to stop for the day. If you can put in a well focused one or two hours, you should feel very good about that. If you can consistently schedule your practice several times a week for a few months, I can guarantee you that people will start asking you “where did you get that inside-out forehand?” (as if you found it lying on the sidewalk somewhere.) They might ask you to fix theirs, and by then you will know enough to help. Unfortunately, they also might be hoping for a bit of your magic, but you’ll know from experience how everyone has to go find their throws for themselves.

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