What I’ve Learned from Disc Golf
How it Relates to Politics

First off, I suck at disc golf right now. At this very moment in time: I’m not very good.

But how did I get to this place? I used to be good. I’m athletic, I’m coordinated, and I like to compete. Why do I suck?

durham flag

What I’ve Learned from Disc Golf

and How it Relates to Politics

by: Jeremy Rist

When I first played disc golf it took me a second to get adjusted to the disc, but I could sling that motherfucker as far as I wanted. I had a clear mind and I was enthusiastic and that helped me play well. I was just happy to be out there. I don’t remember my early scores, but I wasn’t worried about what they were. I was simply trying to have fun and enjoy my time with some older friends who really appreciated the sport. It was a wholly positive experience.

Once I started playing with friends my own age, I started to care about my score and it changed things. I started to get competitive, and soon after, I developed a personal best: -2 at Cornwallis.

I was very proud of that score but to this date I have not beat that score and I’ve been forced to watch as friends of mine shoot as low as -10.

I want to shoot a -10! Why can’t I shoot a -10??

Let’s delve deeper into the problem shall we….

As soon as I started thinking about shooting a -10 everything changed. I became more focused on the number and the outcome than on the game and the process. I hyper analyzed every shot instead of thinking big picture and enjoying the game, the process, the shot making, the nice weather, and the being outside. I changed my grip to be more like other people’s grips. I changed my footwork to be more like other people’s footwork. I even bought a new disc to help me get to that number. But here’s where it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t let your desire to be perfect become the enemy of doing well.

This disc golf story is symbolic because it carries real world lessons. When you first start something it will normally take time to get acclimated. But as soon as you acclimate, then you can quickly become as good as you are going to get. That’s what is called the plateau or the talent ceiling, and constantly striving to get better might actually backfire. This can be because when trying to improve, you can become hyper aware of your faults and of the many ways your experience can go wrong. Obviously, ain’t nothing wrong with trying to get better – that’s a noble pursuit – but you need to make sure that you’re going about that in the right way. Now, what is the right way?

Allow me to present the wrong way first. This way involves negative thinking that puts the emphasis on what is not going well. At this point I’ve failed so many different ways that I’m more conscious and cautious than free and easy. I’ve hit so many trees that I’m always thinking about trees. I’ve had so many bad releases that I’m thinking about bad releases. I’ve had so much bad footwork that I’m thinking about bad footwork. In addition, friends try to help and then I have more people talking to me and having me think other thoughts about my technique and what I’m doing wrong. But it’s all about correcting something. It’s all negative.

Now the right way: positivity. Getting better in a positive sense means remembering that you were never that bad to begin with. Your style doesn’t need a complete overhaul, just some minor tweaks. Keeping a clear mind and staying goal-oriented is the best way to get better. If adjustments must be made then make sure they are small and that you know exactly what you’re adjusting so that you can go back and rethink the adjustment if it doesn’t work out. Try to find a repeatable fundamental center to your technique.

My mental state when I shot that -2 was a conservative one. I just didn’t want to fuck up and I wanted to get the disc pretty close to the hole. I wasn’t trying to make everything, that relaxed state seemed to allow me to be more pragmatic in my throws with great results. I also wasn’t trying that hard to get a perfect score, just a good one, and it allowed me to relax and focus on my throws.

Avenue_in_the_Rain Childe Hassam February 1917

Avenue in the Rain painted by Childe Hassam / February 1917

If life can be like a roller coaster, then politics can be like disc golf. In this comparison I find a powerful suggestion that millennials would be great in positions of political power. I don’t mean to call for a complete overhaul of the system with millenials, but the perspective we offer would bring much needed diversity to the way of thought that has come to dominate our politics at the top leadership positions. We have clear minds and we’re goal-oriented. We know what we want. (An economic system that’s not built on fraud and institutional racism). We don’t know too many other people in power and don’t know all of the ways that one can mess up. People would say that this is inexperience, but sometimes inexperience can be beneficial. When you’re inexperienced all you want to do is something adequate for the problem you want to solve. That can be really good and productive.

When you acknowledge that there is a problem then you can start down the path towards fixing that problem. Or in a positive sense, when you acknowledge that there is a goal then you can start down the path towards achieving that goal. In disc golf my score isn’t low enough so I’ve started to try to fix that. In politics we’ve been halted by right-wing extremists and corporate democrats. They are in constant gridlock which is contributing to vast income inequality, an out of control prison population, and nothing substantive being done to combat climate change. It can be disappointing to think about how few people seem to recognize and acknowledge that. But a vast majority of people (outside professional politicians) do recognize these problems and the need to do something. Politicians get caught up in the hazards, in the game of tit for tat, in the minutiae. They spew propaganda and promote their party narratives, but many people see through it. For the ones who can see through it, we just need to figure out what to do with the disappointing choices we have on offer. We have to figure out how to get a better score.

If we were to work to fix these issues then we could get into problem solving mode. We could compare minor adjustments to outside-the-box thinking. We could start to analyze our grip. We could adjust our footwork. We could tweak our diet. But this has to come from a unified sense of wanting to get better.

I’m not sure who this is meant to address at this point. Certainly within my bubble there is a unified sense of wanting to get better. We want a more just society. We want a better score. Where this comparison breaks down is the reality that Others don’t want to change or don’t want to do anything to improve. It’s almost like we can’t even agree on the rules of the game. This “Other” that I refer to is comfortable. They have grown up on this course, so to speak. This Other is wealthy, they’re fat, they’re content, and they’re greedy for more. It’s a mysterious thing, but at the same time very easy to understand. Ten times out of ten this can all be traced back to corporate profits. This country is working perfectly for corporations. Hell, corporations have been so successful in this country that we’ve even seen a corporation that barely even had a product be ludicrously profitable! (Enron. Ask why.)

If disc golf were extended into a metaphorical allegory to describe the American condition it would look something like this:

Corporations and the American people are both playing disc golf on the same course together. Both of them have terrible scores of +10. The American people are doing everything they can to improve on that score. They are rallying, protesting, lobbying, and using every political tool they have access to. Meanwhile, the Corporations are completely happy with their score of +10 and are actively trying to get that score higher. They have a deal where they get rewarded for having a higher score instead of a lower score. They are completely happy with this and are trying to convince the American people to join them in getting a higher score. There is one problem with the Corporations’ plan though. They have never paid attention to the sign that hangs on a tree at the very beginning of the course. The sign was put there by the old scientist who started the course years ago and it reads, “If anyone shoots a +100 the course will be shut down forever.”


So what’s it going to be, America? Are we going to try to get a higher score? Or are we going to try to get a lower score? Who do we believe? What is the better score? Is it -10 or is it +99?

Does any of this matter?

Or is disc golf just some dumb hippie shit?




Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist is a Durham native and a Brandeis University graduate. In between producing and MC’ing, he has guest written for the Clarion Content and is a frequent contributor on our podcast. Check out his new beattape, “What That Claw About” here.

Clarion Content

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